Great things have been expected from Martin Gilbert’s one-volume life of Winston Churchill, for it follows thirty years of research on the eight-volume official biography, completed in 1988. Most readers will not be disappointed. In parts, particularly for his early life, it reads like the condensation that it is, but Gilbert’s prose and construction pick up sensibly as Churchill enters the cabinet as President of the Board of Trade in 1908. The author deftly traces Churchill’s governmental career, relying heavily upon letter extracts and interviews to let the ambitious politician speak for himself. Churchill’s monumental achievement as bulldog defender of democracy is not skimped, as more than three hundred pages are devoted to the period 1937-1946. For most, this is both the Churchill they want to know better and to remember, and the one upon which Gilbert focuses.
Those well read in either Churchill’s life or the World War II will find few surprises here. Nor will one find much analysis of either Churchill’s personality or his long and varied career. Once again, Churchill’s forecast of the fair treatment of history has proven true, for Gilbert allows him to speak freely for himself. But one can hardly fail to be roused by a straightforward account of this life—the lonely boy striving for his parents’ affection; the recklessly brave young hussar, risking life for glory; the brash young minister of state, creative and impetuous; the defiant Jeremiah ostracized in the 1930’s for the very resolute Victorianism which would be Britain’s salvation in the 1940’s.
The definitive life of Churchill has yet to be written, but the oft-told tale is here detailed with unprecedented authority.