Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Winston's War: Churchill, 1940-1945 Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 27, 2010
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
Customers who bought this item also bought
Customers who viewed this item also viewed
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
Amazon Best Books of the Month, May 2010 Winston's War is a brilliant tribute to the leadership of Winston Churchill during the bleakest hours of World War II. Employing an oratory genius that awed proponents and critics alike, the British Prime Minister fortified national pride and resolve by remaining fiercely defiant in the face of a powerful Axis war machine. Yet historian Max Hastings provides more than just a look at the inner workings of one man, as he extends beyond the words of the dynamic leader to portray an honest account of the emotions that defined Great Britain during the 1940's. Contrary to what his gilded legacy may lead future generations to believe, Churchill did not cement his place in history by winning unanimous public support. Rather, he achieved his iconic status by empowering "millions to look beyond the havoc of the battlefield...and perceive a higher purpose in their struggles and sacrifices." --Dave CallananLynne Olson Reviews Winston's War
Lynne Olson, a former Moscow correspondent for the Associated Press and White House correspondent for the Baltimore Sun, is the author of Citizens of London, Troublesome Young Men, Freedom’s Daughters and co-author, with her husband, Stanley Cloud, of A Question of Honor and The Murrow Boys. She lives in Washington, D.C.
British historian Max Hastings has entered a very crowded field with Winston’s War, his new book about Winston Churchill’s direction of the British effort in World War II. Hastings, the author of the acclaimed military histories Armageddon and Retribution, readily acknowledges the problem, noting that no human being has been written about more than Churchill. Yet he accomplishes what he has set out to do--provide an insightful, compelling portrait of the political outcast who came to power at the gravest moment in his country’s history and, over the course of a desperate summer, rallied the British to stand alone against Hitler.
Hastings is clear-eyed about Churchill’s not inconsiderable shortcomings as a warlord, including a penchant for rash, ill-thought-out raids and other military operations "more appropriate to a Victorian cavalry subaltern than to the director of a vast industrial war effort." Yet, as he points out, that same capacity for boldness enabled Churchill--one of the few British prime ministers ever to have fought in a war himself--to spur into action not only his demoralized countrymen but also Britain’s sclerotic military establishment, whose fortress mentality was the bane of his wartime existence.
Equally important was Churchill’s assiduous courtship of the American people and their president, Franklin D. Roosevelt. While the prime minister’s relationship with Roosevelt was never as close as Churchill later claimed, he exerted a sizable influence on FDR’s decisionmaking early in the war, including the critical decision to launch a 1942 invasion of North Africa, rather than the premature assault on France that the U.S. military brass had been urging--an attack that almost certainly would have ended in disaster.
In the last two years of the conflict, however, the prime minister’s influence in Washington waned dramatically. To his considerable pain and alarm, Roosevelt paid far more heed to the wishes and demands of Stalin and the Soviets than to Churchill and the British, who now were consigned to junior partnership in the Grand Alliance. Yet Hastings makes a convincing case that Churchill’s still-commanding stature in the United States helped maintain Britain’s status as a key, if diminished, player during the war’s endgame--a time when this exhausted country could easily have been pushed into the shadows as "a backwater, supply center and aircraft carrier for American-led armies in Europe."
Above all, though, Churchill will be remembered for his clarion calls of defiance and hope in the summer of 1940, almost singlehandedly changing the mood of his nation and rousing the British to fight on in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. "Gradually we came under the spell of that wonderful voice and inspiration," one London woman later wrote. "His stature grew larger and larger, until it filled our sky."(Photo © Stanley Cloud)
Max Hastings on Winston's War
Why another Churchill book? We have been told more about him than any other human being. Most of my own research for this book has been done not in the Churchill papers, gutted by historians, but among military and civilian diaries, newspaper files, British, American and Russian records. What I have tried to do is to portray the story of Churchill at war in the context of his relationships with the British and American peoples, the armed forces, the Russians. All these were more complex than is sometimes acknowledged.
