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This is the third volume of William Manchester's biography of Winston Churchill. I first read the second volume, about the decade leading up to the German invasion of France, 25 years ago and thought it was so good that I bought and read the first volume. I had, by now, given up hope of ever seeing the third volume, but Mr. Manchester appears to have asked Paul Reid to complete the book and, when I saw it available on Audible, I immediately bought it.
This book is billed as a biography (and so it is) but Winston Churchill’s life was so intertwined with the British participation in World War II (he served as both Prime Minister and Defense Minister) that this book also serves as a political (not military) history of British involvement in the war as seen through British eyes. There is little military coverage per se but the political decisions behind the military moves are discussed in great detail. While this book covers the period from 1940 through 1965 (beginning where the second volume ended) it is primarily concerned with Churchill’s actions during the war with approximately 90% of the book covering the period up to the end of the war in Europe and his loss of the office of Prime Minister.
The book’s description of the political views of the Allies, its descriptions of the leaders and their conferences is really first rate. Mr. Reid has added liberal excerpts from the diaries of many of those involved, both Allied and Axis, and the resulting picture of how the war progressed, how the decisions that had to be made were reached and how the various participants reacted to the decisions transcends anything I have read before. I have read many histories of World War II, but all of them spent a great deal of time covering the battles whereas this book dwells primarily on the political decisions to be made and how and why the decisions were reached. The portraits of some of the leaders presented in this book are the best I have seen outside of biographies of those people themselves. The picture of Joseph Stalin, as presented in this book, is very different from that presented in other books, presumably because it is the view of him as seen by Churchill and his aides, not as seen by Soviet Marshalls or allied diplomats and one is drawn to the assumption that Stalin, like all of the other leaders, could present many different faces as needed. Similarly the portraits of people like Harry Hopkins, Cordell Hull, Anthony Eden, Alan Brooke, John Dill and others presented in this book seem much richer than I have seen in other books.
One of the books on my wish list was Max Hastings’ book “Winston’s War”, but this book is so well done and covers Mr. Churchill’s wartime involvement so well that I am not sure there is anything in Mr. Hastings’ book that would contribute much new and I am now uncertain as to whether or not it is worth buying. I thought I knew the events of the war from my earlier readings, but after reading this book I realized that there was much that either I did not know or which I understood imperfectly. While I do not wish to spoil this book for others I can say that I did not know how fragile the Allied coalition was at times during the war or how much disagreement there was between the British and the US on strategy. Yes, I knew that the US favored a cross-channel invasion and the British wanted to pursue a Mediterranean strategy but I did not know how strong the disagreements were, how dedicated some of the military and political professionals were to one choice or the other or how the final agreements were reached. This book is a treasure trove of information about how and why the political decisions were reached and I recommend it without hesitation to anyone interested in knowing the background behind these decisions. It is one of the finest books on the war that I have ever read.
The last 10% (or so) of the book covers Churchill’s life after he lost of the office of Prime Minister and after the end of the war. It covers, in considerable detail, his work in opposition to the Labor Party and his efforts to create a “United States of Europe”. While I understood how he, almost alone, understood the coming Nazi menace I was not aware of how he continued to predict the course of political events after the war. His foresight in seeing the coming cold war between the West and the Soviets and his efforts to preserve freedom and security during the late 1940s and early 1950s was new to me. It is also a very personal book and, at the end, I had tears in my eyes at the passing of such a great man.
The book is read wonderfully by Clive Chafer who does a passable impression of both Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. One reviewer complained that the book is read by an American, but that is only true of the introduction, which is read by the author. The rest of the book is a pleasure to listen to. This is a worthy conclusion to the monumental first two volumes of this trilogy and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
64 of 64 people found this review helpful
Any additional comments?
To answer the review of someone who complained about the "American narrator": it surprised me too, until I realized that only the first part of the narration was read by Paul Reid, the co-author, he of the broad accent and mis-pronunciations. After he has described the character of Churchill, the competent (and British) Clive Chafer comes in and picks up the story. So just hang in there for the intro: it's a couple of hours long, but smooth sailing from then on. And after all, it was an American (in fact, two) who wrote this, so their voice should be in there somewhere!
49 of 49 people found this review helpful
Would you listen to The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Volume 3 again? Why?
Some day, but given I just spent over 50 hours in 2 weeks listening to it, not for a while
What did you like best about this story?
A great man with a great task, achieved
What does Paul Reid and Clive Chafer bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?
Being read the book was a luxury that allowed me to consume it whilst driving, doing chores, and a dozen different tasks, where I couldn't possibly have read the text in the amount of reading time I would have in those 2 weeks
Did you have an emotional reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?
it is the greatest tale of the modern age - World War II, and Churchill's own part in it
Any additional comments?
On first listening to the book I thought it slightly monotone, with a poor impersonation of Churchill by the narrator. As it continued, I became blind to the tone, and found what I had considered to be an 'impression' was in fact a reading with metre and cadence that allowed Churchill's words to be read in the gravitas the man himself had. Simply a great book I couldn't stop listening to - sometimes 7 hours in a day. I wish I'd known the first 2 books weren't available on the UK site, but knowing what I do now I would still have got the book
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
At over 53 hours, this is a vast undertaking to listen to, let alone to have written. It starts just before Churchill takes power in May 1940 and ends with his death. The earlier volumes were written by William Manchester alone, whilst this is written almost entirely by Paul Reid, using the notes compiled by the dying Manchester.
With good narration, this is a competent telling of the great man's story, rich in detail. It is written with an American audience in mind, covering most key moments well. I say "most", as there are some that I feel lack some relevant detail. An example would be the machinations around Churchill's appointment in 1940, the rumblings of revolt amongst the establishment for peace in the months after his appointment, and Yalta, which is disposed of in jarringly short order.
The years after Churchill's loss of the 1945 election are covered in the last 8 or so hours of the book. This seems too short; he was, after all, Prime Minister for much of the 1950's, and lived for a further 10 years, if increasingly frail and inactive.
Another area which lacks critical analysis is the relationship between Churchill and the Americans, especially Roosevelt. It is clear that Roosevelt handles Churchill with calculation and barely concealed cynicism. Churchill, for his part, appears extraordinarily naive in comparison, although this may be simply a realistic acceptance of his subsidiary role. This critical nexus in his life demands critical analysis, especially when so much of the book describes these dealings in detail. Perhaps this is hard for an American to do, perhaps Paul Reid's relative inexperience meant he had his hands full just getting all of this down.
Nevertheless, these are minor criticisms given the scale of the work. It rams home what a wonderful, full life this great man led.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful