Reviews of Churchill's Shadow by Geoffrey Wheatcroft

Churchill's Shadow

The Life and Afterlife of Winston Churchill

by Geoffrey Wheatcroft

Churchill's Shadow by Geoffrey Wheatcroft X
Churchill's Shadow by Geoffrey Wheatcroft
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Oct 2021, 640 pages

    Paperback:
    Apr 25, 2023, 640 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Peggy Kurkowski
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About this Book

Book Summary

A major reassessment of Winston Churchill that examines his lasting influence in politics and culture.

Churchill is generally considered one of the greatest leaders of the twentieth century, if not the greatest of all, revered for his opposition to appeasement, his defiance in the face of German bombing of England, his political prowess, his deft aphorisms, and his memorable speeches. He became the savior of his country, as prime minister during the most perilous period in British history, World War II, and is now perhaps even more beloved in America than in England.

And yet Churchill was also very often in the wrong: he brazenly contradicted his own previous political stances, was a disastrous military strategist, and inspired dislike and distrust through much of his life. Before 1939 he doubted the efficacy of tank and submarine warfare, opposed the bombing of cities only to reverse his position, shamelessly exploited the researchers and ghostwriters who wrote much of the journalism and the books published so lucratively under his name, and had an inordinate fondness for alcohol that once found him drinking whisky before breakfast. When he was appointed to the cabinet for the first time in 1908, a perceptive journalist called him "the most interesting problem of personal speculation in English politics." More than a hundred years later, he remains a source of adulation, as well as misunderstanding.

This revelatory new book takes on Churchill in his entirety, separating the man from the myth that he so carefully cultivated, and scrutinizing his legacy on both sides of the Atlantic. In effervescent prose, shot through with sly wit, Geoffrey Wheatcroft illuminates key moments and controversies in Churchill's career―from the tragedy of Gallipoli, to his shocking imperialist and racist attitudes, dealings with Ireland, support for Zionism, and complicated engagement with European integration.

Charting the evolution and appropriation of Churchill's reputation through to the present day, Churchill's Shadow colorfully renders the nuance and complexity of this giant of modern politics.

Prologue: 'This little place'

House of Commons 1963

A hush fell as he entered the chamber in a wheelchair and took his seat, not on the Treasury Bench where he had sat as prime minister at an exalted moment in his country's history, but in another hallowed place below the gangway, from where he had once delivered his warnings about the threat from Adolf Hitler, and before that about the threat from Mohandas Gandhi. Sir Winston Churchill had sat in the House since the beginning of the century, but hadn't spoken for some years, was visibly frail, and may not have properly followed proceedings: by now more sacred talisman than elder statesman.

That day in the summer of 1963 was the one occasion when I ever saw Churchill plain and close at hand. I was a schoolboy absorbed by politics, and a friend's father, a Labour Member of Parliament, had given me a pass to the gallery of the House of Commons. For all that he was aged and infirm, I was glad to have seen him for myself, and to have ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

As the word "shadow" in the title indicates, there is an ambivalence surrounding Churchill's impact, and it is this "history of opinions" that Wheatcroft elegantly assembles for the reader. With a wealth of resources and razor-sharp wit throughout, he delivers a far more flawed portrait of Churchill, but does so in a way that does not detract from the man's importance in the least. This volume offers a bracingly independent view that should resonate with fans and foes alike...continued

Full Review Members Only (829 words).

(Reviewed by Peggy Kurkowski).

Media Reviews

New York Times
In his new book, Churchill's Shadow, Geoffrey Wheatcroft takes a literary spray can to the iconic World War II leader, attempting metaphorically at least to recast the many memorials and books devoted to Sir Winston over the years. Churchill, in this telling, was not just a racist but a hypocrite, a dissembler, a narcissist, an opportunist, an imperialist, a drunk, a strategic bungler, a tax dodger, a neglectful father, a credit-hogging author, a terrible judge of character and, most of all, a masterful mythmaker...few have argued the case as powerfully as Wheatcroft.

Washington Post
Wheatcroft puts every baked and half-baked leftist criticism in one place...At the most basic level, a book such as Wheatcroft's demonstrates the smallness of his frame compared with the largeness of his subject. The author comes off as a snide journalist fishing with a tiny ideological net...Wheatcroft seems like a single Lilliputian attempting to tie down Gulliver with a single thread.

Sunday Times (UK)
Trenchant....Even readers sick of Churchill will find much to enjoy, partly because Wheatcroft is such a fluent and entertaining writer, but also because he has so many interesting and provocative things to say.

Booklist (starred review)
A provocative reevaluation of an iconic figure.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Former Spectator literary editor Wheatcroft brings superior scholarship, controlled, intermittently witty prose, and warts-and-all admiration to the acknowledged surfeit of writing about Churchill...A lively and rigorous deep dive into the ambiguous, still-relevant geopolitical odyssey that Churchill represents.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[A] fresh take on Winston Churchill's life and legacy...Wheatcroft doesn't shy away from Churchill's racism and imperialism...or his support for the merciless bombing offensive against German cities and civilians...while expressing sincere admiration for his eloquence and ability to inspire strength and action. The result is an exhilarating reassessment that will appeal to Churchill buffs and newcomers alike.

Library Journal
Fans of history will find much value in this readable work; historians may be challenged by some of its interpretations.

Author Blurb David Kynaston, author of Tales of a New Jerusalem
Provocative, clear-sighted, richly textured, and wonderfully readable, this is the indispensable book on Churchill for the post–Brexit 2020s: of unmissable and sometimes uncomfortable relevance to both British exceptionalists and those who fail to understand the seductive allure of that exceptionalism.

Author Blurb Robert Gildea, professor of Modern History, University of Oxford, and author of Empires of the Mind
A clear-eyed, incisive, and superbly balanced account of Churchill, the man and the myth. Wheatcroft shows how a deeply flawed character, with outdated views on empire and race even by the standards of his own time, but a 'Rossini of rhetoric,' caught a wave of history in 1940 and became the darling of the British and American Right. Much to think about in the twenty-first century.

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Beyond the Book

Winston Churchill in TV and Film

Darkest Hour movie poster featuring Gary Oldman as Churchill in profile smoking cigarCountless movies about Winston Churchill have been made in the decades since World War II, with different actors playing the starring role to varying degrees of success. What are some of the most — and least — memorable of these cinematic depictions, and what effect did these films have in perpetuating the Churchill legend?

As Geoffrey Wheatcroft notes in his book Churchill's Shadow: The Life and Afterlife of Winston Churchill, movie and television adaptations of Churchill's years as war prime minister run the gamut in both quality and historical accuracy. Indeed, not every actor chosen to play the enigmatic Winston liked the man, the best example being the A-list English actor Richard Burton. For the 1974 BBC television ...

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