By BARRY SINGER
Winston Churchill’s most beloved book, My Early Life, was first published 90 years ago this month. He had an excellent motive: money. His savings had been seriously depleted by the Wall Street Crash of 1929. In an attempt to replenish his coffers, Churchill plundered his published magazine work for book projects that could be completed quickly, starting with a volume of personal memoirs covering his childhood, wayward school years, army service in India, and early career as a young war correspondent. Although the book was titled My Early Life: A Roving Commission in Britain, American publisher Charles Scribner—oddly—opted for the subtitle as a more marketable main title in the United States.
The text was derived largely from earlier books and recent magazine articles, supplemented with new material that Churchill dictated at Chartwell during April, May, and June of 1930. The British edition published on October 20 of that year for 21 shillings, and the American edition followed three days later priced at $3.50. My Early Life received laudatory reviews followed by strong sales, and Churchill was soon plundering more of his previously published articles to produce Thoughts and Adventures (1932).
Barry Singer is the author of Churchill Style (Abrams Image, 2012) and the proprietor of Chartwell Booksellers in New York City.