Finest Hour 143, Summer 2009
Thoughts and Adventures
Thoughts and Adventures, by Winston S. Churchill, edited with an introduction by James W. Muller. ISI Books, 380 pages, illus., softbound, $22. Member price $17.60.
By Winston S. Churchill
If Churchill’s 1932 volume of essays on politics, cartoons, elections, hobbies and adventures is really an “undiscovered classic” (as stated on the back cover of this new edition) it will be news to generations of readers. Thoughts and Adventures (first published in the U.S. as Amid These Storms) has seen twelve or more editions in English, and translations into Danish, French, German, Korean, Spanish and Swedish. Four of its essays are the subject of the 2009 Churchill Conference.
What makes the new volume so valuable, aside from its easygoing paperback price, is an outstanding new introduction by Churchill Centre Chairman of Academic Advisers James W. Muller, Professor of Political Science at the University of Alaska Anchorage. In a 28-page essay, Muller plumbs the depths of Churchill’s intellect, the raison d’être of a book which is far more than a haphazard collection of “potboilers” (as WSC himself sometimes referred to his articles): “The essays…are meant to convey his practical wisdom about politics. In every essay, even the most unassuming ones or those a sophisticate would find most unpromising, Churchill explores the topography of life in a modern liberal democracy. He treats simple subjects that appeal to a practical man, but his essays take up questions that would puzzle a philosopher.”
Armed with Muller’s introduction, the reader comprehends how deeply Churchill, despite no formal education, thought about transcendental matters, and why Churchill Studies remain evergreen. Here are his “big four” futurist essays—”Shall We All Commit Suicide?,” “Fifty Years Hence,” “Consistency in Politics” and “Mass Effects in Modern Life.” Here are “My Spy Story” and “The Battle of Sidney Street,” which use everyday experiences to treat issues of civil liberty and civilian control of the military and police.
We witness Churchill’s collegial politics in his tolerant appreciation of opponents in “Election Memories” and “Cartoons and Cartoonists,” and meet those who influenced him in “Personal Contacts.” We see war as Churchill saw it in “With the Grenadiers,” “The U-Boat War,” “‘Plugstreet'” and “The Dover Barrage.” We watch history made over his burly shoulder in “The Irish Treaty.” We find two of his heroes from the opposite ends of history in “Clemenceau” and “Moses.” We even learn how to relax, with “Hobbies” and “Painting as a Pastime.” All the while our wise editor is there with a modern interpretation of what Churchill tells us, and why it still matters. Nor is the fastidious Professor Muller content with a foreword. He offers a host of new footnotes, largely written by Finest Hour senior editor Paul Courtenay, which aid the modern reader by describing events, people and places no longer familiar. Finally, in the back of the book, he appends a thick set of notes, investigating—with Ronald Cohen’s epic Bibliography of the Writings of Sir Winston Churchill at hand—the origin of each essay, its titular and textual variations, and in many cases how it came to be written.
We learn for example that Churchill’s own foreword was not written by WSC (who was “in a nursing home recuperating from a relapse of paratyphoid in early October 1932”). It was penned for him by his longtime friend and secretary Eddie Marsh, who emulated the boss’s style so perfectly that Churchill wrote on his copy, “Rather good pastiche.”
Muller’s notes record alterations in each essay, as Churchill, an indefatigable reviser, tweaked and molded his work to suit his audience. In “My Spy Story,” for example, Muller produces five lengthy paragraphs from the original appearance in Cosmopolitan which Churchill omitted from the book, describing a “much trusted” German spy in Britain, whose reports were studied in Berlin and Wilhelmshaven. (And, just to be sure you know, Muller adds that Wilhelmshaven, “named after Kaiser Wilhelm I in 1869,” was the “head-quarters of Germany’s High Seas Fleet in World War I.”)
Truly this is as eminent an edition of an ingenious book as we could hope for—a tribute to the editor as to the author. In keeping with ISI’s practice, it will be in print a long time, to educate and inform future generations of Churchill’s political instinct, judgment, foresight and magnanimity.