Book Review

Saddle Up New Book Looks at Churchill the Equestrian


Brough Scott, Churchill at the Gallop, Racing Post Books, 2017, 229 pages, $34.95/£17.99. ISBN 978–910497364

In my office hang a number of photographs of Winston Churchill with horses. My favorite is Churchill with a horse named Colonist II, a big grey racehorse that he bought in 1949. Churchill and Colonist II captured the heart of the public and led me to write of their exploits together. With an admiration for Churchill and a fondness for horses, it was with great anticipation that I looked forward to the release of Brough Scott’s Churchill at the Gallop. Scott, a well-known English jockey, broadcaster, journalist, and author, chronicles Churchill’s lifetime experiences with horses from his youth, serving in the military, and his intervening and senior years; a period stemming from Churchill’s early recollections in Ireland in 1879 to his final years from 1952–65. Read More >

Books, Arts & Curiosities – Dirty Tricks

Finest Hour 177, Summer 2017

Page 57

Review by Leon J. Waszak

Giles Milton, Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat, Picador, 2017, 368 pages, $28.00. ISBN 978–1250119025

At the start of his book, Giles Milton, a renown British journalist and author, appropriately quotes from the famous Second World War film The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp: “Clive, my dear fellow, this is not a gentleman’s war. This is a life-and-death struggle. You are fighting for your very existence against the most devilish idea ever created by a human brain—Nazism. And if you lose there won’t be a return match next year, perhaps not even for a hundred years!”

Morality aside, fighting a war to a successful conclusion against a determined enemy such as Nazi Germany, was never going to be anything but a difficult and dirty business. Sometimes it required extraordinary means to achieve the ends desired, but one always remained cognizant of the enemy’s capacity to do worse. In the final analysis, the parameters of the conflict, in terms of morality, had already been breached by Hitler’s legions, as they cut a path of destruction and genocide through Europe. Winston Churchill recognized that war’s tactics involved more than moving a few division markers across the maps within the Cabinet War Rooms. He understood that to bring Hitler to heel he needed to use whatever offbeat methods and tactics could be invented (or dreamed up) to achieve this end; hence the so-called “Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare.”

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Books, Arts & Curiosities – Man of Many Faces

Finest Hour 177, Summer 2017

Page 55

Review by Peter Murray

Jonathan Black, Winston Churchill in British Art, 1900 to the Present Day: The Titan with Many Faces, Bloomsbury, 2017,287 pages, £25.
ISBN 978–1472592392

Even in the twenty-first century, Winston Churchill remains a dominant figure in the political realm, a benchmark against which any budding leader of the Conservative Party must first measure up, before hurtling into the fray that is the House of Commons. But Churchill also had a sensitive side to his character. He was a keen artist, painting landscapes invested with light and colour, and forming close friendships with other artists, including Walter Sickert and Oscar Nemon. Politics, painting, and sculpture often intersected in Churchill’s life. He took lessons from the Chicago-born artist Hazel Lavery, and had his portrait painted by her husband, the hugely successful Irish artist John Lavery. Painted in 1915, Lavery’s portrait of Churchill (Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin) is one of the artist’s best works. Bleak and uncompromising, it shows a young man, full of ambition but weighed down by the responsibilities he faced as First Lord of the Admiralty—a position from which he resigned in May of that year, as a result of the disastrous Dardanelles campaign.

Lavery’s portrait is one of the first illustrations in a handsome book by Jonathan Black, Winston Churchill in British Art, 1900 to the Present Day, which documents the many representations of the British leader created both during and after his lifetime. Friendship with Hazel and John Lavery remained important to Churchill throughout the 1920’s; they played a key role in providing a communications link between the British and Irish sides during the negotiations that led to the founding of the Irish Free State—so much so that a portrait of Hazel by her husband John adorned Irish banknotes for much of the twentieth century. The 1915 Churchill portrait was followed a year later by one painted by another successful Irish artist in London, William Orpen, and commissioned by Lord Rothermere.

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Books, Arts & Curiosities – Chronological Chaos

Finest Hour 177, Summer 2017

Page 54

Review by Lee Pollock

John Harte, How Churchill Saved Civilization: The Epic Story of 13 Years That Almost Destroyed the Civilized World, Skyhorse Publishing, 2017, 384 pages, $24.99. ISBN 978–1510712379

How Churchill Saved Civilization is John Harte’s first history book after a career that began as an underage RAF volunteer during the Second World War and later included stints as a journalist and playwright in the UK and South Africa and work in the advertising industry. His “Author’s Preface” sets a lofty goal explaining that the book “is intended to resolve the lingering mysteries about the circumstances that caused the Second World War and what transpired.” Harte, who now lives in Ottawa, tees up a wide range of questions such as, “How did it happen?”; “Why were the Allies unprepared?”; “What were the Nazis really up to?” and what he calls “the inevitable Jewish question.” He boldly announces, “This book was designed to answer all of them.

