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Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill Paperback – May 30, 2017
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An Amazon Best Book of September 2016: It should come as no surprise that Winston Churchill was an ambitious, young go-getter long before he became Sir Winston Churchill—but you might be surprised by how interesting his young life was. The son of Lord Randolph Churchill—who ascended to the position of leader of the House of Commons and Chancellor of the Exchequer before dying at the age of forty five—Winston Churchill set off as a young man to find glory on the battlefield, with an eye toward ultimately emulating his father’s success in politics. The young Winston played a part in four wars on three different continents, the last of which was the Boer War. His experience as a prisoner in that war is the jumping off point of this book, and author Millard puts her narrative gifts to work as she describes his harrowing escape, setting the man in his time, and illustrating the man to describe his times. – Chris Schluep, The Amazon Book Review --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
Chosen as a Washington Post and New York Times Book Review Notable Book of 2016
"A thrilling account...This book is an awesome nail-biter and top-notch character study rolled into one...Could someone be persuaded to make a movie about this episode of his life? I’d watch."
—New York Times Critic Jennifer Senior's Top Ten Books of 2016
“Gripping…tremendously readable and enjoyable…”
—Alex von Tunzelmann, The New York Times Book Review
"[A] truly fascinating book."
"A gripping story...It's a thrilling journey and Millard tells it with gusto."
“Millard’s tome is a slam-bang study of Churchill’s wit and wile as he navigates the Boer War like [a] proto-James Bond.”
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Top customer reviews
By the way, I also enjoyed her book on Garfield: the Destiny of the Republic. It was well-written, informative, and, most importantly a fascinating tale. I recommend that one as well.
Candice Millard is a talented journalist. She can write a gripping narrative from any historical event. Using diaries and biographies from the era, Millard creates a setting and paces the plot just fast enough to make this story engaging. Credit should also go to Winston Churchill himself, who was also a gifted writer sometimes prone to embellishment, who left all his journals, diaries and letters behind for public use.
I have had co-workers and history teachers tell me that the Boer War was England's practice ground for World War I. Millard's story seems to justify this claim. But she also gives reason to the claims of English arrogance and snobbery. The English Empire had grossly miscalculated the perseverance of the Boers and figured a war with the natives would be a quick and decisive victory. That was England's first mistake. The second mistake was not arming their soldiers well enough. Add in Winston Churchill and his air of superiority (his father, Lord Randolf, was a popular politician and related to the Dukes of Marlborough) and one sees through Millard's gift of connecting tidbits here and there across literature that Winston Churchill became the man of his legacy because of his experiences during the Boer War and his captivity. His natural leadership qualities shine through, albeit with some flaws that Millard does not overlook.
Millard introduces the reader first to some background on South Africa and the Boers, the Zulus, and England's demands of the region's natural resources (re: diamonds!). She introduces the reader to some key leaders, such as Louis Botha, the first prime minister of the Union of South Africa, the Zulu leader Shaka, and the unfortunate actions of Major-General Sir William Penn Symons. She doesn't waste too much time with this background, however, as the narrative quickly shifts to preparations for war and then the war itself. Churchill goes to the war as a war correspondent for the Morning Post, but still wants to be treated as the British Officer he was when he served in combat in the Sudan. He lost his father as a young adult, but uses his mother's influence to get him to South Africa. There he meets other war correspondents such as Leo.S Amery and John.B. Atkins (both who also left journals of the Boer War behind). Another important person for Churchill is Sir James Haldane, who was a prisoner with him while at Pretoria. All three men later have different opinions of Churchill.
Millard divides the story into five parts that summarize the history of South Africa, England's movement of troops into the country and the start of combat, then the unfortunate ride Winston took on the armored train that the Boers attacked, his imprisonment and finally his post-prison freedom. While Churchill never loses his ambitions to become prime minister of England some day, nor his love for wine, glamour and public admiration, he does learn to respect and even admire his adversaries. This will pay off well as he leads his country through World War II decades later.
This is a very enjoyable read. I appreciate having an engaging story about the Second Boer War and Winston Churchill in one narrative. Highly recommend for popular history readers and Winston Churchill fans.