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Churchill: Walking with Destiny


Churchill: Walking with Destiny

In December 1900, the young English author Winston Churchill commenced a speaking tour across America. At his first lecture in New York, he was introduced by the American writer Mark Twain, who observed, “Mr. Churchill by his father is an Englishman, by his mother he is an American, no doubt a blend that makes the perfect man.”

Whether by blood, sweat, toil or tears, Winston Randolph Churchill was one of the greatest men of the 20th century. He was a courageous leader who often stood against the consensus of the day, arguing firmly for his beliefs when everyone doubted him. Few men in history had the kind of resume that Churchill possessed. He served in wars as both a soldier and a civilian leader. He was a prisoner of war, a Nobel Prize-winning author, a world leader, and an English hero surpassed perhaps only by William Shakespeare in the eyes of British citizens.

Churchill’s greatness is perhaps best found in his biographies. Estimates of chronicles of his life approach a thousand. Why add one more to the list? The answer is contained in CHURCHILL: Walking with Destiny, which, despite its 900+ pages, is never boring or ponderous. It is beautifully written while maintaining sufficient critical analysis to paint a portrait of Churchill that discusses achievements and failures in equal measure. Andrew Roberts is an accomplished historian whose subjects have included Napoleon, both World Wars and his native England. For this biography, he had access to new information, as the Royal Family allowed him to examine notes from King George VI of his meetings with Churchill during World War II. Even Churchill’s own memoirs lacked this material.

"It is beautifully written while maintaining sufficient critical analysis to paint a portrait of Churchill that discusses achievements and failures in equal measure."

The Churchill footprint in the sand of history is deep. Whether you have read a biography of his life, seen one of the recent films portraying his career, or simply met him in your study of the 20th century, the odds are fairly strong that you know something about Churchill’s accomplishments. Not far from my home in Springfield, Illinois, one can travel a few hours to Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri, where in 1946 Churchill spoke the words that changed the postwar world: "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent."

All of the bricks that built the Churchill life are examined here. Roberts takes readers through his difficult childhood with a distant father who died when he was 20, to his youthful military career in the Boer War, to his leadership of his nation through the travails of World War II. Churchill’s political battles, where he crossed the aisle to serve in both of England’s major political parties, are documented in great detail. Defeat and disillusionment were a strong part of Churchill’s life, and history can only be grateful that Churchill himself provides a window into these events from his own writings and correspondence.

Lord Randolph Churchill passed away at the age of 45 from a brain disease, and his death at such a young age caused his son to believe that he might suffer the same fate. By the time he was elected to Parliament in 1900, Churchill “had fought in four wars, published five books, written 215 newspaper and magazine articles, participated in the greatest cavalry charge in half a century and made a spectacular escape from prison.”

Roberts spends substantial portions of the book covering family life. Churchill’s loving relationship with his daughters and wife, as well as his difficulties with his son Randolph, are not ignored. He also includes a discussion of Churchill’s skill as an orator: “Well-chosen words; carefully crafted sentences; accumulation of argument; use of analogy; deployment of extravagances: those were the five scaffolds of the rhetoric of the greatest orator of his age.”

The Churchill saga demands accounting of both triumph and tragedy. But learning from his mistakes when civilization faced its most trying hour was the key ingredient to ultimate success.

Many have suggested that this is the finest one-volume biography of Churchill ever written. Having only read two or three, I do not feel comfortable in that assertion. But this inspiring story of a hero and a great man appearing in the age of Brexit as England faces yet another crisis in her history is well worth reading.

Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman on December 7, 2018

Churchill: Walking with Destiny
by Andrew Roberts

  • Publication Date: October 15, 2019
  • Genres: Biography, History, Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 1152 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books
  • ISBN-10: 1101981008
  • ISBN-13: 9781101981009