Alison Carlson, The Man Within: Winston Churchill—An Intimate Portrait, Inkshares, 2015, 224 pages. Ebook (Epub & Kindle) $21.00; hardcover, $50.00 (free shipping and ebook included). ISBN 9781941758196.
Thousands of words have been spilt in “the world of paper and ink” about Winston Churchill, but a good photograph may be worth as much as many of them. The photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson laments in The Mind’s Eye, “we cannot develop and print a memory” (27). So when, in England, Alison Carlson searched in vain for a souvenir book that married images of the great man with his words, she felt compelled to act.
To prevent the anguish of having her vision mangled by an overly intrusive publisher, Carlson sought out Inkshares, Inc., an independent, crowd-funded startup company in her hometown of San Francisco. The result is The Man Within: Winston Churchill—An Intimate Portrait, a compelling showcase of some 140 lesser-known black-and-white photographs of the great man across all phases of his life. It has been designated as the official commemorative book of The Churchill Centre on the fiftieth anniversary of his death, and a percentage of royalties from its purchase goes to the Centre and other Churchill Organizations.
As Churchill grumbled in 1911, “It is the misfortune of a good many Members to encounter in our daily walks an increasing number of persons armed with cameras to take pictures for the illustrated Press which is so rapidly developing” (Langworth, Churchill by Himself, pp. 540–41). Their persistence was Carlson’s gain as decades later she trolled through collection after collection of photographs to include in her book while aiming to preserve, honor, and revivify his memory for current and future generations.
A professional photographer herself, Carlson selected revealing photographs with her trained eye that capture Churchill’s “kaleidoscopic” personality in thrilling, fleeting fractions of a second as he lived out his remarkable life. Nine sections divide the content thematically, from his early youth to his years as a soldier and statesman in war and peace, but presenting him also as husband, father, and passionate hobbyist when it came to polo, painting, and more.
The largeness and clarity of the photographs on the page succeed in impressing much about Churchill and his time for all readers. Of course one cannot understand history by studying only pictures, but, as Cartier-Bresson writes, a picture-story may confer a special understanding unattainable by text alone: “the camera is not the right instrument to provide the whys and wherefores of things; it is, rather, designed to evoke, and in the best cases—in its own intuitive way—it asks questions and gives answers at the same time” (67).
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Churchill’s writings never fail to nourish the thoughts of the reader, and it is a joy to track down sources of the quotations included by Carlson—which are rarely noted. They are drawn from some of his best-known books and speeches as well as family letters, personal conversations, and other sources.
Churchill’s words, despite the editor’s admission opposite the title page that their punctuation “may have been modernized to improve clarity,” retain their power to inspire and provoke thoughts that are most worthwhile. Errata and misquotations are few and minor, such as misspelling “Soldier” in the table of contents and Churchill’s tribute to his mother, who shone for him “like the Evening Star” (Venus), not “an evening Star” (7), or confusing “or” with “of” in Churchill’s dream of entering Parliament at his father’s side (64).
These photographs preserve flashes of the personality of a great man. At a time when the study of greatness is too often undervalued, Carlson’s book makes an important contribution to the works available on one of the greatest figures of the twentieth century. The beautiful presentation reminds us, as one of Churchill’s favorite Harrow songs did, “There were wonderful giants of old, you know, / There were wonderful giants of old….” With any luck, Carlson’s new book will help to humble and inspire the next generation of giants.
Erica L. Chenoweth co-edited a new edition of Great Contemporaries (ISI Books, 2012) and serves as research assistant for several forthcoming new editions of Churchill’s works.
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