The effort of any first-time author should be respected, but the result in this case is mostly superficial, and the book quickly dissolves into a meandering, unfocused, and fairly prosaic account of the international history of the 1930s and 40s with an emphasis on the military campaigns of the Second World War. The title is misleading since, while Churchill appears periodically in many of the book’s twenty-eight chapters, he by no means fills the narrative. The author flits through so many subjects that the book ends up, like Churchill’s pudding, having “no theme” and failing to live up to its ambitious title.

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Books, Arts & Curiosities – In the Company of Giants

Finest Hour 177, Summer 2017

Page 53

Review by Manfred Weidhorn

Lewis E. Lehrman, Churchill, Roosevelt & Company, Stackpole Books, 2017, 472 pages, $29.95. 978-0811718981

The roles in the Second World War of the leaders of the two English-speaking nations, Churchill and Roosevelt, have inevitably been much studied. But even proponents of the Great Man theory of history must acknowledge that the successful outcome of the war was made possible by a cast of supporting players—advisers, emissaries, military leaders, industrialists, as well as experts in numerous fields, not to speak of the many soldiers. These secondary characters make brief appearances in the histories of the war and the biographies of the leaders. It is the goal of Lewis E. Lehrman’s book to bring them into the foreground and provide character sketches of them. It is good to have the more important of these men presented in detail, including their physical infirmities, as these affected their meetings and deliberations.

Having read widely, Lehrman often quotes various sources at key junctures. This book therefore provides a helpful digest of the scholarly literature in this field. It usually does not quote from primary sources—diaries, memoranda, letters, interviews—and therefore has no startling new information. Nor does it aim to do so; Lehrman confines himself to offering a compendium of received wisdom about the personages discussed.

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Books Arts & Curiosities – A Matter of Pride

Finest Hour 177, Summer 2017

Page 52

Review by John Campbell

David Owen, Cabinet’s Finest Hour: The Hidden Agenda of May 1940, Haus Publishing, 2016, 276 pages, £18.99.
ISBN 978–1910376553

It has become quite a trend for senior British politicians in their retirement to turn to writing history. Following the example of Roy Jenkins, Cabinet veterans Douglas Hurd, William Hague, Roy Hattersley, and others have produced books of some distinction. Some years ago David Owen— Foreign Secretary for two years in the 1970s, but a neurologist before entering politics—brought his medical training to bear in an interesting and original book entitled In Sickness and in Power examining the effect of ill health, usually covered up, on heads of government over the past hundred years, ranging from Churchill and Roosevelt through Anthony Eden and John F. Kennedy to George W. Bush and Tony Blair. In the last two cases he diagnosed, in relation to the Iraq war, a condition he called “Hubris Syndrome,” which he has been trying to popularise ever since. His latest book, disguised as history, is in reality a renewal of his indictment of Blair by means of a clumsily-constructed revisiting of the discussion of possible peace terms in Churchill’s War Cabinet in May 1940.

The ostensible starting-point of the book is that Churchill, in writing his history of the war, glossed over these discussions by asserting that “the supreme question of whether we should fight on alone never found a place on the War Cabinet agenda.” Though literally true, this was, as has long been recognised, seriously misleading, since the six-man War Cabinet did in fact, over nine meetings in three days between 26 and 28 May, wrestle with the question of how to respond to the proposal of Paul Reynaud, the French Prime Minister, to ask Mussolini to broker some sort of peace settlement before France collapsed, leaving Hitler free to launch the invasion of Britain. Churchill was determined not to be dragged down any such slippery slope but to fight on alone; but his position as a new Prime Minister widely mistrusted by much of his own Conservative party was precarious. Lord Halifax, as Foreign Secretary, was still anxious to explore every possible Read More >

Books, Arts & Curiosities – Closing the Ring

Finest Hour 177, Summer 2017

Page 50

Review by Raymond Callahan

Larry P. Arnn and Martin Gilbert, eds., The Churchill Documents, Volume 19, Fateful Questions: September 1943 to April 1944, Hillsdale College Press, 2017, 2752, $60.
ISBN 978-0916308377

