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The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932 Paperback – April 1, 1984
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“Absolutely magnificent . . . a delight to read . . . one of those books you devour line by line and word by word and finally hate to see end.”—Russell Baker
“Manchester has read further, thought harder, and told with considerable verve what is mesmerizing in [Churchill’s] drama. . . . One cannot do better than this book.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer
“An altogether absorbing popular biography . . . The heroic Churchill is in these pages, but so is the little boy writing forlorn letters to the father who all but ignored him.”—People
“Superb . . . [Manchester] pulls together the multitudinous facets of one of the richest lives ever to be chronicled. . . . Churchill and Manchester were clearly made for each other.”—Chicago Tribune
“A vivid, thoroughly detailed biography of the Winston Churchill nobody knows.”—Boston Herald
“Adds a grand dimension . . . rich in historical and social contexts.”—Time
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Years later, I read the first two volumes almost in one sitting - couldn't put them down - and have reread large parts of them over the years (every time I looked some piece up I'd find myself sitting down for an hour or two because I couldn't stop). I remember when Finest Hour reported that the trilogy would never be finished: it was like a punch in the stomach.
I had my doubts about the ability of another author to write worthily of Manchester, and I was afraid this volume wouldn't measure up. No need to worry: this is every bit as much a page-turner as the last two volumes. It's not QUITE Manchester - I thought I could feel a bit of a difference in style, somehow - and yet it IS extremely good, much better than I had expected.
Like the first two volumes, we begin with a preamble ("The Lion Hunted") in which we are (re-)acquainted with the book's subject. There is a certain amount of repetition of material from the two earlier preambles, but much good new material as well. I've read thousands of pages on Churchill, but even I found some good new anecdotes and quotations here. After that we're hurled right into the middle of the most dramatic days of World War Two. The unexpected, catastrophic defeats; the incompetence and perfidy of the people in charge of France - it doesn't take much from a writer to make this an exciting story, and yet I don't think it has ever been told better than this. Really, just what I had hoped for from Manchester himself. If the later parts of the book don't quite keep the same level of excitement, neither do the events they recount.
My only complaint is the ending: really, the book just stops. Read the end of volume II: I would have expected Manchester himself to end with a climactic summary, perhaps returning to his major insight from the start: the central significance of Churchill in history is that he was a product of the late nineteenth century who was able to bring the virtues of the era of his formative years to life again at a time when they were needed, and when the British people were not yet too far from them. Actually, I do have one other complaint, and it's with the publisher: the dust jacket doesn't match the first edition dust jackets of the first two volumes. Doesn't look as good on the shelf as I would have liked.
All in all, this is a worthy final volume. Manchester himself would be proud, and there can be no doubt that this trilogy would be Churchill's favourite biography. Highly recommended, to fans of the first two volumes and newcomers alike.
Mr. Reid is an astute writer, perhaps providing a more balanced view of WSC than William Manchester did. By this I do not mean Mr. Manchester is the lesser writer, just that the previous volumes were written by an active participant in great events, i.e. Manchester's service as a Marine in Okinawa. Such individuals have a unique and vital perspective on our world in the 1940's and tend to focus on the high-minded actions and brutal choices the leaders of the Alliance faced as an explanation of their own selfless heroism and sacrifice.
There are other Churchill biographies or books which cover his wartime exploits, however this one benefits by Messrs. Manchester & Reid being American and focusing on the hesitancy or obstinacy of America's wartime leaders in assuming the mantle of leadership Churchill plainly saw for us. Its all there.
Throughout the book, the authors use diaries, letters, newspapers, radio quotes, and other vital sources of other world leaders as well as those of Churchill. The reader follows the rise of Roosevelt and Hitler and Stalin, Eisenhower and de Gaulle, as well as the death of Kennedy and the beginning of the atomic age and hydrogen bomb. This book is an intimate look at a great, unique world leader who led his country and the world with his perspective and intuition, his written and spoken world. It is a MUST for anyone wanting to learn about World War II and its aftermath.
The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965