Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wimpy Winston

ChurchillChurchill by Paul Johnson

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

All in all, rather badly done. Well researched, but his focus couldn't have been more limp-wristed and pathetic.

He wrote this book to answer the question, "Did Churchill save England?" The answer, if you were wondering, is yes. He saved not only England, but the world. If it weren't for Churchill, you wouldn't even exist. And neither would puppies or kittens or butterflies or ice cream. I was hoping to hear about the man, or at least some funny quotes from the legend. I got very little of either. I found out a few interesting facts, such as the fact that he took up painting and was good at it--about 500 of his paintings survive--and that--get this--he had between eight and ten million words in print by the time he died. Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was absolutely dwarfed by his account of the first world war: 1,100,000 words to 2,050,000. The last Harry Potter book, by comparison, has fewer than 200,000, and that's just cause the editors decided to sit back, drink gin and practice saying, "why yes, I am the editor of the most successful books in the civilized world" in front of a mirror instead of actually editing the book. Hardcovers are more expensive.

But Churchill comes across looking kinda like a pansy by this guys account. A pansy is the last thing he was: he was the one who specifically ordered the bombing of Dresden. He was the one who brutally suppressed the Irish, causing more civilian casualties than anyone seems likely to admit. He was a violent, brutal, bulldog of a man, but this author spends half the book explaining that though Churchill was always smoking a cigar, he never inhaled. Seriously? Why on earth would we care? I was looking for Churchill: the "blood, toil, tears and sweat" Churchill, the "never has so much been owed by so many to so few," the Churchill that almost singlehandedly built up both the British navy and RAF, the one that was so determined to win that he would have nuked every city between Berlin and Belfast if he'd had the bombs, the one that said "If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the devil in the House of Commons."

And, if our author was too concerned with explaining how he watered down his whiskey so he didn't actually drink as much as it seemed, too concerned lest our freshly whitewashed hero(?) (he got plenty of exercise) be human, then he could at least have given us some comedy. I mention Churchill to the most uneducated person--to the governmentally schooled among us--and he'll even start fumbling around with, "'you may be drunk, but I'm...' no, wait... 'Madam, you're ugly, but I'm Winston...' no..." Churchill was hilarious, quick witted and could be downright vicious with his comebacks, but we're given so little of that in this book that I would never have guessed he had a sense of humour at all (yes, I spell it with a "u", just like honour and valour and all those others. I'd spell dog with a "u" if it wasn't my pastor's name). So, the book was simply boring. I'd hoped for better.

But, if you're more interested in Churchill's policy than his person, in his chronology than his character, this book is well researched, and I have no doubt--no doubt--that it's accurate. It simply has to be.

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