At some point today, I passed the halfway mark in William Manchester’s 3-volume biography of Winston Churchill. The 3 volumes total 131 hours of listening time. I am more than halfway through the second volume, and the pivotal year 1938 is rapidly approaching a close.
I’m sort of obsessed with the biography right now. A few nights ago, Michael J. Sullivan was telling me about the latest book he was reading, and asked what I was reading. “Second volume of the Churchill biography,” I told him. He gave me a strange look. “Still Churchill? Light reading, eh?” Or something like that. I’ve gotten that reaction a few times. But I can’t help it. I can’t seem to turn away. One reason is that the books, though long, are never dull. But there is another, more important reason.
I’ve said this before, but I’m always amazed at how much we gloss over history while in school. Understandably, this isn’t really the fault of the schools. History is a long, detailed interwoven story, and even with 16 years of schooling, you can only skim the surface. That said, there are event in 20th century history for which I knew nearly nothing. The First World War was one. I knew the very basics taught in 4th or 5th grade. Or maybe 7th or 8th grade, I can’t remember. The first volume of Churchill’s biography went into great detail on the first World War and it was fascinating.
Then, too, my understanding of British politics has been somewhat limited. I had an amazing professor in school who dove into some parliamentary politics, using Great Britain as a model, but that was more philosophical, instead of real history. It’s fascinating to read the behind-the-scenes political mechanics of Great Britain.
There is also something utterly frustrating about Britain’s role in Europe in the second half of the 1930s, with the appeasers giving Germany what they want. It’s like watching some riveting television drama unfold, in which you suspect (or even know) the outcome. I keep wanting to shout, “Get in the game, already!” and then remember that this has already happened.
But halfway through, I can say that so far it is one of the best biographies I’ve ever read.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to climb into my time machine and get back to the events of 1938 so that I can see what happens. Of course, I know what happens. But the book is that good.
I just finished reading “The Literary Churchill: Author, Reader, Actor” so I could interview the author, Jonathan Rose, for my podcast. (The episode goes up on Tuesday, Aug. 26.) I didn’t have much of a grasp of WC’s biography, but Rose does a great job of intermingling the life, the public activity, and the literary activities (reading, writing, theatergoing), in an attempt at using the latter to explain some of the otherwise inexplicable decisions of WC.
But even beyond the question literary influences on WC’s behavior, I was just fascinated by the life that Rose unspools over the course of 450 pages. Which is to say, KEEP GOING! Let us know what you learn!