Book – The Literary Churchill: Author, Reader, Actor

The literary Churchill by Jonathan Rose

Tony Cross gets his history fix as he reads The Literary Churchill: Author, Reader, Actor by Jonathan Rose...

This strikingly original book introduces a Winston Churchill we have not known before. Award-winning author Jonathan Rose explores in tandem Churchill’s careers as statesman and author, revealing the profound influence of literature and theatre on Churchill’s personal, carefully composed grand story and on the decisions he made throughout his political life.

Rose provides in this expansive literary biography an analysis of Churchill’s writings and their reception (he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953 and was a best-selling author), and a chronicle of his dealings with publishers, editors, literary agents, and censors. The book also identifies an array of authors who shaped Churchill’s own writings and politics: George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Margaret Mitchell, George Orwell, Oscar Wilde, and many more. Rose investigates the effect of Churchill’s passion for theatre on his approach to reportage, memoirs, and historical works. Perhaps most remarkably, Rose reveals the unmistakable influence of Churchill’s reading on every important episode of his public life, including his championship of social reform, plans for the Gallipoli invasion, command during the Blitz, crusade for Zionism, and efforts to prevent a nuclear arms race. In a fascinating conclusion, Rose traces the significance of Churchill’s writings to later generations of politicians, among them President John F. Kennedy as he struggled to extricate the U.S. from the Cuban Missile Crisis.


I can't praise this book enough. Since doing history O-Level back in 1987 I have been fascinated by Churchill - warts and all. I've read a number of books about him and by him, but I think this book - exceptionally well-researched and well-written by Jonathan Rose - seems to be the one that has really got to the heart of Churchill.

Rose - whose book, 'The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes' I also found a fascinating read - has managed to write cultural history that informs and clarifies the political history. 'The Literary Churchill' seems to me to be the 'real' Churchill.

The analysis of Churchill's life, treating him as an artist in politics as opposed to just a plain old politician, is wonderfully backed up by Rose's research and makes strong use of Churchill's own works particularly as support of his approach.

My next Churchill book is planned to be Andrew Robertson's book - whose biographies of Napoleon & Lord Halifax - who, naturally, crops up in this book - but Robertson will have to do a mighty fine job to improve on this.

If you want to read a book that helps you understand Churchill start with this one. It's rather good.

Image/synopsis – Goodreads

Tony can be found on Twitter @Lokster71