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The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made…

The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History (2014)

by Boris Johnson

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The Churchill Factor by Boris Johnson is a fun biography of the great statesman and icon who led Britain through World War II. It is not a detailed description of the actions of Churchill's life but is instead written in essay form with Boris setting up arguments against Churchill's positions and then bundling enthusiasm and explanation to show why what Churchill did was the right thing to do.

Johnson's writing style is fast and flowing. This is a 355 page tale that races by. It is a large font book and can be read in a couple of extended sittings. The pacing makes it an easy read though Johnson does very occasionally drop in parts of his extended vocabulary. It is also written from the perspective of an author of privilege so some of the assessments about Churchill's relative lack of classics can be a little hard to relate to.

The narrative begins with the most fundamental of all Churchill's decisions, to fight on against Nazi Germany. It is the defining decision of the 20th Century. The appeasers such as Chamberlain and Lord Halifax are given short shrift and their personal failings become part of Johnson's story. It is the right place to start though because it is perhaps the greatest rebuff to the argument that the individual has no place in history. The decision to fight and not submit when the odds looked so heavily stacked against Britain in the face of continued Nazi successes is why Churchill is remembered and beloved. Johnson does not put the counter-factual. His argument is mainly against something of a strawman but is is fun nonetheless.

Johnson does go into biography at times but it is more hagiography than biography. Some of the details of Churchill's life are present, notably his horrible relationship with his father Randolph and his love for his wife, Clementine. An incident of apparent cowardice at school when running away from bullies pelting cricket balls at him plays more of a role in the narrative than seems sensisble. However, the other side of Churchill is amazing to read. The Churchill who defied huge amounts of danger in various military skirmishes around the world and later on tried everything he could to be there on D-Day is astonishing. Churchill is a man of action and Johnson rightly admires him for that quality.

It is interesting that Johnson is able to be so analytical about some of Churchill's other personal qualities, particularly his speech making. Churchill's inspirational turn of phrase is remembered with such clarity but Johnson is the right man to provide analysis. Johnson himself is a superb wordsmith, able to conjure phrases from nothing. Churchill apparently could not and had to plan his phrases in advance.

The other thing Churchill did that is indisputably great is drawing America into the war. Had it been someone else it may not have happened but the half-American British leader was the right man to bring the US into the allied side. Johnson could perhaps have done more to spell out the strategy but the interactions at key point are a fun read.

Aside from the key war decisions, Churchill was a major factor in other parts of British history in the 20th century. He role in WWI is mixed. Johnson does well to identify the leadership he had as a Minister which enabled others to develop the tank which was the major technological innovation of the war. On the other hand, Johnson does own up to Churchill's mistakes at Gallipoli. The idea of driving through Turkey to create a second flank should have been a good idea but Johnson does not spell out why it went so badly wrong even though he does identify it as being a cause of national awakening in Australia and New Zealand which ultimately is a key part of the later collapse of the British Empire.

Johnson describes Churchill's other innovations including his sense of social justice. He tries to claim credit for Churchill in laying the ground for Atlee's legendary reforms after 1945. As a Conservative it is natural for Johnson to try to play down a Labour achievement but it is a bit odd to try to claim credit for the welfare state when it was so clearly not Churchill's doing.

Johnson's hyperbole sometimes gets the better of him. He gives Churchill credit for winning the Cold War in one of his chapter titles which is faintly ridiculous. No argument is put forward for Churchill winning that war in the late 1980s long after his death but Johnson does spell out his identification of Communism as a monsterous ideology in the hands of one of history's great evils, Stalin.

The role of Churchill in the Middle East is fascinating. Inevitably, assessment of Churchill's actions is coloured by whether someone believes in the existence of Israel or not but Johnson puts the case in a well-balanced way and draws his own conclusion.

Throughout, Johnson does give a glimpse into Churchill the man. His incredible working habits, the drinking, the wit and putdowns, the life of a descendent of Malborough. There is enough of the man himself in this narrative to enjoy beyond the description of what he did. Johson's research is extensive and the sources are remarkably numerous for such a light read.

This biography of Winston Churchill by Boris Johnson is fun and accessible. It is easy to read and a great way to engage with the great man himself. It is somewhat hagiographic in that does read as an essay defending Churchill rather than a true biography but nonetheless it is a welcome addition to the set of works on this legendary figure and is rightly lauded. ( )
  Malarchy | May 5, 2017 |
This very interesting work by London's mayor is a nice "change of pace" and gives the reader insight into aspects of Churchill's early life and family, as well as his defense of the British Empire.
  mcmlsbookbutler | Dec 30, 2016 |
My first book about Churchill which I really enjoyed. It's an easy read, but very informative and provides a new perspective on his life whilst debunking some of the myths about him. ( )
  jbennett | May 18, 2016 |
Brilliantly written insight into Churchill the man and the polititian. Really well researched, this books provides a very detailed account of his upbringing, military career and his political life. ( )
  PIER50 | Sep 12, 2015 |
Excellent book. Boris obviously sees himself as a latter - day Churchill, but that is no surprise to anyone. Boris' joi-de-vivre is ever - present and his turn of phrase as delightful as anyone who has heard him would imagine. Maybe not the most studious Jenkins - like bio of the great man but a good read none-the-less. ( )
  expatscot | Sep 5, 2015 |
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The mayor of London and former Spectator editor challenges popular misconceptions to assess Churchill's enduring influence on the world, discussing the many contradictions of his life and his considerable political and military achievements.

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