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Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill Hardcover – March 12, 2013
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Customarily a biographer of literary figures (Mark Twain, Man in White, 2010), Shelden now turns to a politician. Averring his discovery of facts about his famous subject missed or muted by prior writers, he twins Churchill’s search for a wife and his reach for the political heights. Unfolding from 1901, when Churchill entered Parliament, to 1915, when he was dismissed as chief of the British Navy because of the Gallipoli defeat, Shelden’s narrative spryly captures Churchill’s romantic impulses and vaulting political ambition to become prime minister. As many histories recount the ascent up the political ladder, Shelden sites his claim to newness in Churchill annals in Churchill’s courting of potential spouses. Churchill reached as socially high for a wife as he did in politics, receiving three ladies’ rejections of his wooing before acceptance by Clementine Hozier in 1908, news he had to break awkwardly to another woman he had strung along. Including the cast of Churchill’s friends and enemies, Shelden’s well-judged account taps the inexhaustible interest in Churchill. --Gilbert Taylor
“Perceptive and entertaining.” (Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post)
"A vivid portrait of a young man on the make, as ambitious as he was gifted. . . Enthralling." (DailyBeast.com [Newsweek digital edition])
“Entertaining and erudite…. Shelden is full of sharp literary insights about Churchill, as one would expect from a literary biographer of his rank.” (Wall Street Journal)
“[As this] glowing portrait makes clear, the young Churchill was as beloved as he was despised: his intelligence, industry, and wit made him a darling of the press, and he was often seen as a future Prime Minister.” (The New Yorker)
“Much has been written about Winston Churchill, but there is still much to learn, especially about those early years when he seemed destined for greatness. Michael Shelden now thoughtfully explores those years in Young Titan….An engaging as well as perceptive take on the man who believed that while we are all worms ‘he was a glowworm’ — a belief history would splendidly vindicate.” (Richmond Times Dispatch)
“Just when you think there can be nothing fresh to be said about the long life of Winston Churchill, along comes biographer Michael Shelden's page-turner about Churchill from age 26 to 40….Churchill's life is the gift that keeps on giving, and many readers who assume they've read it all will find Mr. Shelden's lively account a must-add for their groaning shelves.” (Washington Times)
“Swiftly narrated…. Shelden, a noted biographer whose 1992 Orwell was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, explores the young titan in entertaining depth, with deep regard for Churchill's achievements and no end of colorful detail.” (USA Today)
“Michael Shelden has done the nigh-impossible: he has found original things to say about the man Isaiah Berlin called ‘the largest human being of our time’—Winston Churchill. In this entertaining and deeply researched book, Shelden paints a memorable portrait of the young Churchill’s life and loves.” (Jon Meacham, author of American Lion)
“Young Titan gives us an exciting, needed look at Winston Churchill in his years as a Liberal. Breaking with the Conservatives, he battled for better working conditions, for unemployment insurance, for improvements in education. He waged a two-front war: against the Tories on the right, the socialists on the left. It is the young Churchill at his best, a great foretelling of what was to come when Britain and the world needed him most.” (Chris Matthews, author of Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero and anchor of MSNBC’s Hardball)
“For history buffs, Winston Churchill is the gift that keeps on giving, and in Young Titan Michael Shelden has given us the gift of Churchill’s fascinating formative years. It’s all here—the boy wonder, adventurer, romantic, orator, and eloquent man in the arena. I didn't want it to end.” (Tom Brokaw, author of The Greatest Generation)
“A biographer of note, [Shelden] actually found a fresh angle on England's man with the big cigar that should appeal to avid history fans.” (Ft. Worth Star-Telegram)
"In sparkling prose, Shelden explores the tendentious world of high-level Edwardian politics as Churchill worked with and competed against the likes of Herbert H. Asquith, David Lloyd George, and other notables." (Library Journal)
“A fluid and informative examination of the early career of one of modern Britain’s most outstanding political leaders.” (Publishers Weekly)
“[A] charming new biography….Shelden has capitalized on an understudied period of an iconic life and proved that such a study can still surprise.” (New Criterion)
“[A] solid biography covering the first four decades of Winston Churchill’s life, marked by both ambition and heartbreak….Shelden offers an unadorned account of Churchill’s dogged pursuit to build his legacy against some long odds.” (Kirkus Reviews)
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Top customer reviews
Shelden gives us a good summary of WSC's early life and his rise to power. The author's angle on this is to present information on a number of women that WSC fell in love with in his youth, some of whom did not return his affections, with the exception of two, his wife Clementine and his admirer, Violet Asquith, whose affection for Winston was not reciprocated. As for Pamela Plowden and Ethel Barrymore, I am not sure that they are important to the story, as Winston appears to have set his sights too high. The story of Muriel Wilson is more interesting but none of this compares, in my opinion, to the relationship with Violet Asquith, the daughter of the Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith. It is through Violet (later Violet Bonham Carter, who published her memories of WSC in 1965)that we see not only a beautiful, intelligent young woman, but one who had her father's attention and worked diligently to advance the career of young Winston. Of course, we all know he ended up enchanted with Clementine Hozier after a meeting at a dinner party and married her. I think Violet would have made the more interesting companion, but Winston did not consult me. But through all this we get a much better understanding of her father, which is an interesting story in itself.