It is easy to identify his strategic errors and misplaced enthusiasms. Yet the outcome justified all. The defining fact of Churchill’s leadership was Britain’s emergence from the war among the victors. No warlord, no commander, in history has failed to make mistakes. It is as easy to catalogue the errors of Alexander the Great, Caesar, Napoleon as those of Churchill. He towers over the war, standing higher than any other single human being at the head of the forces of light. Without him, Britain’s part would have seemed pretty small by VE-Day. Russia and the United States had played the dominant parts. No honourable course of action existed which could have averted his nation’s bankruptcy and exhaustion in 1945, its eclipse from world power.
Churchill did not command the confidence of all the British people all of the time. But his rhetoric empowered millions to look beyond the havoc of the battlefield, the squalor of their circumstances amid privation and bombardment, and to perceive a higher purpose in their struggles and sacrifices. This was, of course, of greater importance in 1940-41 than later, when the allies could commit superior masses of men and material to securing victory. But Churchill’s words remain a lasting force in causing the struggle against Hitler to be perceived by posterity as ‘the good war’.
He cherished aspirations which often proved greater than his nation was capable of fulfilling, which is one of my central themes. But it is inconsistent to applaud his defiance of reason in insisting that Britain must fight on in June 1940, and denounce the extravagance of his later demands upon its people and armed forces. Service chiefs often deplored his misjudgements and intemperance. Yet his instinct for war was much more highly developed than their own.
History must take Churchill as a whole, as his wartime countrymen were obliged to do, rather than employ a spoke shave to strip away the blemishes created by his lunges into excess and folly, which were real enough. If the governance of nations in peace is best conducted by reasonable men, in war there is a powerful argument for leadership by those sometimes willing to adopt courses beyond the boundaries of reason, as Churchill did in 1940-41. His foremost quality was strength of will. This was so fundamental to his triumph in the early war years, that it seems absurd to suggest that he should have become more biddable, merely because in 1943-45 his stubbornness was sometimes deployed in support of misjudged purposes.
As he left Chequers for the last time in July 1945, he wrote in its visitor’s book: ‘FINIS.’ Three weeks later, on 15 August, Japan’s surrender brought an end to the Second World War. Churchill was among the greatest actors upon the stage of affairs the world has ever known. Familiarity with his speeches, conversation and the fabulous anecdotage about his wartime doings, does nothing to diminish our capacity to be moved to awe, tears, laughter by the sustained magnificence of his performance. He has become today a shared British and American legend. If his leadership was imperfect, no other British ruler in history has matched his achievement nor, please God, is ever likely to find himself in circumstances to surpass it.
From Publishers Weekly
Military historian Hastings (Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944–45) adds to his illustrious reputation with this magnificent analysis of Winston Churchill's years of greatness. In 1938 Churchill seemed a man bypassed by history. By 1945 he had become the greatest war leader Britain ever knew and has since achieved mythic status, standing higher than any other single human being at the head of the forces of light. During WWII Churchill wielded more power than any British prime minister in history but remained a democrat. He raised his nation far higher in the Grand Alliance than its material contributions justified. Hastings recognizes Churchill's strategic errors, his misplaced enthusiasms. Britain'smilitary leaders and military systems often disappointed his soaring hopes. His understanding of the empire and its peoples was limited and unenlightened. His indifference to building a new society resulted in his being turned out of office as the guns fell silent. But the outcome justified all, in his eyes. Churchill's strength of will, rhetoric, and personality enabled the British to understand the reasons for their sacrifices and made Britain's end as a great power a heroic one. 32 pages of photos, 8 maps. (Apr. 30)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Top customer reviews
There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.
“[Britain was] a nation which in those days clung to its radio receivers as storm-bound sailors once lashed themselves to the masts of their ships.”
“The views of the British and American governments were distorted by logic.”
“The narrative of the Second World War presented by most historians is distorted by the fact that it focuses upon what happened, rather than what did not.”
I need this!