The latest volume of the Churchill War Papers gives us a day-to-day picture of the prime minister at a crucial moment for him, and for Britain. In September 1943, Britain was still, in terms of forces engaged, the dominant partner in the Anglo-American alliance. Churchill (and Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff) had imposed a Mediterranean focus on alliance strategy, pushing the cross channel assault (which both dreaded) back until 1944. And that strategy had yielded the hoped-for results. Italy had been knocked out of the war; the Mediterranean was again open to traffic, easing the strain (which had reached crisis proportions) on allied shipping resources. The prospect of conquering most of peninsular Italy, bringing southern and eastern Germany, as well as the Reich’s Balkan satellites, within range of allied heavy bombers, beckoned. So did opportunities further east such as seizing Italian islands in the Aegean, seen as a preliminary to rallying Turkey to the allied cause, feeding the insurrections already burgeoning in Greece and Yugoslavia and perhaps causing the defections of Germany’s nervous Balkan allies. It was a heady moment. Seven months later these dreams lay in ruins. The Italian campaign had stagnated in the face of daunting terrain and a determined, wellconducted German defense. Churchill’s attempt to jump start it (Operation Shingle, the Anzio landing)—its mounting the result of an heroic effort by a man who had just come back from death’s door due to pneumonia—had itself stalled, the victim of lackluster American generalship. The attempt to seize Aegean islands, Churchill’s special project in September 1943, had ended in the last significant victory the Wehrmacht won over Britain. Turkey remained stubbornly neutral. The Balkan satellites remained in Germany’s orbit. Above all Britain and its leader, despite still fielding more troops, very clearly were now the junior partners in the Grand Alliance.

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Books, Arts, & Curiosities – Freedom Fighters

Finest Hour 176, Spring 2017

Page 52

Review by Paul K. Alkon

Thomes E. Ricks, Churchill & Orwell: The Fight for Freedom, Penguin, 2017, 352 pages, $28. ISBN 978–1594206139.

This book explains what Churchill and Orwell meant by freedom, how they fought for it, and why that battle continues. Explanations are scattered throughout alternating chapters on each man, designed to provide parallel lives. Coverage is cradle to grave, with focus on the 1930s and 1940s. The book seems intended as either review for those familiar with both, or as an introduction for neophytes. It is best as review. Ricks’s thesis is that “Churchill helped give us the liberty we enjoy now. Orwell’s thinking about liberty affects how we think about it now.” In his “Afterword: The Path of Churchill and Orwell,” Ricks urges readers to walk that path.

Because available pages are insufficient for ample biographies, the intertwined narratives too often seem like erratic Cliffs Notes with odd inclusions and omissions. Unfortunately omitted are any discussions of Savrola, My Early Life, Marlborough, or even the Nobel committee’s explanation of Churchill’s Nobel Prize for literature. Coming up for Air is merely listed among “close to unreadable” fiction by Orwell.

The oddest inclusion, as companion to analysis of Homage to Catalonia, is two short paragraphs from Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls quoting unpleasant characters without any attempt to distinguish between what they say and what the novel intends by including their remarks. Ricks ends his glance at Hemingway by quoting “Orwell’s friend Malcolm Muggeridge” dismissing Hemingway as “boozy, preoccupied with the image rather than the reality.” So much for Papa.

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Books, Arts, & Curiosities – Churchill as a Literary Character: WSC in Fiction

Finest Hour 176, Spring 2017

Page 51

Review by Michael McMenamin

Susan Elia MacNeal, Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante, Bantam, 2015, 352 pages, $16. ISBN 978–0804178709

Portrayal ***
Worth Reading ***

Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante is the fifth book in the Maggie Hope Mystery series and is easily as good as, if not better than, the first four novels. Maggie is back as Churchill’s secretary and accompanies him on his post-Pearl Harbor visit to Washington. Churchill wants her not only for her typing and Special Operations Executive (SOE) training, but also to translate for him, as Maggie has been raised in America, and, in Churchill’s words, the United States and Great Britain are “Two nations divided by a common language.”

One of Mrs. Roosevelt’s young female secretaries is murdered early in the novel and made to look like a suicide. In the process of solving the murder, Maggie uncovers a plot by Southern isolationists to blackmail and tarnish the First Lady’s reputation with accusations of sexual improprieties on her part towards the dead secretary, who has seemingly left behind a damning suicide note claiming Mrs. Roosevelt’s behavior toward her was the reason she killed herself. There are also subplots involving the Nazis’ V-1 and V-2 rocket program, the pending execution in Virginia of an innocent black man wrongly convicted of murder, and—for good measure—a visit by Maggie’s former RAF lover to Hollywood to meet Walt Disney about making propaganda cartoons (and conveniently get her ex out of the way so Maggie can rekindle a romantic friendship with a journalist with whom she went to college).