Also of interest to me is the human side the author shows of Churchill's mother, the American Jennie Jerome Churchill. In previous readings, I always found her a hedonistic personality, only interested in the next man, the next dinner party, the next social excursion, but Shelden shows her to have much more interest in her son, and even pride in him, attending his first speech in the House of Commons and even (ineffectively) campaigning for him.
There was never any doubt that WSC was a young man on the rise, and we are presented a host of contributors, opponents and supporters along the way. We are also reminded that Churchill promoted himself, and with one early controversial move in his political career, changed from his father's party of Conservative or Tory to the Liberal party, which many never ever forgave him, but WSC wanted to be with the winning horse in the race. It helps explain why he did it one more time during his long political career.
In spite of various cabinet positions, he is more prominently remembered as First Lord of the Admiralty just prior to the Great War. He attained this lofty position shy of 37 years of age and, like everything else, threw himself into the work while he and Clemmie grew a family. As brilliant as he was, Churchill was also overbearing while in government and made many enemies. His greatest mistake was likely bringing back Jackie Fisher to work with him as the First Sea Lord in Fisher's old age. Fisher's volatile personality was as mercurial as his brillance, and ultimately it was the Darnalles that unhinged Fisher and brought Churchill down at an early age. From there, he was out of office, and for a while almost out of all influence, being in a type of political wilderness until fate called upon him again at age 65 and once again he came back to the Admiralty just before becoming Prime Minister.
The information presented is good, and the writing moves quickly through the pages, and I think that even for the reader not well schooled on Churchill, this book will provide good information to lay a foundation on his early years and rise to power.
I recommend it.
It still astonishes one to be reminded of all the different colonial, military, and domestic policy areas where Winston Churchill was fully active and in the eye of the storm. And as Michael Shelden nicely points out in his book, this was especailly true in the years building up to and including the First World War.
I do have one minor complaint; it seems to me that too much attention is paid here to Mr. Churcill's various and harmless early love interests.
In particular, I was impressed by the fresh telling of the story of Churchill and Violet Asquith (the daughter of the Prime Minister and the grandmother of the modern-day actress Helena Bonham-Carter). I was well-aware, from having read numerous other Churchill stories, of their close friendship stretching across many decades and had always wondered why, in spite of the signs, their extreme closeness, the romanticism of their words about each other over the years, they had not married. I had always assumed - given the knowledge of how Churchill was rejected by a series of famous women that he proposed to throughout the first decade of the 20th Century - that she had spurned him. Instead, apparently it turns out that she held a largely-unrequited love for him, but he regarded her as too similar (and perhaps too assertive), and instead kept her, basically, in reserve as he courted Clementine. On account of this, he felt obligated - during their very-short engagement - to make a long journey to Scotland to tell her in person, very-nearly resulting in Clementine breaking off their engagement and also sending Violet into a violent depression.
As I mentioned, despite having read thousands and thousands of pages about Churchill - including Manchester's bio, his own account of his early life, and the authorized biography - I had literally never heard of any of this certainly-significant episode before.
I found the book a thoroughly-interesting read and recommend it very highly.