And I seek out any history narrated by Robin Sachs. This fine actor, who died too soon, lends his skills to storytelling. I think the best storytelling in English is by the English. Sachs has a clear, resonant baritone and a fluidity of phrasing that is at once restful and engaging. A consolation for losing Robin is that he will live on by making great history live.
Hastings nominally begins his story in 1939, the year Great Britain joined France in declaring war on Hitler's Germany. However, necessary historical context from pre-war years is also provided, allowing this book to be read independently of any other biography or study. Despite the book's apparently narrow focus, it can be read without background or understanding of the War, itself.
Not too surprisingly to his more strident critics, WSC made many minor and several major errors in his capacity as wartime Prime Minister. He had a penchant for "meddling" in military affairs, one shared with at least Stalin and Hitler. In common with Hitler, WSC had actual front-line combat experience and, also in common with Hitler, demonstrated bravery in battle. Despite first-hand experience with war and direct, personal knowledge of the consequences of leadership error, both men were fond of audacious and risky enterprises, often-times creating consternation in the ranks of their professional military consultants, sometimes with lamentable results. Hastings unfavorably contrasts the British military with its German counterpart throughout the book, with the British falling far short of their adversaries in professionalism, skill, dedication, improvisation, equipment, strategy and battlefield tactics. For that matter, Hastings made the same unfavorable comparison of American troops to the Germans in "Overlord", his history of the D-Day invasion.
In order to understand the relatively dismal performance of the British Army (in particular), Hastings provides many examples of the incompetence and timidity of the major British commanders who repeatedly come up short in comparison to their North African theater adversary, Rommel and their foe in Italy, Kesselring. However, even their American counterparts seemed to view them with dismissive attitudes. On the British home front, morale was undermined by the seemingly interminable duration of the war, pro-Soviet attitudes of many workers (and their "betters" in the governing classes), residual exhaustion from the labors of the First World War and concerns regarding the post-war course of their nation. Hastings repeatedly emphasizes that, almost single-handedly, WSC provided the leadership example required to sustain the war effort from its earliest years (when the situation seemed most hopeless) through its overly long finale, when the population seemed no longer able or interested in sustaining the effort.
WSC is both lauded and attacked. His penchant for dramatic forays by small "elite" units (which proliferated under his leadership) were generally unsuccessful (1942 Dieppe raid, for example). His emphasis on the Mediterranean theater was distracting from the major war effort. His repeated solicitations to the Americans on behalf of various "pet projects" became distracting and then annoying. Nonetheless, WSC had an over-arching and penetrating understanding of grand strategy and, in service to that understanding, was able to bury his antipathy to Communism recognizing that the contributions of the USSR were arch-critical to the defeat of the Nazi armies. Perhaps the most damning (from both the perspective of Roosevelt's U.S. and from Hastings, himself) was WSC's fealty to the concept of the British Empire. Perceptions that many of Britain's military plans and perspectives were undertaken in service of post-war imperial ambitions soured relations between the Western powers, especially on the U.S. domestic front.
From my perspective, Hastings makes his greatest contribution both in this book and in "Retribution" (the Pacific War) by clarifying many now controversial wartime actions such as the use of atomic weapons ("Retribution") and "area bombing" (both theaters of war). WSC was personally conflicted and committed some of his thoughts to paper. Still, he observed that, "Morale is a legitimate military target" and advocated bombing of German cities not only for that reason (in the early war years to prop up home-front morale) but to convince Stalin that the British were making a meaningful "second front" contribution. Hastings also notes that contemporary technology did not allow "precision bombing" or anything even remotely approaching that concept. Hence, to target factories and military installations, area bombing was necessary. In Hastings' words, "In addressing the history of the Second World War, it is necessary to recognise the huge moral compromises forced upon the nations fighting under the banner of democracy and freedom. Britain, and subsequently America, strove for the triumph of these admirable principles wherever the could be secured-with sometimes embarrassing exceptions of the European overseas empires. But again and again, hard things had to be done which breached faith with any definition of absolute good. If this is true of politics at all times, it was especially so between 1939 and 1945...the moral and material price of destroying Hitler was high...". In "Retribution", Hastings commented that, "But in an imperfect world, it seems unrealistic to expect that any combatant in a war will grant adversaries conspicuously better treatment than his own people receive at their hands". This all rings true and does much to undermine the "post-modern" moral relativism which is currently fashionable. Hastings also repeatedly emphasizes that the Hitler War was won largely due to the efforts and exertions of Stalin's USSR: the role of Lend Lease and the significance of the D-Day landing have been over-amplified with the passage of time.
