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Thursday, February 11, 2021

Review: The Last Lion, 1940-1965

 I checked out The Last Lion from the library, a biography of Winston Churchill that was so long that it spanned 3 volumes. So of course I checked out the final volume to skip the build up. It turned out that the author of the first two volume died before he could finish the third, and handed it off to a friend to finish. While reading this book, I understood why --- there's a ton of minutia, the editing of some of it would probably have made the book more accessible to the casual reader.

Yet, the book has much to recommend it, with many of Churchill's famous speeches placed in context, and much of the machinations between the US, Britain, and Russia exposed to both deep analysis as well as recounting. It was very clear that it wasn't an accident that Britain was bankrupt by the end of the war, and the US won more than just a military victory. There were lots I didn't know, for instance, why Greece managed to remain a democracy, and how much of the offensives in Africa were because the allies literally couldn't do anything else. Unlike most world war 2 accounts written by Americans, this account makes it quite clear how much Russia had to sacrifice to defeat Hitler, though much of those losses were due to Stalin ignoring the intelligence and warnings provided to him by British officials.

Finally, it still amazed me how strong someone  like Churchill was. After defeating Germany, he was thrown out of his Prime Ministerial office after losing an election to socialists (Churchill was as conservative as they come). In defeat, he wrote:

“perhaps the most gracious acceptance of democratic defeat in the English language.” Churchill: The decision of the British people has been recorded in the votes counted today. I have therefore laid down the charge which was placed upon me in darker times. I regret that I have not been permitted to finish the work against Japan…. It only remains for me to express to the British people, for whom I have acted in these perilous years, my profound gratitude for the unflinching, unswerving support which they have given me during my task, and for the many expressions of kindness which they have shown towards their servant.” (Kinde Loc 54,807)

One cannot expect such eloquence and graciousness of conservatives in defeat today.

I learned a lot from the book, though at times it was a slog. Recommended.

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