Monday, January 7, 2013

The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Volume Three: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965

by Willaim Manchester and Paul Reid, read by Clive Chafer, Blackstone Audio, November 2012, 53 hrs.

...excellent conclusion to a great historical bio

I read William Manchester’s volume one and volume two of the Churchill biography when they were first published in the 1980s.  They both were tremendous books, majestic in scope and marvelous in riveting detail - in my opinion the quintessential biography of a historical giant Winston Churchill.  With Manchester’s illness and subsequent death I never thought there would be a final installment in this series that could compare to the first two.  I was wrong, Paul Read has completed the trilogy with the story of Churchill’s life from 1940 until his death in 1965 and it is excellent.

The book opens with a reintroduction to the Churchill personality, quirks and all.  He is presented as a Victorian gentleman (never drove a car or cooked a meal) in an emerging modern world.  Once the stage has been set the story begins as Churchill accepts the prime ministership in truly Britain’s darkest hour 1940.  Alone, with her army in retreat and the island isolated only Churchill through his words and actions rallied the British to face Hitler and overcome the long odds in front of them.  The story chronicles WWII from a British perspective.  Churchill’s total involvement in every facet of the war is fascinating, he dictates military strategy in one breath and takes on the intricacies of food rationing in the next.

Churchill’s understanding (or lack thereof) of the post war expectations of the British people is outlined.  His loss of the prime ministership late in the war because the public did not want him leading the post war economic comeback is another intriguing chapter in this story.  The story continues as the war ends and issues related to the USSR and communist aggression takes center stage.  Here also Churchill has recognized the threat well before most of the rest of the national leaders.  Interspersed with public events are Churchill’s relations with his wife and children.  He is a true disaster in this arena oblivious to anyone’s needs but his own.  The prodigious amount of alcohol consumed each day really makes me wonder how this man functioned in such an effective way.  Churchill’s public career after the mid 1950’s is essentially concluded although he continues to write until his death in 1965.

No part of this story is as exciting as the events in 1940-41.  It is not an exaggeration to say that if the British had not had Churchill they would have made a separate peace with Hitler freeing him to conquer the rest of Europe and all of Russia, radically changing the course of the twentieth century.  The author takes the reader inside of this story by providing the detail that brings it to life.

I listened to the audio version of this biography.  It was read by Clive Chafer and he was an inspired choice for this work.  When he was reading from Churchill’s speeches you felt like you were listening to the great man himself.  The audio version is not for the faint of heart, it is 53 hours long!  It worked for me because I had a lot of car travel to do in December so I got well immersed in it, but normally that would be a time commitment I’d be reluctant to give.

So in summary if you’ve read the first two volumes in this series, you will be well satisfied with the conclusion.  If you haven’t read volumes one and two and you are a history devotee get a move on and read them!

I listened to a copy of the audio version of this book provided by the publisher.


Zibilee said...

I know almost nothing about Churchill, and would love to get engrossed with this series of books, not only to satisfy my curiosity, but also to learn about this strange and heroic gentleman. Your review was excellent and I am going to add the first book to my list. It is a huge commitment, but I figure I can do it in installments. Fantastic review today!

Cherry said...

I came from Cym Lowell's Book Review Party Wednesday (BRPW).

53hours! I've never tackled an audiobook that big before :)

Cherry Mischievous