In summary, Hastings characterizes WSC as, "...one of the greatest actors upon the stage of affairs the world has ever known...If his leadership through the Second World War was imperfect, it is certain that no other British ruler in history has matched his direction of the nation in peril.." Certainly, WSC was the greatest statesman of the modern era and his "grand vision" enabled the eventual defeat of Hitler, cementing as it did a roiled domestic constituency and contentious allies. His "anachronistic delusions" (sometimes making him appear to FDR and others as a "traveler from an antique land") about the future of the British Empire were just that. His magnificent accomplishments dwarf his strategic shortcomings and can only serve as an example to be emulated by any current or future leader with pretensions to greatness.
Hastings follows Churchill through the war closely, especially during the tense first days of Churchill's premiership and through the American commitment to Europe in North Africa. I won't recapitulate the chronology here--it would bore those already familiar with World War II and just be so many unfamiliar names to those who aren't. The impression gained from this book is that through all five years Churchill was constantly on the go, moving between the headquarters of various generals, the ministries in London, and overseas meetings with his allies, Roosevelt and Stalin. The constant balancing act Churchill faced--as politician, PM, diplomat, strategist, and human being--would have destroyed a lesser man, and Hastings evokes the myriad demanding duties well.
The book had two great strengths. The first was the attention Hastings gave to lesser-known operations. This must come with the territory, as Churchill was notoriously fond of derring do like commando raids and sabotage. But Churchill also pushed for, planned, and executed several large-scale but little-known missions during the war. There were, for instance, the "second Dunkirk" during late June of 1940, during which more British troops trapped in France were evacuated, and the disastrous invasion of the Aegean in 1943. Churchill's campaign into the Dodecanese, the Greek isles, meant to bring the Turks into the war on the Allied side but was ill-planned and even more ill-fated, reminding many of his botched Gallipoli campaign in the same sea during World War I. He also urged constantly the creation and supply of resistance groups in occupied Europe, the usefulness of which--in light of terrible German reprisals--is still debated. Hastings clearly illustrates the complexity of Allied planning, as numerous proposed or planned operations came to nothing.
The book's second strength was Hastings's focus on Churchill the man. It is easy for historians to forget that their subjects got tired, sick, cranky, drunk, or jokey, but Hastings always keeps Churchill as human being in the foreground. He reminds us that, though Churchill is now an inspirational icon, he was an old man. He was moody. He kept odd hours. He was by turns abrupt and affectionate. His health was a constant worry. And he wasn't always popular--in fact, political enemies agitated constantly for his removal from the premiership during the last half of the war. Churchill's story is often one of frustration, especially after the Americans entered the war. Roosevelt, to whom Churchill gave enormous attention early on in the hopes of currying American favor, shunned and ignored Churchill more and more in favor of Stalin. Stalin, who knew Churchill hated the Soviets, was inscrutable but clearly enjoyed the favor he found with Roosevelt at Churchill's expense. Churchill was always the least of the Big Three and he knew it, and his frustration with Stalin and especially Roosevelt was pitiful.
Winston's War, of course, is not solely about Winston, and Hastings does an excellent job of describing the personalities and relationships between the many figures--important or not--who interacted with Churchill. As I said, I won't bother with specifics of chronology here. The best thing I can say is to read Winston's War. Max Hastings has written an enormously detailed and engaging book on one of the most important figures in modern history.
Most recent customer reviews
I do have two criticisms.Read more