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This discussion affirms why Roy Jenkins was not only a great British politician, but also the most suited writer to write the biography of England’s exemplary Prime Minister and warlord – Winston Churchill.
Summary of Roy Jenkins’ Churchill: A Biography
In Churchill: A Biography, Roy Jenkins as the author gives a detailed analysis of the personality and life of Churchill right from childhood coupled with his political life during and after the Second World War. Having served in top leadership positions, the author provides an elaborate narration of Churchill’s remarkable career in well-structured overarching themes. The brilliant breadth of knowledge and elegant intelligence makes Churchill: A Biography one of the best biographies of Churchill.
The book is divided into six parts and each part covers different sections of Churchill’s life as from 1874 to 1965. These sections are accompanied by references, selected bibliographies, glossary of parliamentary terms, and index pages to give the reader a good comprehension of the narration.
The first section deals with the young Winston Churchill and his life with his father, Lord Randolph, who was a member Tory Party. Here, the author presents a side of Winston Churchill that does not shy away from confessing his love for his mother
The second section, The Glow-worm Glows: The Morning was Golden 1908-1914, introduces the reader to a young diplomat who spent time uniting with some Tory MPs such as Ian Malcolm and Arthur Stanley.
These Mps were renamed the Hughligans due to their offensive and critic character. The subsequent section focuses on Churchill’s Admiralty and his life. It introduces readers to a controversial Churchill who facilitated the Dardanelles/Gallipoli campaign, which failed, thus forcing him to pull out and move to the military in France.1
Part three and four introduce readers to a determined Churchill who after failing in the Dardanelines/Gallipoli campaign, serves as a battalion commander in France and then as a Secretary for War.
However, after the fall of the Liberal Party, he fails to win a seat until he is elected as an independent MP in the 1924 elections. He later on served as Chancellor of the Exchequer. At the brink of the Second World War, Neville Chamberlain invited him back where he served in the First Lord and Admiralty and then took over the post of Neville Chamberlain as the Prime Minister.
The zenith of the narration is in part five, The Savior of His Country and the Light of the World- 1939-1945, where the leadership of Churchill is evident. His motivational speeches encouraged the British army to soldier on even when Hitler was at the brink of winning the war.
Churchill played a critical role in helping the Britain succeed in the war. Section 6 focuses on the final moments of Churchill’s life. Jenkins elaborates on Churchill’s peaceful campaigns. In a recap, the book introduces readers to a man who lived a very long and dynamic life. From the onset, Winston Churchill lived a life full of action, conflict, challenges, and accomplishments.
Critical Analysis of Roy Jenkins and Churchill Biography
Churchill: A Biography is another book to add to the list of books that give a description of Winston Churchill. The book comes with a difference considering how it illustrates a bloated, but distinctive life of one of the greatest prime ministers of the Great Britain. Reading through the book one understands why Roy Jenkins was a respected diplomat in Britain as well as a historian. As it has been with the other 19 books written by Jenkins, his knowledge in British political history is insightful.
Napoleon may have joined the politics of Europe, which had a massive vacuum that needed to be filled. He filled these gaps without faking anything. Conversely, Churchill did not find any vacuum when he joined politics apart from the one he experienced in the Conservative Party. Nonetheless, he created his own space to make a name for himself through strength and aptitude. Lord Jenkins notes that Churchill grew to become the ultimate challenge, an assumption that he portrayed splendidly.2
Therefore, what are some of the hallmarks of the book? what is in Churchill: A Biography that lacks in other books like My Early Life and The Second World War? A reader of the latter books will question how Jenkins narrates the story of Churchill differently to distinguish him from previous and current writers focusing on the same topic. Jenkins had served in various political positions during his lifetime such as the Home Secretary as well as the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
He also served as the President of the European Commission and later on as the Chancellor of Oxford. Serving in such positions gave him an actual feeling of the merits and demerits of operating at such social levels. He joked that someone in demanding positions as Churchill has a right to have good meals, drinks, and environment.
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The incidences in Jenkins’ life gave him a remarkable comprehension of some of happenings in Churchill’s life that are often sealed from many observers. He was in a position to see Churchill as a reformist who could not allow other politicians such as Lloyd George to outshine his efforts. His reforms were evident in issues pertaining to prisons and Labor exchanges. Churchill adopted a liberal mindset when it came to issues affecting England.
In his second tenure, he supported the efforts of Macmillan to provide shelter to most homeless citizens, although the shanties that emerged after the program posed a risk to urban planning. Jenkins also gives a good account of Churchill’s performance as the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the onset of 20th Century, which was the era of the Gold Standard.
He was against the Gold Standard, but he was persuaded by the connection between the gold influence and the Two-Power Standard. He further agreed with the Treasury as well as the Bank of England, which stated that the reserve currency was of great essence to the city.
Jenkins also gives a depth analysis of Churchill’s wealth. He clearly takes a different path from other authors who have often shied away from this issue. His explanation is thorough that one will imagine he had access to Churchill’s financial statements. Most biographers find it difficult to access the bank accounts of their protagonists.
