Finest Hour 170, Fall 2015
Review by Richard A. McConnell
Mike Lepine, Churchill and the Generals , Danann Publishing, 2015, 136 pages, £29.99/$55.00.
Churchill and the Generals is a quick and excellent read for those looking for a concise primer on the unique leadership dynamics embodied by Churchill and the generals whom he led. Although brief, the portraits of the military leaders include engaging details that span their childhood, education, military service, personal quirks, and challenges or triumphs interacting with Churchill.
All of this comes wrapped in an attractive package that includes beautiful illustrations, numerous photos of the subjects, two DVDs containing vintage footage of the Second World War, and an excellent photo timeline from 1939 through the end of the war. Whether well acquainted with the subject or a beginner, you will find Churchill and the Generals to be a must read.
Lepine’s pen portraits start with Churchill himself. Naturally this takes up the largest section of the book as Lepine expertly pilots the reader through Churchill’s life and career. Some of the most engaging portions are descriptions of Churchill’s early life, such as his relations with his parents, his childhood nanny Mrs. Everest, and his interactions with senior military leaders when he was but a junior officer in the British Army. Readers will see taking root the seeds of character that germinated to create the national leader of the Second World War.
As for the generals, Lepine assigns a moniker to each that serves as a helpful signpost to the personality depicted, such as “Wavell, the Scholar,” “Wilson, the Dependable,” and “Dill, the Bridge Builder.” The full complement of personalities in Churchill’s generals ran the gamut from soft-spoken and selfless public servants like Hastings Ismay, who seemed to get along with everyone, to the brash and egotistical Bernard Montgomery, who seemed to make enemies every time he spoke.
Altogether Lepine’s portraits form an engaging collage depicting a team of leaders working under great stress for the very highest stakes. Although an engaging read, Lepine’s narrative betrays a British bias. In his description of Montgomery’s service during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, he asserts that “The American response was piece-meal and chaotic” and goes on to present Montgomery as the leader who pulled the plan together. Lepine does not even mention that General Patton’s American forces liberated Bastogne, the center of the bulge.
Still, Lepine might be forgiven on this one point, since his book does contain much that is informative and thought provoking. For historians, scholars of leadership, and laypersons, Churchill and the Generals is an essential read. It is said that war is a human endeavor characterized by numerous relationships between leaders directing the effort. Those leaders consist of a collaborative team of military personnel and their civilian masters.
Churchill and the Generals depicts the challenging collaboration that Churchill orchestrated with all its triumphs and blemishes. These were not perfect people, but their collaboration during a time of great tribulation defined a generation and reshaped the world.
Lt. Col. Richard A. McConnell, USA, Ret., is Assistant Professor of Army Tactics at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.