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A history of the English-speaking peoples (original 1956; edition 1956)

by Winston Churchill

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91649,587 (4.25)34
Member:geneg
Title:A history of the English-speaking peoples
Authors:Winston Churchill
Info:New York, Dodd, Mead, 1956-58.
Collections:Non-Fiction, Your library
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Tags:non-fiction, history, churchill

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A History of the English-Speaking Peoples by Winston S. Churchill (1956)

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A read these volumes after the first 2 volumes of William Manchester's biography of Churchill (which, by the way, picks up pretty neatly where Churchill himself leaves off) partly based on Manchester's recommendation of Churchill as a prose stylist. Churchill was not independently wealthy and had to support himself on the strength of his pen. His insights in history are not exactly groundbreaking; he wasn't a historian presenting new scholarship. Rather, the value here came for me precisely from Churchill's non-historian perspective. It's fascinating to read about William of Orange or Wellington through the lens of a man who faced his own national existential crisis. It's hard not to read into his conclusions about historical figures and events, and indeed that's where most of the fun resides. For instance, his take on Roman subjugation of the Britons feels like it's colored by Churchill's impression that Britain's Imperial possessions (India and Ireland especially) were better off under the canopy of British rule.
As an American reader it was especially interesting to see Churchill's take on the US Civil War. First, I was shocked at the depth he went to. I'd have to double check, but I feel like it was given more pages than any other conflict including the Napoleonic Wars. We see day-by-day accounts of troop movements on and around all the major battles. Still more surprising were the strong opinions Churchill put forward about practically every political and military leader on both sides. A few of these opinions flew in the face of anything I'd ever heard before (he thought Stanton a snake, Grant a "negation of generalship", and pitied McClellan ALMOST half as much as McClellan pitied himself). His views on reconstruction were a bit unpalatable. Clearly it's a blot on US history and grossly mismanaged, but Churchill's sympathy seems to go excessively to the mistreated Southern whites who were dealt with too harshly (possibly a reflection of Churchill's belief that Germany's resurgence might have been avoided by less recriminating terms after WWI?) rather than to the multitude of freed slaves who were left to shift for themselves. If anything he seems to suggest that the blacks of the South were enfranchised too abruptly. Again, this feels very much like the opinion of a man whose character was still the product of Victorian world-views, drawing a clear line between people fit to govern and those suited only to be governed. To 21st Century sensibilities this paternalistic outlook comes off both naive and insulting.
My biggest disappointment was a bit of a sense that the title was a misnomer. I was excited by his choice to avoid calling it a history of "the English", foretokening an unprejudiced look at all the parts of the world that speak the language. At the very minimum I expected to hear more about the Irish and the Scottish, but they are always exclusively viewed from the perspective of English ambitions. The US is given large sections, but these are clearly subplots to the main story. Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa each get half a chapter. India is discussed quite a bit, more than Ireland I think which is odd considering how much later India becomes relevant to the English story. Nigeria, Kenya, Belize, Singapore, Trinidad, Guyana, Jamaica--none of these was more than mentioned.
The overarching theme that runs across all 4 volumes is that the English Speaking Peoples share a common heritage rooted in the English legal traditions that value individual liberties and rights of self-government. It's an interesting premise. His last line is also interesting in as much as it seems to suggest a vision of a future date at which all English-speaking peoples are united in an enormous supranational entity committed to these ideals. In the post-war period, facing down authoritarian Russia, this was perhaps not an unthinkable notion.
  CGlanovsky | Jan 11, 2016 |
If you want to see Strunk&White's rules in action this series is irreplaceable.

But really, the value of this work is the insight into the pride in & love of England and its democratic traditions Churchill carried. It is implied in certain parts of the book that he was writing, or at least thinking about writing, it during WWII.

The only drawback, which is an ethical failing rather than a literary one in my sight, is that the Empire is left out almost entirely except for occasional reference to Ireland. ( )
  ewalrath | Jul 17, 2009 |
This is for Volume 2, The New World. A good way to read history, though I confess that the first volume which covered Druids, Romans, Vikings, Saxons and Normans was more interesting to me. This one bogged down in Parlimentary decrees and various monarchs and the intrigues against them. Still, I think it helps to sort out some of the history one is always referenced to. ( )
1 vote MrsLee | Nov 14, 2006 |
A major figure in 20th century history, but very 19th century in his prose style as he shows why he won a Nobel for literature, in part for this sweeping history. ( )
1 vote wilpotts | May 17, 2006 |
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Between 1485 and 1688 England became a protestant country under henry VIII ; his daughter Elizabeth battled for succession at home and supremacy abroad, and the discovery of the 'new world' enabled a vast continent across the Atlantic to be explored.

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