I’m about to start several tours for (mainly) Americans who are following in the footsteps of Winston Churchill. We’ll be doing Chartwell, Blenheim, Bletchley Park, the Cabinet War Rooms, and various Winston-related sites in the capital.
I’ve been prepping like mad by reading a whole bunch of biographies and commentaries, some of which are listed below.
There are millions more, and if I read any others I’ll add them to this list. Recommendations from you, dear reader of this blog, are welcome.
And of course, don’t forget Boris Johnson’s biography of Churchill. I say ‘don’t forget’ so that you remember never to buy it or waste your time reading it – “bears about as much relation to a history book as an episode of Doctor Who does to a BBC4 documentary” is one of the politer reviews.
Churchill: Walking with destiny
A thumping great piece of work (1,000 pages already!), but Roberts writes very well so although reading the whole thing is a bit of a mountain to climb it doesn’t feel like a huge chore. If it’s not definitive, it’s pretty darn close.
Where Roberts’s book is a doorstop, this slim volume can be read almost in one sitting. Haffner was a journalist and historian, an emigre from Hitler’s Germany. This biography was published shortly after Churchill’s death – it may be short on facts and details, but it is brilliantly insightful. Recommended.
Five Days in London, May 1940
The story of the fateful Cabinet meetings shortly after Churchill became PM when a proposal to negotiate terms with Hitler were discussed and ultimately rejected. This forms the basis of the ‘Darkest Hour’ film for which Gary Oldman won his Oscar.
In the Footsteps of Churchill
The late military historian Holmes wrote this book to accompany a BBC series in 2005. It’s very good on source material, and very good on strengths and deficiencies in Churchill’s strategy. It is also surprisingly critical of the pre-war Churchill – both his actions and his character. Another recommended book.
The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family and Defiance During the Blitz
I mentioned this is my last round up of books. Larsen is a novelist and this has a novelist’s skill in telling a story and involving the reader. It’s a look at the year May 1940-May 1941, from Churchill becoming PM to the end of the Blitz.