June 01, 2005

Llama Book Report

I just finished Winston Churchill's The Gathering Storm, the first volume of his history of WWII that picks up with the aftermath of Versailles and ends with the collapse of the British campaign in Norway in 1940.

One thing I find fascinating about Churchill is that he never hits a man (or a country) who's already down. There are any number of opportunities in the days leading up to the fall of France: the general complaisance of the British and French governments in the face of German rearmament, their specific failure to do anything in the face of Hitler's moves into the Ruhr Valley, the Sudetanland, Austria and Checkoslovakia; Neville Chamberlain's blind belief that he could talk Hitler down at Munich; the failure of the French to recognize the limitations of their Maginot-Line defense; foolish Low Country neutrality policies; various staff ditherings over how to deal with the Scandinavian situation. And so on.

Yes, Churchill is quick to point out what went wrong and usually notes that he had seen it coming. But after that, he lets it be, frequently going to great lengths to explain the reasoning behind his opponents' decisions in a fair and frank manner. And in the case of Chamberlain, in particular, I was quite surprised at the extent to which Churchill rallied to his defense, noting what a change came over Chamberlain once he realized that Hitler had bushwhacked him.

Considering the pummelling Churchill took from his own political enemies and considering that he was writing these memoirs at a time when damn near everything he had always said had been vindicated, his level of restraint is quite remarkable.

Now, on to Their Finest Hour.

Posted by Robert at June 1, 2005 08:59 AM

One of my favorite sets; I usually have at least one of them going at any one time. Churchill is a pretty good historian -- he also had excellent, Oxford trained researchers and assistants -- and he had written plenty of history before those, which were written when he was out of office from 1945-51. He is generous to his opponents, almost to a fault. I think the books reveal a lot about his own integrity and character. He is my favorite figure in history, bar none.

Churchill's profoundest annoyance in the series is with those who assert he wanted to put large forces in the Balkans. He goes to great lengths later on to prove that that was never his intent.

He really loves Roosevelt; this will come out in the second and third books.

Posted by: The Colossus at June 1, 2005 09:29 AM

as he said--more or less--himself: in defeat, defiance. in victory, magnanimity. would we had such another in these days, but men like him come along one to a century, if that.

Posted by: mom at June 1, 2005 09:58 AM

If you like Churchill, I highly recommend William Manchester's The Last Lion (Volumes I & II). Its a riveting read...

Posted by: KMR at June 1, 2005 07:56 PM

The Last Lion is magnificent, especially volume 2. Manchester's finest work in my opinion. Unfortunately, he took on the project at an aged where he couldn't complete it; supposedly the publisher receivced the first 200 pages or so of volume 3 before Manchester suffered a stroke that ended his writing career. It is unfortunate bad luck for us, as well as Manchester, because it leaves a historical masterpiece unfinished. Rumors a few years back were that they were bringing in another historian to pinch hit, but I've heard nothing about it since.

When re-reading my Churchill stuff, I usually read Manchester's 2 books then roll through Churchill's 6 volumes on the war. I also have the short version of Martin Gilbert's biography, which, though competent, is not as moving as Manchester.

Posted by: The Colossus at June 2, 2005 06:45 AM

quite agree, colossus, abt the manchester biographies; they were superb; and the gilbert work as well--competent, as you say. but that's all.

Posted by: mom at June 2, 2005 01:25 PM
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