Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932 (The Last Lion #1)

0316545031.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932 by William Manchester
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Before he became the face of the dogged determination in World War II and the voice of inspiration for the British people, Winston Churchill was a scion of a noble family looking to make his mark and coming close on many occasions. The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932 is the first volume of William Manchester’s biographical trilogy which deals with Churchill’s early life and his adventurous political career until he was shunned by power and entered the political wilderness.

A scion of the ducal Marlborough family, Winston Spencer-Churchill was the eldest son of a second son and his American wife. Before even getting to Winston’s birth and life, Manchester paints the social, cultural, and political landscape he would be born into, be indoctrinated to believe in, and defend his entire life. Throughout his life, Winston would use the connections of his parent’s friends and acquaintances to advance himself early in his career while a boon to his military and early political careers it hardly made up for the fact that both his parents were aloof to his existence even for the times of the British upper class. Manchester relates Winston’s school misadventures and horrible academic record for the classical education expected off one of his station, but while he failed to understand Greek or Latin his “remedial” studies of English year after year would serve him the rest of his life as a journalist, author, and speaking in Parliament. While he served in wars in the frontier of the Empire, first in India then in Sudan, and afterwards in South Africa he initially went there as a “journalist” but used his military rank to join battles or was recruited by the commander on the spot to lead men. Upon the completion of the Boer War, during which he was taken prisoner and escaped, Winston entered politics in his eyes to take up his late father’s torch. Once on the floor of the House, Winston’s speeches were events to be listened to and to be written about in the papers. His familial connections got him in touch with the high circles of the Conservative party, but the issue of Free Trade and his own “radical” views on issues made him become a Liberal and soon found him apart of the new government the party form and would be until after the events connected with Gallipoli during the First World War resulted in him taking to the trenches on the Western Front. After a return to a position in the Government, Winston soon found him edging away from the Liberal Party that was dying in the face for the rise of the Labour Party and soon returned the Conservatives to be among their new Government. Yet the same tensions that made Winston leave the Party in the first place were still there but with more animosity but it was the issue of India sent Winston still a Conservative into the political wilderness that many of his political adversaries believed him to be finished, especially at his age.

In nearly 900 pages of text, Manchester not only details the first 58 years of Winston’s life but also the times he lived in while slowly setting things up for the final volume for the events in which he is most well-known to the public today. There seems to be a bias by Manchester towards Winston that does make it through to the page instead of a little more balanced writing in places, however Manchester does not shy away that Winston’s views and words around the India issue essentially were racist even though at the time it was common thought by many in Britain. Manchester gives balanced view of Winston’s relations with the working class while at the same time revealing why Labour and the press said he was against them. The account of the Dardanelles and Gallipoli campaign that is always blamed on Winston is given fully fleshed out including what actions Winston were accountable for and those he was not and why it was he that the failure was attached to.

Visions of Glory, 1874-1932 reveals the times and environment in which Winston Churchill was brought up and how they shaped him as he entered politics and attempted to rise to power. William Manchester gives a full picture of a young then middle-aged politician whose life was a roller coaster that influenced the British Empire its domestic and foreign affairs, but never held ultimate power and seemed never to. If one wants to know Churchill this book is a great place to start.

The Great War: The Combat History of the First World War

0199976279.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Great War: A Combat History of the First World War by Peter Hart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In searching for a book about First World War beyond the usually recommended and focusing on the actual tactics and strategies on the battlefield instead of various political and social events that other books seem to promote, it was my hope that Peter Hart’s The Great War: A Combat History of the First World War would fill that need.  Upon finishing The Great War I can say that the book not only met my expectations, but put to shame some other books that frankly put blame on individuals for the conduct on the war by ignoring the facts.

Hart emphasizes the importance of the Western Front throughout the book as being the main theater of the entire war.  Although Hart gives a good amount of pages and thorough telling of the events in the Naval War, the Eastern Front, and several side-show theaters like the Italian, Mesopotamia, and Palestine; he gives the developments in all those other theaters on how they affected the Western Front through various means.  The tactical and strategic battle of wits between commanders on both sides on all fronts are given excellent explanations by Hart and are shown to be the reason the war lasted so long and the casualties were so high.

