We think we know Winston Churchill, yet are constantly surprised by him. He possessed an insatiable craving to place himself at the centre of events, and from the end of the Victorian era until the early years of the present Queen’s reign, succeeded triumphantly in doing so, often by embracing dangers which sober, prudent, cautious members of the British Establishment thought were better avoided.
To them, he often seemed like an irresponsible and disreputable adventurer. The condemnations of Churchill uttered at every stage of his career would alone be enough to make a book, and can be found scattered through this one. Lord Crawford, who sat in the same Cabinet as him from 1916-22, regarded him, Roberts tells us, as “‘a born cad’ of Indo-Mexican blood who was prone to lunacy”.
The materials on Churchill are so abundant, vivid and significant that to keep this volume to just under a thousand pages of text, while avoiding any impression of offering a mere digest, is a considerable achievement.
Such a feast of materials makes the book difficult not only to write but to review. My usual method, when reading a work of history, is to mark whatever strikes me as particularly good, and make a note of the page number inside the back cover.