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Books, Arts & Curiosities – The Wisdom of Winston

Finest Hour 176, Spring 2017

Page 50

Review by Angela Sugiyama

邵力競 (Shao Lijing) 亂世領袖 學: 邱吉爾二戰英雄記 (Leadership in an Age of Turbulence: the Heroic Legacy of Winston Churchill in World War II), Enrich Publishing and Hong Kong Economic Journal, 2015, 254 pages, HK$118. ISBN 978–9888292653

Western writers have long explored the unique legacy of Winston Churchill. Chinese writer Shao Lijing takes a reflective approach, arguing that only when politicians learn the art of politicking itself can effective leadership be established for upholding democracy.

Born in Shanghai, Shao was educated in Hong Kong and earned his Ph.D. at Oxford. Previously he wrote a series of articles called 十四年亂象回顧 (The Reflection on Fourteen-Year Frenzied Phenomena). These articles analyze in depth the issues involved in the governing of Hong Kong. Shao suggests that Hong Kong’s leadership should borrow Churchill’s knowledge of statecraft and adapt it to today’s rapidly-changing and more challenging world, that people need to ponder how the British Parliament kept running even during the most difficult times of the War, and that historians and government officials need to rethink in what way the post-war powers were reconstructed, how colonialism and nationalism evolve, and what challenges democracy is facing today.

To find lessons in the most effective methods for running a democratic government facing a mortal threat, Shao examines Churchill’s Memoirs of the Second World War. For Shao, to learn the lessons of war is to avoid the actuality of war. He argues that wars in the 1920s, economic and political, led to the Second World War. Future tragedies can result if people do not now reflect upon the causes of these earlier conflicts. Taking the surrender of Singapore as an example, Shao suggests that many politicians in Hong Kong need to learn from Churchill and not act like “事後孔 明 [the wise man after the event]” (85).

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Books, Arts & Curiosities – Maître de Guerre

Finest Hour 176, Spring 2017

Page 49

Review by Antoine Capet

François Kersaudy, Churchill: Stratège passionné, Paris: Perrin/Tallandier, 2016, 447 pages, €24. ISBN: 978-2262050474.

Many Finest Hour readers will no doubt be familiar with François Kersaudy’s 1981 monograph Churchill and de Gaulle. As the most eminent Churchill scholar in France, Kersaudy has also widely published on the great man in French magazines, and his biography of Churchill in French (revised & enlarged in 2009) is unanimously regarded as the best in the language.

Professor Kersaudy did his thesis on the Norway Campaign of 1940 and has kept a life-long interest in Second World War studies— so much so that, in a way, he is himself the “passionate strategist,” which he sees in Churchill. Nobody is better qualified, therefore, to write the volume on Churchill as “Maître de Guerre”(master of war) in the series of the same name, which Kersaudy also co-edits.

Kersaudy does not quote Churchill’s reflection on the night of 10 May 1940, as given in the last paragraph of The Gathering Storm (“I felt…that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial”), but his chapters on 1940 to 1945 are entirely impregnated with this underlying idea, especially Chapter 8, concerning June to October 1940 and predictably titled “La plus belle heure” (the finest hour). Now the “strategist” was able to give full vent to his inspiration and intuitions.

“But this unequalled organiser, inventor, propagandist and tactician,” Kersaudy warns the reader, “doubles up as a disquieting strategist: confusing the desirable with the possible, neglecting logistics, immersing himself in details at the expense of the whole picture, this conductor of genius is constantly tempted to leave his rostrum to play the scores of the violinist or trumpeter. If most false notes were in fact avoided, it is only because this flamboyant maestro was surrounded by professionals who, if notably less inspired, were far more reflective.” Churchill’s team saved him from many errors.

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Books, Arts & Curiosities – Churchill in Combat

Finest Hour 176, Spring 2017

Page 48

Review by Douglas S. Russell

Andrew Dewar Gibb, With Winston Churchill at the Front, Frontline Books, 2016, 256 pages, $39.95/£19.99. ISBN 978-1848324299

In the past few years renewed interest in Winston Churchill’s military career has been accompanied by publication of new books on his active service in Cuba in 1895, on the North-West Frontier of India in 1897, in Sudan in 1898, and in the Second Boer War, 1899– 1900. Frontline Books has done a signal service to Churchillians and military historians by returning to print an important contemporary account of Churchill’s frontline service in the Great War.

