Book of the Year 2018

Thursday, 27 December, 2018

Weighing in at 1.5 kilogrammes, Churchill: Walking with Destiny is a heavyweight. The index runs to 60 pages, the author’s notes to 37 and the bibliography to 23. But size alone isn’t everything so Churchill: Walking with Destiny is our Book of the Year for reasons other than sheer volume.

There have been more than 1,000 previous studies of Churchill’s life, the publisher helpfully warns readers, so anyone intending to add another tome to the heap had better have something original to offer readers. Andrew Roberts has. His access to and analysis of previously hidden materials is what makes the difference. Then, there’s his storytelling. This is from the pivotal year of 1939:

“Churchill dined with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in Antibes in January. The Duke, wearing a kilt of the Stuart tartan, argued vigorously against Churchill’s recent articles opposing Franco and in favour of a Russia alliance. ‘We sat by the fireplace,’ recalled Maxine Elliott’s nephew-in-law Vincent Sheean, ‘Mr Churchill frowning with intentness at the floor in front of him, mincing no words… declaring flatly that the nation stood in the gravest danger in its long history.’ The Duke was eagerly interrupting whenever he could, contesting every point, but receiving — in terms of the utmost politeness so far as the words went — an object lesson in political wisdom and public spirit. The rest of us sat in silence: there was something dramatically final, irrevocable about the dispute. Churchill had discovered beyond doubt how fundamentally unsound the ex-King was about the Nazis. He remained respectful throughout this ‘prolonged argument’, but did point out to him that ‘When our kings are in conflict with our constitution, we change our kings.'”

Why did Churchill loathe the Nazis and their appeasers from the outset? According to Andrew Roberts, the young Winston had seen Islamic fundamentalism at work in India and Sudan and what he observed there was “a form of religious fanaticism that in many key features was not unlike the Nazism that he was to encounter forty years later. None of the three prime ministers of the 1930s — Ramsay MacDonald, Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain — had seen true fanaticism in their personal lives, and they were slow to discern it in Nazi Germany. Churchill had fought against it in his youth and recognized its salient features earlier than anyone else.”

Churchill: Walking with Destiny


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