However, from the studies done by Jenkins, the reader is startled by how much Churchill earned during his political life. Jenkins converts the amount into contemporary value. Though he undervalues the amount, readers can easily rectify the mistake and quantify Churchill’s wealth.
The author does not also fail to describe the domestic life of Churchill, which reveals an amazing character of Churchill -a man who loved moving from one residence to another. He frequently traded his properties such as flats and hotel suites. He was a frequent traveler and he visited almost all the continents.
He was always up to something, not only political, but also business and social events. Essentially, he was a scrounger who dined and slept in other people’s homes. Nonetheless, Jenkins does not mention if Churchill was a frequent tipper, but the reader will likely conclude that he was one given such a lifestyle.
An insightful analysis of Churchill: A Biography reveals how Jenkins portrays his distorted mindset towards Churchill and his explanation of the people who venerated Churchill and those who gave him little attention. The author narrates that Churchill was a man who was loved and hated with equal measure.
His influence met opposition and support by other politicians who gradually faded away after confessing how their hatred resulted in humiliation. Jenkins gives an amazing contrast between Churchill and Adolph Hitler, the German autocrat who showed compassion to his formal family and showered them with gifts during birthdays and any other special day in their lives.
Even in his writings, Jenkins’ character is still evident. A reader understands his writing prowess. His love for names is overtly evident. For instance, the name Hotel Prince de Galles will only befit normal conversations, but most publishers and editors will have issues with long names that appear in almost every page and thus ask for their removal.3 If the editors proceeded with such alteration, then it will have created space for Jenkins to incorporate some of the issues that are lacking in his writing.
Some of these deficits are associated with the First World War. Jenkins fails to mention how Churchill advocated for tanks. The presence of weapons, barbed wire, and trenches during the war helped many Edwardian scholars to know of Churchill’s support for the tanks in connection with the armored land ship. Churchill was among the main individuals who facilitated the landing of the greatest tank at Hatfield Park.4
Another clear shortfall of the book has to do with Turkey. Turkey was involved in the purchase of modern weapons from Germany and Britain under the leadership of the Young Turks. The Ottoman Empire had signed a contract with Britain to build super-dreadnoughts. The ships were of great esteem and power. With the looming war, Churchill requested for the armors from the Royal Navy. He clearly had no other option.
The reaction from the Turks was outrageous. Books dealing with the World War History such as The World Crisis have indicated that the Turkeys’ reaction almost promoted Churchill to make it an ally. Nonetheless, Germany reacted quickly to fill the vacuum. They gave Turkey their battle cruiser and light cruiser to convince the Turks to trust Germany as its ally.
This battle cruiser later triggered a fight in Sebastopol.5 Turkey had the option of siding with either Germany or Britain. However, Churchill failed in convincing it to join him. Consequently, this occurrence forced Britain to wage war against Turkey. Though Britain won the battle against the Ottoman Empire, the war generated a long-lasting confusion.
Another issue will be how Jenkins portrays Moran in his book. In essence, Jenkins is not obligated to know everyone by his/her title, but his unkindness to Moran is a trivial mistake. Jenkins claims that Moran was self-regarding as he refers to his (Moran) diaries. He accuses Moran of taking a central position, but failing to give reliable and discreet chain of events.
With such a perception, many readers may conclude that Moran was just like many other doctors who used the name of patients to seek popularity, but he was a dedicated doctor. In addition, Jenkins erroneously refers to Russell Brian as a neurological surgeon.6
Despite the few deficits, Jenkins’ book is well presented. It has a properly outlined table of contents guiding the reader into the world of Churchill. The book also contains an index to help the reader refer on issues that need further understanding. Jenkins wisely includes his comments on the Churchill writings such as My Early Life without conflicting with the central themes.
The author has succeeded in balancing the life and times of Churchill as well as the history that occurred during his times. It is worth noting the numerous instances where Jenkins opted to use French expressions such as villeguature and va-et-vient when he could have used English expressions. Perhaps his position as the President of the European Union introduced him to a number of European languages.7
The book, Churchill: A Biography, has many pages, which may discourage many readers as they may find it tedious. However, such an attitude is bound to change soon after one goes through the content of the book. Just as many other bestselling books, no reader will wish the book were a page lesser.
Jenkins’ narration and the fact that he summarized the life of a political hero in a single book will attract more readers. Its shortcomings are overshadowed by the insightful thoughts evident throughout the book. As a student, I often had varied opinions about the Prime Minister, hence creating confusion, which I well deserved. However, this book has cleared my perceptions and I can now visualize Churchill and describe him without ambiguity.
Adonis, Andrew, and Keith Thomas. Roy Jenkins: A Retrospective. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Churchill, Winston. The World Crisis, 1911-1918. New York, NY: Free Press, 2005.
Jenkins, Roy. Churchill: A Bibliography. New York, NY: Plume, 2001.
1Roy Jenkins, Churchill: A Bibliography (New York: Plume, 2001), 201.
3Winston Churchill, The World Crisis, 1911-1918, (New York: Free Press, 2005), 113.
4 Andrew Adonis and Keith Thomas, Roy Jenkins: A Retrospective, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 86.
5 Churchill, 96
7 Adonis and Thomas, 54