By Max Hastings
Knopf Publishing Group, Hardcover, 9780307268396, 576pp.
Publication Date: April 27, 2010
List Price: $35.00*
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A vivid and incisive portrait of Winston Churchill during wartime from acclaimed historian Max Hastings, Winston’s War captures the full range of Churchill’s endlessly fascinating character. At once brilliant and infuriating, self-important and courageous, Hastings’s Churchill comes brashly to life as never before.
Beginning in 1940, when popular demand elevated Churchill to the role of prime minister, and concluding with the end of the war, Hastings shows us Churchill at his most intrepid and essential, when, by sheer force of will, he kept Britain from collapsing in the face of what looked like certain defeat. Later, we see his significance ebb as the United States enters the war and the Soviets turn the tide on the Eastern Front. But Churchill, Hastings reminds us, knew as well as anyone that the war would be dominated by others, and he managed his relationships with the other Allied leaders strategically, so as to maintain Britain’s influence and limit Stalin’s gains.
At the same time, Churchill faced political peril at home, a situation for which he himself was largely to blame. Hastings shows how Churchill nearly squandered the miraculous escape of the British troops at Dunkirk and failed to address fundamental flaws in the British Army. His tactical inaptitude and departmental meddling won him few friends in the military, and by 1942, many were calling for him to cede operational control. Nevertheless, Churchill managed to exude a public confidence that brought the nation through the bitter war.
Hastings rejects the traditional Churchill hagiography while still managing to capture what he calls Churchill’s “appetite for the fray.” Certain to be a classic, Winston’s War is a riveting profile of one of the greatest leaders of the twentieth century.
“A magnificent achievement. After the vast number of works on Churchill that have appeared in the last sixty-five years, one could be forgiven for thinking everything significant must already have been said, but Winston’s War is something fresh and different . . . One of those rare books that create in the reader a palpable feeling of the excitement, fear, frustration, grief, dread, all-too-occasional elation, and numbing fatigue of those critical days.”
—New York Review of Books
“It is phenomenally difficult to unearth fresh stories and anecdotes about a man as widely and deeply covered historically as Winston Churchill, yet Hastings succeeds again and again . . . . [N]one can fail to admire [Hastings’s] archival tenacity and sheer authorial reach. His chapter on Churchill in Athens in Christmas 1944 is worth the price of the book alone.”
—Andrew Roberts, The Daily Telegraph
“Although there have been a number of books recently about the Allied leaders in the Second World War, this one should not be missed…The book’s portrait of Churchill is scrupulously fair and often deeply moving, describing his great courage and vision as well as his obstinate misjudgments and blind spots. In fact, Hastings excels with all his character portraits, which brilliantly illuminate the key relationships, especially with Roosevelt and Stalin. Hastings is truly a master of strategy and high command.”
—Anthony Beevor, Mail on Sunday
“With great skill and felicity, Max Hastings has given us a rich account and analysis of Churchill and his role in the Second World War. He does not ignore his many faults but ultimately, quite rightly, it is his greatness that triumphs in this splendidly told tale.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Hastings has written an impressive book, full of judicious asides, and it deserves a wide readership.”
—United States Naval Institute
“As Max Hastings relates with admirable objectivity in Winston’s War, however noble Churchill’s will and sublime his language, his record as a strategist was very mixed indeed. While regularly reminding us (and maybe himself) of Churchill’s greatness, Hastings describes one lamentable mistake after another.”
—New York Times Book Review
“Military historian Hastings adds to his illustrious reputation with this magnificent analysis of Winston Churchill’s years of greatness . . . Hastings recognizes Churchill’s strategic errors, his misplaced enthusiasms . . . But ‘the outcome justified all.’”
“This is a rich and rewarding book, the fruit of many years of reflection on the conduct of war. It is enlivened by countless insights on matters great and small, and by a spare, trenchant style which holds the reader’s attention throughout its 600 pages… For all his mistakes, Churchill had a moral stature, a generosity of spirit, and a largeness of vision unique among his leading contemporaries, qualities which were acknowledged even by those who disagreed with him. They enabled him to exercise an influence, particularly in 1942 and 1943, out of all proportion to the military and economic weight of his country. Even his misjudgments were pressed with a force of personality and rhetorical skill which forced his allies and his chiefs of staff to think beyond the routine, and to work harder to justify their views.”
“Hastings is probably as qualified to understand Churchill as any man of his generation can be. Like Churchill, he spent his early life seeking adventure—as a war correspondent in Biafra and Vietnam he saw more shooting than most soldiers in the post-war British army (until now). Like Churchill, he has great confidence in his own judgment….Hastings captures Churchill’s mix of charm, exhibitionism, sentimentality, and egotism….Hastings…writes with the calm and authority that come from long experience and wide reading.”
—Times Literary Supplement
“Max Hastings has written a subtly revisionist account of Britain’s wartime premier, chiefly by viewing Churchill through the eyes of others….. That Hastings is never seduced by Churchill’s effortless apophthegms and anecdotes is one indication that this is a really fine book rather than simply an addition to the hagiography…. Doubtless this remarkable book will irritate those who like their history sealed and dusted, or worse, cite Churchill for mere political advantage. At a time when our politicians are mismanaging a foreign war, it has many invaluable lessons, not just about leadership, but about the relationship between soldiers and civil society, which range far beyond the period Hastings nominally addresses. In that respect this is a timely as well as a judicious and important book.”
—The Daily Telegraph
“Hastings presents [Churchill] . . . as a ruthless, brandy-gulping Tory with the fire and the guts to beat Hitler . . . . [I]n a crowded field, this is one of the best books ever written about Churchill.”
—Piers Brendon, The Sunday Times
“With prose that’s a joy to read, the redoubtable and much-published Max Hastings turns his pen to what Churchill remains famous for. Despite other works examining this subject, libraries and readers of many persuasions will want this massive and detailed examination of the prime minister and his personal war.”
“The indomitable character of Churchill comes alive in these pages, and Hastings forces the reader to ponder how the war might have turned out had the stalwart leader not been at the helm. A magisterial, commanding, and immensely thought-provoking history.”
—Kirkus Reviews (Starred review)