by William Manchester
William Manchester invites his readers to a dance, a literary waltz pairing history and biography coalescing to create a magnificent account of this lengthy season in the life of Winston Spencer Churchill.
In The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Alone, 1932-1940, Manchester gives us Churchill, the solitary figure, standing resolute against the appeasement policies of a country and its leaders who, tired of war and cowering to Hitler, came close to forfeiting Britain's stature as a nation, and in the words of Churchill, plunging the "whole world including the United States, including all we have known and cared for . . . into the abyss of a new Dark Age." (Churchill, 1940).
The Last Lion: Alone is comprehensive, delightful to read, and scathing in its historical rebuke of British Prime Ministers Ramsey MacDonald, Stanley Baldwin, and Neville Chamberlain. Without ignoring Churchill's faults, Manchester consistently reveals the Last Lion's visionary insight, indefatigable energy, soaring communication, biting wit, and magnanimous spirit, especially to his countrymen and members of Parliament who had written off.
There is so much to learn, appreciate, and glean from this volume. Here are five reasons I found great delight in Manchester's work and will return to it again:
1. Manchester's 24 pages of carefully detailed and finely printed source notes reveal the breadth of his research. Yes, we read some of Manchester's opinions, but due to his historical acumen (private papers, reports, speeches, first-hand and diary accounts) woven in narrative prose, we are there.
2. Manchester's writing prowess: The author stitches seemingly disparate threads of history to show us the mind, methods, and mastery of Churchill as statesman, politician, historian, writer, and speaker. This book is a delight to listen to or to read.
3. Churchill the leader. We see the great man's perseverance and resolve, his refusal to be carried by the winds of popular opinion, and his unyielding determination ("I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat") in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds of defeating the tyranny of Hiter. We see his loyalty as he supports Chamberlain in the PM's hour of crisis despite Chamberlain's treatment of him. We see his love of gadgetry, his constant flow of ideas (FDR said, "Winston has fifty ideas a day, and three or four are good."), and listen to his maxims (e.g. "If we quarrel with the past, we may lose the future.").
4. Churchill the communicator. Manchester treats us to Churchill prodigious flow of words, his use of metaphor, his captivating speeches, and the powerful way he leveraged his communicative abilities.
5. Leadership lessons. My copy is marked throughout with leadership lessons learned from arguably one of the most important figures of the 20th century, and though long gone, most certainly a mentor to me.