John Lukacs. Churchill: Visionary. Statesman. Historian.

By John Lukacs

Printed: 2002

Publisher: Yale University Press. London

Dimensions 15 × 22 × 3 cm

Language: English

Size (cminches): 15 x 22 x 3

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In the original dustsheet. Red cloth spine with silver title. Cream boards.

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A clear-eyed view of Winston Churchill, the workings of his historical imagination, and his successes and failures as a statesman, by the celebrated historian of World War II and best-selling author of Five Days in London, May 1940

John Lukacs has spent a lifetime considering the complex personality and statesmanship of Winston Churchill. In previous books Lukacs has told the story of Churchill’s titanic struggle with Adolf Hitler in the early days of World War II. Now, in Churchill: Visionary. Statesman. Historian., he turns his attention to Churchill the man and visionary statesman.

Each chapter of this book provides an essential portrait of Churchill. Lukacs treats Churchill’s vital relationships with Stalin, Roosevelt, and Eisenhower, as well as his complex, farsighted political vision concerning the coming of World War II and the Cold War. Lukacs also assesses Churchill’s abilities as a historian looking backward into the origins of the conflicts of which he was so much a part. In addition, the author examines the often contradictory ways Churchill has been perceived by critics and admirers alike. The last chapter is a powerful and deeply moving evocation of the three days Lukacs spent in London attending Churchill’s funeral in 1965. In Churchill: Visionary. Statesman. Historian., Lukacs deftly sets forth the essence of this towering figure of twentieth-century history with the consummate mastery of a great historian.

Review: Each of the nine chapters of this book concentrates on a different aspect of Churchill’s life: his relationships with other leaders, his work as a historian, his successes (and failures), his critics, how two recent biographers (Jenkins and Best) saw him and, finally, the impression made on Lukacs himself who spent three days in London in 1965 to attend Churchill’s funeral.

Much has been written about Churchill in recent years – is this short book worthy of a prominent place on the bookshelves of Churchilliana? The answer is an enthusiastic yes. Lukacs has examined a few themes which are usually glossed over in the narrative excitement of Churchill’s life convincingly to demonstrate that Churchill’s instinctive understanding of his present and view of the future – his vision – was, with the benefit of 50 years hindsight, more perceptive than many gave him credit for.

The chapters on Churchill’s relationships with Stalin, Roosevelt and Eisenhower are particularly good in this respect. Churchill was under no illusions about Stalin and the undesirability, to put it mildly, of an eastern Europe dominated by Russia. But, a whole continent dominated by the Nazis was inconceivable and thus Churchill realised he had to deal with Stalin and salvage what he could. Churchill has been criticised, especially by Poles, for Yalta but this belies the feeling Churchill had for the Poles, the appreciation of their situation and his efforts on their behalf. What ultimately did for the Poles, and the rest of eastern Europe (Churchill saved Greece) was the American failure to understand, as did Churchill, the subtlety of Stalin’s game. At the Tehran conference Roosevelt tried to demonstrate to Stalin that he, Roosevelt, had the closer relationship to the extent of trying to sideline Churchill, a tactic which was not unnoticed by Churchill and, more importantly, by Stalin himself. Later in the war, when Churchill stressed the importance of the other allies meeting the Red Army as far east as possible and as the allies raced across Germany, Eisenhower took it upon himself (unbeknown to Churchill) in March 1945 to write to Stalin directly to say that the allies would not advance to Prague or Berlin – with fateful consequences. Again, in 1954 when Stalin died and there appeared to be a genuine opportunity for rapprochement with the new Soviet government, Eisenhower (now president) curtly rejected Churcill’s attempt to set up a summit – for nothing had Churchill played down in his war memoirs the disagreements with the Americans.

Despite the American failure to support Churchill in his attempts to obtain a better deal for eastern Europe from Stalin in 1945, Churchill did win freedom for half of Europe and did, at least, ensure that Poland existed as a separate country albeit under soviet domination. And, in 1952, he predicted that within 30 years (only seven years adrift) the end of communism would be seen in eastern Europe.

There is much else of value in this book. Lukacs efficiently deals with the revisionists of the Charmley school, those who blindly criticize Churchill’s historical work (largely, it appears, because Churchill was not a professional historian and without really understanding why Churchill wrote history) and has some useful, even topical, thoughts on how Churchill saw Europe and the Franco- German connection. Read this book – you will not be disappointed.

John Lukacs is the author of more than twenty books on history, among them The Hitler of History, The End of the Twentieth Century and the End of the Modern Age (which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize), Five Days in London, May 1940, The Last European War, 1939-1941, The Duel, At the End of an Age, and A Thread of Years, the last five of which are available from Yale University Press.

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