Not having a review quite ready tonight I was looking back on unpublished reviews. Winston Churchill is currently best known as a great orator and leader of England in World War II. He is less remembered for being a great writer. For much of his life it was his primary source of income. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953. Some years ago I read a fascinating book about his series of books on World War II.
18. - 428.) In Command of History – Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War by David Reynolds – Winston Churchill inspired and led England during WW II. After the war he wrote a 6 volume set of memoirs that I always considered a history of the war. I was surprised by the number of people who Churchill invited to comment on drafts. Almost anyone of significance discussed was given a chance to present their views on what he had written. The top bureaucrats in the Cabinet Secretary’s office, especially the Secretary, discreetly assisted and edited and advised. Churchill was far more sensitive than I expected to the need to avoid excessive controversy with individuals (politicians / bureaucrats / military), Allies (the U.S., Commonwealth and France) and former Allies (the U.S.S.R.). Reynolds sets out how often “diplomacy took precedence over history”. I had not thought about how difficult it is to quote letters and other communications without the consent of the other party. While I had always expected Churchill had skilled researchers I never realized how much they contributed to the actual writing. While Churchill vetted each of the 2,000,000 or so words a significant portion were written by researchers. It was a fascinating insight into how history is created by the choices of the writers. Modern historians would be appalled by the deletions Churchill makes in documents for reasons of style or to avoid controversy or because they do not reflect well on him. He did his best to conceal his preference in 1943-1994 for such Mediterranean ventures as occupying Aegean Islands over the invasion of France. Not surprisingly Churchill believed strongly in history being decided by great men and personal summitry to deal with problems (himself, Roosevelt and Stalin). I had not seen his handwritten note of percentages of influence in the Balkans checkmarked by Stalin. A great example of new information and analysis of a man for whom you would guess all was known and said. Excellent. (May 3/08)