Finest Hour 163, Summer 2014
By Christopher H. Sterling
Churchill and the King: The Wartime Alliance of Winston Churchill and George VI, by Kenneth Weisbrode. Viking/Penguin, 208 pages, $26.95, Kindle $10.99, member price $21.55.
Churchill once demanded, “Take this pudding away—it has no theme!” Such is the problem with this small book, which ostensibly assesses George VI and his prime minister during World War II. But it never rises above generalities that are already well known.
A crucial part of the author’s problem, of course, is that the core of their relationship was defined in conversations between his two subjects where no one else was present to record what took place. That situation forces him back to public source material used by many previous authors. He cites the papers of Alanbrooke, Dill, Churchill, Halifax, Ismay, Roosevelt and George VI’s diary out of Royal Archives, but the notes and citations are nearly all to secondary sources. As a result this is little more than another potted survey of Churchill in the war, where we lose mention of the King for pages on end—and hear much about other relationships.
Nor is there a lack of odd statements. Three examples will suffice: Churchill had few “real friends” (68)? Admiral Fisher was a “long-time nemesis” (72)? Churchill had an “antiquated fixation on wartime maneuver and mobility” (76)? Not much antiquated about that.
Writing parallel biography is a complex task, especially when the two figures are two decades apart in age. In this case, we only approach the cover topic a quarter of the way through the book. One gets the feeling an article-length paper was puffed up into a small book.
Dean Sterling teaches communications at The George Washington University, Washington, D.C.