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Both George Orwell and Winston Churchill came close to death in the mid-1930s - Orwell shot in the neck in a trench line in the Spanish Civil War and Churchill struck by a car in New York City. If they'd died then, history would scarcely remember them. At the time Churchill was a politician on the outs, his loyalty to his class and party suspect. Orwell was a mildly successful novelist, to put it generously. No one would have predicted that by the end of the 20th century, they would be considered two of the most important people in British history for having the vision and courage to campaign tirelessly, in words and in deeds, against the totalitarian threat from both the left and the right. In a crucial moment, they responded first by seeking the facts of the matter, seeing through the lies and obfuscations, and then they acted on their beliefs. Together, to an extent not sufficiently appreciated, they kept the West's compass set toward freedom as its due north.
It's not easy to recall now how lonely a position each man once occupied. By the late 1930s, democracy was discredited in many circles, and authoritarian rulers were everywhere in the ascent. There were some who decried the scourge of communism but saw in Hitler and Mussolini "men we could do business with", if not in fact saviors. And there were others who saw the Nazi and fascist threat as malign but tended to view communism as the path to salvation. Churchill and Orwell, on the other hand, had the foresight to see clearly that the issue was human freedom - that whatever its coloration, a government that denied its people basic freedoms was a totalitarian menace and had to be resisted.
In the end Churchill and Orwell proved their age's necessary men. The glorious climax of Churchill and Orwell is the work they both did in the decade of the 1940s to triumph over freedom's enemies. And though Churchill played the larger role in the defeat of Hitler and the Axis, Orwell's reckoning with the menace of authoritarian rule in Animal Farm and 1984 would define the stakes of the Cold War for its 50-year course and continues to give inspiration to fighters for freedom to this day. Taken together, in Thomas E. Ricks' masterful hands, their lives are a beautiful testament to the power of moral conviction and to the courage it can take to stay true to it through thick and thin.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Jean on 06-11-17
I have read so many books by or about Churchill that a new book must have a new approach or hook or else I will not be bothered to read it. This one did.
Both George Orwell and Winston S. Churchill came close to death. Both men faced an existential crisis to their way of life with moral courage. They also demonstrated that an individual can make a difference. These two men were different in many ways. They came from different social classes but each could think and write clearly. Both men were committed to critical thought and neither followed the crowd.
Both men were in disgrace in the 1930s. Churchill was a political pariah, alienated from the Conservative Party by his opposition to the appeasement of Hitler. Orwell wrote “Homage to Catalone” in 1938. It was a coruscating indictment of both left and right during the Spanish Civil War. He was denounced by many and his publisher refused to continue to publish the book. After the war broke out in 1939, Churchill and Orwell found common cause.
Both men thought honesty and language mattered at every level. Ricks tells of Churchill, over burdened with the war of survival, paused to coach subordinates on writing. He issued a directive to brevity, ordering his staff to write in short crisp paragraphs and to avoid meaningless phrases. In Orwell’s famous six elementary rules on writing, he includes “never us a long word where a short one will do”.
The book is well written and meticulously researched. Ricks made some comparisons with current politicians. I found the stories about the men most interesting.
The book is ten hours long. James Lurie does a great job narrating the book. Lurie is an actor, voice over artist and audiobook narrator.
10 of 10 people found this review helpful
By J.B. on 06-10-17
Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom, by Thomas E. Ricks, and narrated By James Lurie. journalist and author who specializes in the military and national security issues. I am always thrilled when he is interviewed on TV as his insights are reveling; he defines the issue, provides the necessary facts and draws conclusions that are not obvious but seeded in the circumstance and fully analyzes the abnormality or impairment being discussed. I have previously read his works, Fiasco, history of the Iraq War from the planning phase to combat operations and The Gamble, the succeeding years in Iraq, to 2008. Insightful and a must read to understand the quagmire of the present war taking place in Iraq and beyond or the damage done to this earth in establishing the nations as was done at the end of World War I.
Okay, so one gets it; I praise Mr. Ricks’ works. Not here, though in Churchill and Orwell. We are talking about Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister in WW II and George Orwell, the author of Animal Farm and 1984. One wants to believe that Mr. Ricks was planning two long essays on each, had a book obligation and smashed the two together to meet his obligation. Why not, as both men were British – albeit of almost diametrically opposed attitudes.
The book’s purpose, per the publisher, is a work on how those men preserved democracy from the threats of authoritarianism. It has nothing to do with explaining despotism. It is simply a short biography of each man. In that sense, it is very well done and easy to listen too. Yet, unlike, the above-named works of Ricks, does not provide the same insight into political history and trends. It is a non-sequitur, short biography of each man. As that it is fairly good.
The book, tells each man’s history, from birth through their appearance in the mid-1930s and who each became factors in European society. Each proved to be courageous as each demonstrated by going to war, in Churchill’s situation WWI, and Orwell in the Spanish Civil War. Each had reverence for the lower social societies . . . and more about thier lives.
As a comparative study the matching of the two individuals is unsuccessful. Separate from the matching of the two for a comparative study, which fails, it is an interesting history of each man and their philosophy of dictatorship and how it must be resisted.
11 of 12 people found this review helpful