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A Nonfiction Classic that Anybody Can Read, and Which Any Serious Student of History Should

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Winston Spencer Churchill's Memoirs of the Second World War

               Winston Churchill, one of the truly great men of the twentieth century, was much more than a Member of Parliament and Prime Minister of England. He was also a painter, journalist, soldier, and writer. He began his career as a writer soon after he joined the British army, writing as a correspondent for several London newspapers and magazines during the Sudan Campaign and the Boer Wars. His sensational, but accurate, articles made his a household name. During the early 1900s, he became a Parliamentarian like his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, before him. All the while he continued to write military histories and an early biography. He saw service in the First World War as a Minister of Armaments for the Royal Navy and as a field officer in the British army. Between the wars, he became involved in politics again, all the while warning of the danger posed by the failures of the British and French governments in the arena of foreign policy and the rearmament of Germany. His warnings were not heeded, and when push finally came to shove in a contest of arms between the world’s democracies and Nazi Germany, he was elevated to the post of Prime Minister. He led Britain, and arguably the entire free world, through some of the darkest years in the history of mankind. He tells his story in his memoirs of that terrible time, the Second World War.

               The Second World War is a six-volume historical narrative of the Second World War, as seen through Churchill’s eyes. The volumes are The Gathering Storm, Their Finest Hour, The Grand Alliance, The Hinge of Fate, Closing the Ring, and Triumph and Tragedy in that order. The volumes were published over the course of several years, and won the 1953 Nobel Prize for Literature. Although Churchill’s narrative has received its share of criticism due to its potentially biased nature and to some of its omissions (which were at the time state secrets), it is a very comprehensive history of the war as experienced not only through Churchill’s eyes, but through the eyes of the British people, and is considered to be an authoritative text on the war and on statesmanship. It can also be considered a work on morality in politics and moral decision-making. Churchill had to make some tough choices during the war, such as the time that he had to choose between allowing the Luftwaffe to bomb Coventry without warning, or giving the warning and revealing the capabilities of British intelligence to the Germans.

               One final note: the Second World War is not light reading. The six volumes together add up to just fewer than five thousand pages, so most people cannot expect to start reading and finish over the course of a weekend. Wofford College offers a three-hour, four-hundred-level course on the life and works of Winston Churchill, and the first volume alone makes up a considerable part of the course material. My personal recommendation is to read through the first volume in its entirety, and then decide whether to proceed on and read the rest. It is a true classic, a modern epic if you will. If you do read it, you will gain copious knowledge, a valuable perspective, and the pride that can only come from having read what may well be the greatest work of history written and published in the past century.

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