With the riveting subject of Winston Churchill firmly in her charge, Coolidge exercises the same fine historical skills (her father was R. C. K. Ensor, the renowned British historian and columnist) that she successfully employed in six previous classical and historical works.
Throughout this work she tries to strike a difficult balance between the influences of crises and personality upon Churchill in an effort to address the old historical issue concerning the extent to which great personages either shape events or are shaped by them. The interactions among strong personalities and their times reflect convergences of many factors, a set of complexities to which Coolidge is alert. Yet she leaves the reader little doubt that while Churchill developed a distinctive character, which in response to crises—for better and worse—helped alter their outcome, such critical events were imposed upon him largely by time and by chance.
Coolidge does not quarrel with the Western world’s overall assessment of Churchill; her approach is laudatory. By the time her work was undertaken, world leaders, politicians, pundits, and historians, as well as millions of ordinary citizens, had already judged him to be a master parliamentarian and politician, a diplomatist of the front rank, a formidable and resourceful strategist, an impressively productive and accomplished author and orator, a respected journalist, and an artist worthy of mention. Even during his lifetime, Churchill was frequently proclaimed the twentieth century’s most eminent individual.
(The entire section is 641 words.)
For young adult readers this is a work of serious intent and substantive depth. While Churchill’s principal biographers—among them Churchill’s son Randolph, William Manchester, Lord Moran, Ronald Lewin, and Martin Gilbert—have pursued their subject more exhaustively than Coolidge, she nevertheless has produced a well-balanced, generally objective account in one slim volume. No more than other historians and biographers does she question Churchill’s heroic stature, but she sees it as a consequence of her subject’s evolving character in confrontations with events during his warlike times.
Coolidge has the good judgment, moreover, to give depth to Churchill by deft mention of his many failings and weaknesses. As a youngster, for example, he was an indifferent scholar; as a young man, he was brash, very much in a hurry, opportunistic, and fully capable of soliciting whatever influences he could. Early in his career he was an awkward speaker. He also suffered from an overactive imagination, which, as at Gallipoli, in the Norwegian campaign, and in his quest for a Balkan front, could produce calamitous results. He often behaved rashly, sometimes cruelly. He was an old-line imperialist, and much of the time he was singularly disinterested in twentieth century domestic politics. Furthermore, his eccentricities were not always lovable. As Coolidge makes clear, his character evolved through his address to the adversities posed by two unprecedented wars.