May 24, 2013

Finest Hour 147, Summer 2010

Page 56

Questions…and the Usual Answers

The Greatest Briton: Essays on Winston Churchill’s Life and Political Philosophy, by Jeremy Havardi. Shepheard-Walwyn, hardbound, illus., 424 pp., $50, member price $25.

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By Christopher H. Sterling

Dean Sterling teaches communications at the George Washington University, Washington D.C.

This is a curious product. Written around a series of questions, largely about the many myths concerning Churchill, it seeks to provide a survey, almost entirely positive, of his life and times. Nine chapters provide a chronological framework for most of the questions, with the remainder concerning Churchill’s political ideas appearing in a tenth and final chapter. Extensively based on secondary sources, it contains little that is new in historical fact or interpretation. The author is a British freelance journalist with an academic background in philosophy.

The questions are largely predictable. Was Churchill a neglected youth? Why did he switch parties in 1904? Did he order troops to fire on strikers at Tonypandy? Did he invent the tank? What role did he play in building modern Iraq? Why did he oppose Indian self-rule in the 1930s? Did he betray the French in 1940? Did he sacrifice Coventry, knowing in advance that it was to be bombed? That’s a sample–there are slightly more than fifty posers in the chronological chapters. Eight more chapters take up WSC’s political philosophy, including whether or not he was a liberal, conservative, reactionary imperialist, racist, monarchist, appeaser and/or a Zionist.

In each case, Havardi spends from one to (more typically) several pages in his answers. The answers are literate, well-written, and cite a variety of published sources. But, again, they provide nothing we don’t already know. Perhaps the book is best considered as a new introduction to Churchill and his times, written in the form of the kind of easy-to-scan questions that will typically occur to somebody newly awakened to the canon.

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