Dead Presidents

Historical facts, thoughts, ramblings and collections on the Presidency and about the Presidents of the United States.

By Anthony Bergen
E-Mail: bergen.anthony@gmail.com
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Posts tagged "Churchill"
Asker bbkld Asks:
Have you read anything about Stalin's and Churchill's opinion of Truman after their meeting at Potsdam?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

There’s a great book by Michael Dobbs which focuses on the relationships between the Allied leaders in the last few months of World War II called Six Months in 1945: FDR, Stalin, Churchill, and Truman — From World War to Cold War that really goes in-depth about how they worked and felt about each other.

At Postdam, tensions were starting to rise with the Soviet Union because Truman was more suspicious about Communist intentions in post-war Europe than the ailing FDR had been at Yalta.  Churchill was in a rough spot at Potsdam because he had lost his election back in Great Britain and the new Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, replaced Winston halfway through the conference.

Despite their suspicions, Truman and Stalin liked each other because they were both straight shooters and salt-of-the-earth characters.  Churchill was wary of Truman at first — more out of his love and loyalty for the late FDR than anything else — but he quickly warmed up to him and later told Truman, “I misjudged you badly.  Since that time, you, more than any other man, have saved Western Civilization.”

But Potsdam was a stressful, tense gathering.  It was at the conference that President Truman learned that the atomic bomb had tested successfully and he nervously approached Stalin to notify him of the bomb and its power.  It was, obviously, a big secret, so Truman wasn’t sure how Stalin would react.  Churchill had been filled in on it and watched to see Stalin’s reaction when Truman filled him in about the destructive power of the bomb.  Stalin seemed nonplussed and Truman and Churchill decided amongst themselves afterward that Stalin must not have understood the specifics of the bomb as Truman explained it.

The truth, however, was that Stalin didn’t seem phased by the news because Soviet spies in the United States had already kept him informed about the Manhattan Project.  In fact, Stalin knew about the atomic bomb before Truman (who only learned of its existence after FDR died and he assumed the Presidency) found out about it!

I misjudged you badly. Since that time, you, more than any other man, have saved Western Civilization.

Winston Churchill, to Harry Truman, who Churchill admittedly underestimated and doubted when Truman succeeded to the Presidency upon the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt

Bullets are not worth considering. Besides I am so conceited that I do not think the Gods would create so potent a being for so prosaic an ending.

Winston Churchill, 21 years old, in a letter to his mother after his first experience of being shot at in combat, 1895

Asker Anonymous Asks:
Could you recommend a good biography of Winston Churchill?
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

YES — the three-volume biography, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill.  The first two volumes — Visions of Glory, 1874-1932 and Alone, 1932-1940 — were written by the legendary William Manchester.  Manchester died while writing the third volume, Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965, so it was finished by Paul Reid, who did a wonderful job.  It’s a magnificent set and pretty much a definitive history of Churchill.

If you cannot read all your books, at any rate handle, or, as it were, fondle them — peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on their shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that if you do not know what is in them, you will at least know where they are. Let them be your friends; let them at any rate be your acquaintances.

Winston Churchill

The last question about my books motivated me to share this quote of Churchill’s about books, which is one of my favorite quotes ever.

"Bullets are not worth considering.  Besides, I am so conceited that I do not think the Gods would create so potent a being for so prosaic an ending."

Winston Churchill, in a letter to his mother describing the experience (and his lack of fear) of being under fire in combat, 1895

Basically, this is just a fancy, Churchillian version of saying something that Tupac Shakur would rap 100 years later.  I’m not sure how people can go through life without taking time to at least read a book of Churchill quotes.

Asker Anonymous Asks:
What are some good introductory books for understanding Churchill? I see some of his own writings but I don't know where to start.
deadpresidents deadpresidents Said:

I would suggest that you can begin and end with The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, the recently-completed three-volume biography of Winston Churchill, which is about as definitive as it gets.  The first two volumes are by William Manchester and the third volume, released last year, was completed by Paul Reid from Manchester’s notes and research and at Manchester’s request following his death in 2004.  It can be quite an investment in time because it is incredibly detailed and exhaustive, but it’s absolutely worth it.

