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Customer Review

HALL OF FAMEon April 24, 2002
Prior to the appearance of this biography, by Whitbread Award winning author Roy Jenkins, the only single volume work that I would have recommended to people would have been Sir Martin Gilbert's one volume biography. Gilbert has spent the better part of his life creating the definitive biography originally started by Churchill's son Randolph, and he continues to add 1,000 page companion volumes of documents that supplement the massive primary work.
If a reader were to select this work by Jenkins they would not gain a complete insight into the legendary figure that Sir Winston Spencer Churchill is. That a new biography approaching 1,000 pages made the NYT Bestseller's List is a testimony to Churchill's place in history. I doubt there is a politician that is more quoted than Sir Winston. The primary differences between the two books I mention are of style and completeness. Martin Gilbert in an accomplished historian, while Mr. Jenkins writes from a perspective of a man who sat in the House of Commons, witnessed Churchill in action, and documents his life primarily as a politician. There are formative episodes that are not included at all, which in the end prevents this very fine work from being a well-rounded documentary. A young Churchill spent time in Ireland, but this was never mentioned. The downfall of his father was much more complicated than the space allotted in this work, and his mother too is not represented enough.
The book also lacks extended time with the Churchill who was an amazing raconteur at dining tables from a very young age. Many of the great quotes from Churchill are not in this book, and many others are given short shrift. Mr. Jenkins style also takes a bit more effort than many may choose to expend. William F. Buckley Jr. could certainly breeze through some of the extremely arcane English that is used, but most would be well advised to have a dictionary handy. The author is also given to liberal uses of the French Language, often illustrating how Churchill's poor French was easily misinterpreted. A foreign language that is not footnoted or translated in place is presumptuous and harmful to a work, expecting readers to not only be fluent but competent enough to manage error prone French is just a bad way to present a book.
This is really a memoir of Churchill as remembered by Mr. Jenkins, and, as such it is a worthwhile read. For anyone starting out on his or her education on Churchill this is most certainly not the place to start. The official biography of Gilbert's is the best, but the multiple volumes, 10,000+ page works is much more than most would wish to tackle. The work is very readable; so if you are inclined do not hesitate. Sir Martin Gilbert's single volume work remains the standard, and William Manchester has produced two of what was to be a three-volume work. His health has prevented its completion, but his two completed volumes are excellent on their own.
There are dozens of single volume works on Churchill that have a narrower focus and better serve the reader. This book is very worthwhile for those who are great admirers of Churchill and have read many, or perhaps dozens of others. As a stand-alone work it does not give enough information and the style can lack clarity. Eventually worth a read, but should not be at or near the top of a reading list on Churchill.
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