March 28, 2015

Finest Hour 131, Summer 2006

Page 40

By Curt Zoller

Bibliography of the Writings of Sir Winston Churchill, by Ronald I. Cohen. London: Continuum, 3 vols., 2184 pages, advance price $990, member price $800.


It has been over forty years since Frederick Woods’ Bibliography of the Works of Sir Winston Churchill was published and immediately recognized as the standard reference to the writings of Winston Spencer Churchill. After twenty-five years researching the material, Mr. Cohen has produced a three-volume opus which not only eclipses Woods, but establishes Cohen’s bibliography as the source. Woods, for example, listed about 150 works primarily by Churchill; Cohen lists over 300, although some of them strike me more as Churchill contributions than works primarily by him.

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The cost of this new work will be the first comment made by most reviewers, but let me discuss this later. The three volumes cover not only the basic bibliographic material but extensive peripheral and associated information. Some students, collectors, researchers and scholars may react to its sheer vastness as Sherlock Holmes when Dr. Watson told him the earth was round. Holmes said he would try now to forget that because the mind was not an unlimited container, and he saw no need why he should retain such information.

Volume I, which will be of prime interest to most users, discusses the author’s objectives and decisions over the all-important Section A: “books, pamphlets wholly and substantially written by Churchill.” Like Woods, Cohen lists the titles in chronological order based on first publication date. He not only provides us with the standard bibliographic information, such as title, publisher, date of publication, pages, etc.; but even includes measurements of paper thickness. I’d venture that the page thickness in a pulpy book might vary between, say, Singapore and Tucson. In my opinion the amount of effort to obtain such information might have been better served if Mr. Cohen had illustrated some of the dust jackets associated with the various titles, which would have avoided long verbal descriptions of them. This information would have helped collectors, dealers, and appraisers considerably, since jackets and their variations significantly affect values.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, perhaps this book would be thinner and cheaper if photos, which don’t cost much to print nowadays, were used throughout. I suspect they got lost in the volume of words.

The author’s annotations include extensive material on the development and publication of the titles, with further references to the authenticity of the data. This certainly provides the user with virtually all available information concerning each book and eliminates a considerable amount of further research, but perhaps this might better go into a study of Churchill’s publishing career. Again I am reminded of a remark, this one by Clement Attlee, on Churchill’s History of the English Speaking Peoples: “Winston’s book should be entitled, Things in History Which Interest Me.”

We are also provided with information on locations where the titles were viewed. While this may be helpful, it is impossible to supply a world-wide location list—nor is it necessary. The computer age and the internet have superseded this need. Even the smallest local library nowadays either subscribes to OCLC (Online Computer Library Center) or RLIN (Research Libraries Information Network), which provide instant information on titles and locations in research, academic, national, museum, public and corporate libraries and archives in 400 languages, and permits a library to request a book from another institution. Using WorldCat through Google will provide similar access to locations for people who do not have access to OCLC or RLIN, and is free to the user.

Mr. Cohen lists foreign language editions, but only European languages are identified and no Chinese or Japanese translations have been listed.

Volume II contains the next four sections. Section B covers “contributions by Churchill to books, pamphlets, leaflets and portfolios.” As always there will be bibliographic debates; for example, one can argue whether B1, The War Against the Dutch Republics, would more properly be listed in Section D.

Section C covers “articles, reviews, news reports from war zones in newspapers and magazines.” Some of the items are, as the definition implies, not strictly from a war zone, such as C267a.l, “Painting as a Pastime,” or C266, “A Cabinet Minister as Art Critic.” Again, the depth of the work is shown by comparing entries with Woods, who listed 527 “C” items; Cohen has 706.

Section D covers Churchill speeches in works “compiled or edited by someone else, together with sufficient other material that the work may reasonably be said not to be wholly or substantially by Churchill.” Section E covers “all reports of speeches of Churchill in periodical publications no more frequently than weekly and no no less frequently than quarterly.” I can’t help but question the word “all,” though the coverage is admirably comprehensive.

Volume III holds the two final sections. Section F contains letters, memoranda, statements, and other miscellaneous in-text contributions in books, pamphlets and leaflets; Section G contains letters to editors and other miscellaneous statements in periodicals. Missing are the Political Warfare Executive Leaflets, which Woods listed (however incompletely). These were Churchill speeches translated into various foreign languages and dropped over occupied or German territories during World War II. Members of the Psychological Warfare Societies are great collectors of this material.

Mr. Cohen’s is a monumental contribution to the Churchillian literature and provides extensive and valuable information. The trouble is that the cost of the three volumes makes it unlikely that most people will be able to afford them. Although several Churchill specialist dealers have significantly reduced the price, it is still not within the range of most pocketbooks. Perhaps the marketing experts, who should have an understanding for these things, let the author down by failing to provide sufficient consideration of the need for circulation of what is clearly a standard work. That the press run was only 400 copies, according to some websites, suggests that the publisher may understand this problem, but it is too late to confront now.

Did someone conclude that a work which should be the standard may be regarded as merely esoteric? Hopefully not. Mr. Cohen has labored hard to bring Churchill bibliography many strides forward. Clearly this is the last word on the subject. Since the majority of potential customers are interested in Section A, a separate, slimmer volume containing only the critical major information would benefit many. In the meantime, let us rejoice: a great work is done.


Mr. Zoller is author of a bibliography of works about Churchill, and a longtime contributor to Finest Hour.

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