No figure in 20th century British history has received more biographical attention than Churchill. Can the general reader profit from yet another biography? Most readers of Roy Jenkins' new study will likely answer with a resounding "yes!"
Jenkins, the author of excellent biographies of Baldwin, Asquith and, most recently, Gladstone, has provided interesting and provocative insights into Churchill's career as politician, statesman and writer. Jenkins dosen't lay claim to comprehensiveness (see Martin Gilbert's multi-volume study and his companion volumes of documents for this), nor does he provide new or revelatory information. In fact, though the hardback edition of this work exceeds 900 pages, some aspects of Churchill's staggeringly large and diverse life are (necessarily) not treated thoroughly; Churchill's private life and his interest in empire are two areas which come to mind.
Yet, the strengths of this work vastly overcome any such minor shortcomings. Having been a member of Parliament for many years as well as a Cabinet Minister, and (also like Churchill) an accomplished author, Jenkins bring unique insights into Churchill's political, ministerial and writing careers. The problem for any biographer of Churchill (except Gilbert, who considers everything), is which material, which aspects of Churchill's life to emphasize. Jenkins selects the right ones and Churchill's personality inevitably emerges: a man of unbounded energy, consummate political skill and (during Britain's darkest (and finest)hour) brilliant leadership.
Still, Jenkins does not neglect his subject's shortcomings: Churchill was ambitious to a fault, at times petulant, more often inconsiderate of his subordinates. The very human portrait which emerges commands our respect and admiration all the more and will leave many with the same conclusion reached by Jenkins--Churchill was the greatest man ever to occupy 10 Downing Street.
Jenkins has an easy, if somewhat erudite style which I found compelling. But, for those unfamiliar with the outlines of 20th century British history, this work may appear puzzling at times. A brief glossary of British political terms at the start provides some (limited) help. The text also include a few color plates of Churchill's most interesting paintings.