The Manchester/Reid trilogy was released in a boxed set last year as The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, 1874-1965 (BOOKKINDLE) and that’s probably the best overall deal.  But you can also get the three volumes individually if you want to work through them that way:

The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932 by William Manchester (BOOKKINDLE) — Volume I, originally released in 1983.
The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Alone, 1932-1940 by William Manchester (BOOKKINDLE) — Volume II, originally released in 1988.
The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 by William Manchester and Paul Reid (BOOKKINDLE) — Volume III, originally released in 2012.

There are so many other great books about Churchill that you have a wealth of other choices if you don’t want to commit to the lengthy Manchester trilogy.  Sir Martin Gilbert is considered Churchill’s “official biographer” and has written or edited something like 20 books about Churchill, so I don’t even know where to begin with him, but I really like a book that Gilbert released last year called Churchill: The Power of Words: His Remarkable Life Recounted Through His Writings and Speeches (BOOKKINDLE).  In this book, Gilbert selected bits and pieces of Churchill’s best and most famous words and uses them chronologically to help tell (along with Gilbert’s introductions) Churchill’s life story.  Like Lincoln, it’s damn near impossible to go wrong with a book of Churchill’s writings and speeches.

And, if you’re looking for something just focusing on Churchill’s early life, there’s a new book out by Michael Shelden that tells that story really well — Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill(BOOKKINDLE).

Winston Churchill is one of those historic figures that I could probably devote an entire blog to simply posting book recommendations about, so I’ll leave you with these ones for now.  I’m confident that you’ll be happy with any of them.

"If you cannot read all your books, at any rate handle, or, as it were, fondle them — peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on their shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that if you do not know what is in them, you will at least know where they are.  Let them be your friends; let them at any rate be your acquaintances." — Winston Churchill

Should you be looking for the right Christmas gift for a book-lover or history buff, I recommend that you look no further than this beautiful boxed set of William Manchester’s three-volume biography of Winston Churchill, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, 1874-1965.

Like the multi-volume biographies of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris and Lyndon B. Johnson by Robert Caro, The Last Lion is a monumental work that took decades to complete.  The first volume, Visions of Glory, 1874-1932 was originally published in 1983.  The second volume, Alone, 1932-1940 was published in 1988.  And the third volume, Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 was just released this month.  The first two volumes are pure Manchester, and we’re fortunate that the legendary historian turned to Paul Reid shortly before Manchester’s death in 2004 and requested that Reid complete the third volume.  On their own, each of the books are epic; collectively, they are a masterpiece.

You can get the books individually, of course, and even download the trilogy for your Kindle, but this work is the type of treasure that deserves a spot on your shelves and the boxed set is gorgeous.  I just received my copy today and I’m handling them much in the same way that Churchill described in the quote above.  Anyone who loves to read history needs The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, 1874-1965 (Oh, and Amazon has it for sale at nearly 50% off the retail price right now!)

Speaking of books about monumental leaders from World War II, when this arrived in the mail earlier this week, I wondered why somebody was sending me a brick until I opened it.

Much to my pleasure, it was not a brick and, instead, was an ARC of The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 (BOOKKINDLE), which is the last volume of the legendary William Manchester’s masterful biography of the great British leader.  When Manchester’s health was failing and it became clear that he couldn’t finish the final volume, he turned over his notes and work to Paul Reid and asked Reid to finish the work. 

I’ve started reading it and it is wonderful.  Reid has done a great job of capturing Manchester’s style without becoming a parody of it.  The book is obviously an exhaustive history, as well.  Like I said, this is an advanced copy, so it’s not even bound in hardcover, yet the book is huge — it clocks in at 1,232 pages.

I have only recently dove into the book, but if you’re a fan of Churchill (and how can you not be?), Manchester, or interested in World War II, keep an eye out for Defender of the Realm (or pre-order it on Amazon, where you can get it at nearly 50% off right now).  Little, Brown and Company will release the book on November 6th.