Book Review: The Literary Churchill: Author, Reader, Actor


by Jonathan Rose

New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014. . Pp. xii, 516. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $35.00. ISBN: 0300204078

The Shaping of the Churchillian Style

Prof. Rose (Drew) explores how literature and theatre were woven into Churchill’s life, helping shape his political career, his oratorical skill, and his prodigious literary output.  He gives us a look at the remarkably broad range of the man’s literary consumption, as well as his interest in theatre. Churchill read very widely in fiction, history, science, drama, philosophy, and more. Rather unexpectedly, the impressive array of authors whom Churchill read ranged from U.S. Grant, H.G. Wells, and Oscar Wilde, through Rider Haggard,  Sinclair Lewis, and Margaret Mitchell, not to mention numerous other classic authors as well as many now long forgotten ones. 

As Rose follows Churchill from his youth to his final years, we see how the man’s readings influenced his ideas and the development of his own writing and oratorical style.  This yields some surprising gems. For example, Rose argues that Churchill’s interest in melodrama lay at the roots of some of his greatest lines, such as “blood, toil, tears, and sweat.”  

In the process, Rose also gives us a look at the works of one of the most widely read literary figures of the twentieth century. Churchill’s literary output was prodigious; over 40 books, several of them multi-volume works, of history, memoirs, biography, speeches, travel, even a novel, not to mention literally hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles, essays, and more.  

One can quibble with some of Rose’s conclusions. For example he attributes Churchill’s frequent theatrics as growing out of his early interest in theatre, and his own participation in amateur dramatics, rather than to his training as an officer, a profession which Alec Guinness once noted was much like acting; perhaps both should be considered. 

The Literary Churchill is an excellent addition to the numerous recent works on Sir Winston, throwing new light on his leadership style and the roots of his impressive literary output.


Note: The Literary Churchill is also available in paperback, $25.00, ISBN 978-0-3002-1234-1, and there are several e-pub versions.


Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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