Hart argues that it was the British were responsible for the victorious outcome of the Allied cause, but only after taking over as the main coalition partner from the French in 1916 and with assistance from the Americans whose presence on the battlefield forced the Germans’ hand into a failed offensive push in 1918.  Throughout the book, Hart shows the three-year progression of collective British thinking about how to fight the war, not only learning from their successes and failures but those of the French and Germans.  At the end of the book even Hart admits that if the war had continued into 1919 while entering German territory, the Americans would have surpassed the British as the main combatant given their fresher force.

Sprinkled throughout the book, Hart incorporated first-hand accounts of soldiers from all sides about how combat was like during the war.  It is eye-opening look at a sometimes misunderstood war for any reader.  Although generally good, Hart seems to just putting quotes back-to-back numerous times in the book which upsets the flow of the overall work.  Occasional grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes do crop up as well though they are few and far between so as not to takeaway from the overall work.

For anyone wanting to understand the First World War on a tactical and strategic level, Peter Hart’s The Great War is a fantastic read and will give the reader a better understanding of this shamefully misunderstood period in history that affects us even today.

The Guns of August

034538623x.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

While the ultimate outcome of The Great War was not decided in it’s first month, the nature of the contest was as Barbara Tuchman so masterfully illustrates in The Guns of August.

From the outset Tuchman shows that all the belligerents made crucial mistakes that slowly mounted resulting the Allied victory at the Marne then to total stalemate for four bloody years.  The first 30 days of combat on the Western Front when the entire continent and possibly the world thought it would be a short war, after over 40 years of continental peace, changed everything and everyone it touched along with those it didn’t.

In almost 450 pages of text, Tuchman gives an overview of how the war plans that both sides would use in that first month were developed and then showed the history of what happened when they were applied.  She filled each page with dense material but with no frivolous words to get in the way.  Although in a few places she must, along with the reader guess at what a particular individual commander was thinking at a particular moment she supports her conclusion with the overall situation he faced at the time.  Tuchman quoted individuals in their native tongue, however for some one like myself who didn’t now any French or German it meant nothing and I had to figure out what was implied by what Tuchman wrote before and afterwards.  If leaving unexplained a quote in foreign language is the worst critique I can assess a book, then I’m literally grabbing at straws.

The Guns of August was an instant classic upon publication and for any student of history it is a must read.  With the 100-year anniversary of The Great War’s beginning fast approaching, now is an excellent time to do so.

The World Wars Episode 2

The World Wars
Episode 2: “A Rising Threat”
HISTORY

The Good: The paths to power of Hitler, Roosevelt, and Churchill were well done besides the fact they stumbled on chronology for Churchill. The various battle scenes were another great part of this episode like the previous one. The opening scene of the Stock Market crash and then the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ were very well done.

The Bad: The various chronology errors and double backs, which went hand-in-hand with asserting that political or military decisions were based on leader’s opinions of their opposites in enemy nations (save for Churchill’s warnings about Hitler). Asserting the Emperor Hirohito was more politically involved then he likely was.

The Ugly: The repeat of awful retelling of the Communist takeover at the beginning of the Stalin segment. Patton is completely ignored this entire episode even though he is one of the characters featured in the title sequence.

No Opinion: The path and motivations behind the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor seemed off, especially their economic/military strategy in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. However I’m not too sure if it’s part of the chronology errors listed above or just wrong history.

Grade: B+

The World Wars Episode 1

The World Wars
Episode 1: “Trial by Fire”
HISTORY

The Good: The bio portions on Hitler and Churchill were the standouts for the entire episode. The battle scenes for the Western Front were very excellent for the most part, including the opening scene which I thought was a brilliant move. I liked the decision to view both World Wars as one single event because let’s face it, they were.

The Bad: Uber-America in WWI. Apparently British and French commanders didn’t learn anything between 1914-17 before the Americans entered the battlefield in 1918. Also the US invented the tank apparently (I thought it was the British) and how to use it in combination with infantry to push the Germans back…I could have sworn the British did it first, at Amiens.

The Ugly: Stalin would have loved how the program made him Lenin’s right hand man in the October Revolution even though they completely messed up how the Czar fell and the Communists rose…10 months apart. BTW, Stalin was down in Georgia (the country not the state) during the events in Petrograd (aka St. Petersburg).

No Opinion: FDR is mentioned a few times, but since he was Assistant Secretary of the Navy at the time he really didn’t do much. The sections on Mussolini were very interesting, I would have put them under “The Good” however I don’t know if they are historically accurate.

Grade: B-