Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory,, 1874-1932 by William Manchester (1983)

First of all,a figure as grand and important and institutional and interesting as Winston Churchill not only gets a Prologue, he's gets a goddamn Preamble.  Delightful!
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A wonderfully written, wondrous biography - stupendous in length and depth and breadth.  But could any biography of Winston Churchill be otherwise?  He was a man of wonderful, wondrous width and length and depth and breadth.  Manchester's prose in places is quite moving and beautiful, sometimes even haunting.  Here he is describing the end of World War I:  "Outside, the rapturous demonstrations continued through the afternoon, frolickers romped over the Mall, throwing firecrackers and confetti.  Suddenly, the weather took an ominous turn. The sky darkened. Rain began to fall, hard.  Some Londoners sought refuge in the lap of Queen Victoria's statue, but after huddling there a few minutes they climbed down.  They had found little shelter there, and less comfort.  The arms were stone cold."  Oh, what delicious foreshadowing, and written so poetically.


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The wit of Churchill is well known, and I don't want to quote ad nauseum all the clever and humorous things he said.  Here is one, deprecating and brilliant, retold by Manchester:  A gushing woman asked him:  "Doesn't it thrill you, Mr. Churchill, to know that every time you speak the hall is packed to overflowing?"  Winston said: "It is quite flattering, but whenever I feel this way I always remember that, if instead of making a political speech, I was being hanged, the crowd would be twice as big."

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He was always in debt, and lived like a king.  He was always late.  "He would always be unpunctual, always missing trains, ships, and, later, planes, until he reached a station so exalted that they all waited for him."  He never seemed to hold a grudge.  He was completely full of himself, always, all the time:  "We are all worms.  But I do believe I am a glowworm."  This with cruelly uncaring, dismissive and absent parents.  He loved his wife to the ends of the earth and back.  He lost, and lost - kept falling off the horse, but kept getting back on.  He suffered from deep, black depression.  A great man mixed with good and bad, he was larger and small, heroic and racist, a drunk and a gentleman.  Completely without shame.  One of the greatest politicians of all time, one of the greatest men of all time.  
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“It is the definition of an egoist that whatever occupies his attention is, for that reason, important.”  

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The Last Lion 1: Visions of Glory 1874-1932The Last Lion 1: Visions of Glory 1874-1932 by William Raymond Manchester
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Simply, one of the best biographies I've ever had the pleasure to read.  Manchester prose is often moving, always vivid, incredibly witty, and occasionally brilliant.  This is a book stupendous in length and depth and breadth.  But could any biography of Winston Churchill be otherwise?  He was a man of wonderful, wondrous width and length and depth and breadth. Come on, right off the bat you know you are opening up something special about someone huge and grand - Winston Church is so interesting and inspirational that he requires a Preamble in addition to the usual Prologue and Introduction.  He was always in debt, and lived like a king.  We learn so much about the great man, and he still remains something of an enigma.  He was always late.  "He would always be unpunctual, always missing trains, ships, and, later, planes, until he reached a station so exalted that they all waited for him."  He never seemed to hold a grudge.  He was completely full of himself, always, all the time:  "We are all worms.  But I do believe I am a glowworm."  This sense of self worth with cruelly uncaring, dismissive and absent parents.  He loved his wife to the ends of the earth and back.  He lost, and lost - kept falling off the horse, but kept getting back on.  He suffered from deep, black depression.  A great man mixed with good and bad, he was larger and small, heroic and racist, a drunk and a gentleman.  Completely without shame.  One of the greatest politicians of all time, one of the greatest men of all time. Well worth a month of reading, that's for sure.  With two more volumes to go!

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