Finest Years: Churchill as Warlord 1940-45

Max Hastings

Finest Years: Churchill as Warlord 1940-45

Winston Churchill was the greatest war leader Britain ever had. In 1940, the nation rallied behind him in an extraordinary fashion. But thereafter, argues Max Hastings, there was a deep divide between what Churchill wanted from the British people and their army, and what they were capable of delivering. Himself a hero, he expected others to show themselves heroes also, and was often disappointed. It is little understood how low his popularity fell in 1942, amid an unbroken succession of battlefield defeats. Some of his closest colleagues joined a clamour for him to abandon his role directing the war machine. Hastings paints a wonderfully vivid image of the Prime Minister in triumph and tragedy. He describes the 'second Dunkirk' in 1940, when Churchill's impulsiveness threatened to lose Britain almost as many troops in north-west France as had been saved from the beaches; his wooing of the Americans, and struggles with the Russians. British wartime unity was increasingly tarnished by workers' unrest, with many strikes in mines and key industries. By looking at Churchill from the outside in, through the eyes of British soldiers, civilians and newspapers, and also those of Russians and Americans, Hastings provides new perspectives on the greatest Englishman. He condemns as folly Churchill's attempt to promote mass uprisings in occupied Europe, and details 'Unthinkable', his amazing 1945 plan for an Allied offensive against the Russians to liberate Poland. 4.8 out of 5 based on 6 reviews
Finest Years: Churchill as Warlord 1940-45

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Biography, History
Format Hardback
Pages 576
RRP £25.00
Date of Publication September 2009
ISBN 978-0007263677
Publisher HarperPress
 

Winston Churchill was the greatest war leader Britain ever had. In 1940, the nation rallied behind him in an extraordinary fashion. But thereafter, argues Max Hastings, there was a deep divide between what Churchill wanted from the British people and their army, and what they were capable of delivering. Himself a hero, he expected others to show themselves heroes also, and was often disappointed. It is little understood how low his popularity fell in 1942, amid an unbroken succession of battlefield defeats. Some of his closest colleagues joined a clamour for him to abandon his role directing the war machine. Hastings paints a wonderfully vivid image of the Prime Minister in triumph and tragedy. He describes the 'second Dunkirk' in 1940, when Churchill's impulsiveness threatened to lose Britain almost as many troops in north-west France as had been saved from the beaches; his wooing of the Americans, and struggles with the Russians. British wartime unity was increasingly tarnished by workers' unrest, with many strikes in mines and key industries. By looking at Churchill from the outside in, through the eyes of British soldiers, civilians and newspapers, and also those of Russians and Americans, Hastings provides new perspectives on the greatest Englishman. He condemns as folly Churchill's attempt to promote mass uprisings in occupied Europe, and details 'Unthinkable', his amazing 1945 plan for an Allied offensive against the Russians to liberate Poland.

Read the serialisation on the Daily Mail website

Reviews

The Literary Review

James Holland

The breadth of sources is impeccable, and Hastings’s trick of drawing on quotes from the likes of Disraeli, for example, is highly effective in giving Churchill a deeper historical context. Yet what also makes the book so readable is the fact that Hastings’s own opinions are at the fore... It is a fabulous book: full of perceptive insight that conveys all the tragedy, triumph, humour and intense drama of Churchill’s time as wartime leader; and it is incredibly moving as a result.

01/09/2009

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The Daily Telegraph

Andrew Roberts

In a sense, Hastings has been researching this book for the 30 years that he has been writing about the Second World War, and the depth of the scholarship shows on every page. It is phenomenally difficult to unearth fresh stories and anecdotes about a man as widely and deeply covered historically as Winston Churchill, yet Hastings succeeds again and again. Few will agree with all his often contentious theories about Churchill, but none can fail to admire his archival tenacity and sheer authorial reach.

03/09/2009

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The Sunday Telegraph

Michael Burleigh

Brilliant... Doubtless this remarkable book will irritate those who like their history sealed and dusted, or worse, cite Churchill for mere political advantage. At a time when our politicians are mismanaging a foreign war, it has many invaluable lessons, not just about leadership, but about the relationship between soldiers and civil society, which range far beyond the period Hastings nominally addresses. In that respect this is a timely as well as a judicious and important book.

30/09/2009

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The Sunday Times

Piers Brendon

...vastly superior to [Roy] Jenkins’s overrated work... Hastings presents him more convincingly as a ruthless, brandy-gulping Tory with the fire and the guts to beat Hitler... [He] deals perfunctorily with the Empire, which was a mixed blessing for Britain and a main bone of contention between Churchill and Roosevelt. Nevertheless, in a crowded field, this is one of the best books ever written about Churchill.

30/08/2009

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The Spectator

Jonathan Sumption

This is a rich and rewarding book, the fruit of many years of reflection on the conduct of war. It is enlivened by countless insights on matters great and small, and by a spare, trenchant style which holds the reader’s attention throughout its 600 pages. Reputations are shredded with gusto, even if not always with justice. Many will be surprised by Hastings’ low opinion of Marshall and King, the leading figures among the US chiefs of staff, who come over as unimaginative and petty.

16/09/2009

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The Financial Times

Mark Mazower

Relying chiefly on published sources, Max Hastings nevertheless succeeds in casting Churchill in a compelling light; his book is pregnant with lessons for those who want to understand Britain’s place in the world. Filled with passion, it castigates those who exaggerate the resources at its disposal, or the nature of the alliance with the US... As Nato’s Afghan dilemmas loom larger, this book shows us new reasons to read about Churchill.

14/09/2009

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