With Winston Churchill at the Front by “Captain X” (Andrew Dewar Gibb) was originally published in 1924 by Cowens & Gray, Ltd., as a small (3-1/4 by 6-3/8 inch) paperback priced at one shilling. Long out of print, first editions are now rare and priced in the hundreds of dollars. This reprint, however, is a handsome, hardcover book with a striking dust jacket. This is a welcome addition to the Churchill literature of an almost forgotten classic.

The new edition is much expanded from the original. There is a forward by Churchill’s great-grandson and ICS President Randolph Churchill and an introduction by Gibb’s son Nigel. Also included are excellent photographs and maps of “Plugstreet,” the area of the Western Front defended by the 6th Battalion of the Royal Scots Fusiliers while under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Churchill from January through May 1916.

The current edition is divided into three parts. The first consists of four well-done essays written by John Grehan, a senior editor at Frontline Books. These set out Churchill’s army service in four earlier wars together with a capsule history of the Gallipoli Campaign, which led to his leaving the cabinet and rejoining the army to serve in France. Part II contains the original nine-chapter text written by Gibb. Part III provides a streamlined summary of Churchill’s political career from the time he left the front until he became prime minister. There is also a detailed “Visitor’s Guide to Plugstreet” for the modern traveller.

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Books, Arts & Curiosities – The Seat of Power

Finest Hour 176, Spring 2017

Page 47

Review by Warren Dockter

Jonathan Asbury, Secrets of Churchill’s War Rooms, Imperial War Museum, 2016, 224 pages, £30/$45. ISBN: 978–1904897491

Visiting the Churchill War Rooms is a powerful experience. The secrecy, urgency, and importance housed within the walls immediately surround and intoxicate your senses. Solemnly pacing the halls, peering into the map room, and perusing the exhibits gives you a feeling of their immense historical importance. You can almost smell wafts of Churchill’s cigar smoke as you contemplate how he and others like General Brooke and General Ismay directed the war. Replicating that experience with a book might prove a difficult task. Jonathan Asbury’s Secrets of Churchill’s War Rooms, however, does so with aplomb. Published by the Imperial War Museum, the book provides an informative and engaging account of life in Churchill’s bunker.

Asbury’s book joins the ranks of several other texts written on the subject including The Cabinet War Rooms (1996), The Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms (2005), and more recently Richard Holmes’s final book, Churchill’s Bunker: The Secret Headquarters at the Heart of the War (2011). Like those books, Asbury relies a great deal on the account of the first “inhouse” historian at the War Rooms, Peter Simkins. Asbury admirably pays respect to Simkins’s work, The Cabinet War Rooms (1968) in his acknowledgements and notes that Simkins himself “played a major role in the preservation and restoration of the site” (219). But as a testament to Asbury’s thoroughness and thoughtfulness, he reminds his readers of the role Nigel de Lee, a historian from the Royal Military Academy, played in preparing an unpublished history of the War Rooms. De Lee’s work informed both the accounts of Simkins and that of Jon Wenzel, the first Curator of the War Rooms, in his curation of the site right down to the correct furniture required.

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Books, Arts & Curiosities – Fifteen Shades of Churchill

Finest Hour 176, Spring 2017

Page 46

Review by John Campbell

Richard Toye, ed., Winston Churchill: Politics, Strategy and Statecraft, Bloomsbury, 2017, 231 pages, $29.95/£21.99. ISBN 978–1474263856

Readers of Finest Hour know better than anyone that there is no end to the outpouring of books about Winston Churchill, focussing on ever more obscure corners of his titanic life. This slim volume, on the contrary, seeks to encompass the most important elements of his whole career, not in another full-scale biography—there have surely been enough of those—but in fifteen short essays on different strands or themes.

It is not entirely clear who it is aimed at. It aspires simultaneously to be “suitable for those coming to Churchill for the first time” while also “providing new insights for those already familiar with his life.” But inevitably it falls between stools—too academic for the first category, but too brief to offer much to the second. It is best seen as a concise survey of how a number of distinguished scholars view Churchill today.

What is original, however, is that the endnotes provide full references to the papers held at Churchill College, Cambridge, now digitised and available online, while an e-book edition provides links to the original documents. So perhaps the real target audience is students. The fifteen essays are of variable quality. The first two or three, covering Churchill’s early career, are a bit perfunctory, adding little to the received picture, though Peter Catterall defends Churchill’s controversial 1925 decision as Chancellor of the Exchequer to put Britain back on the gold standard, arguing that it could have worked and was less responsible for provoking the general strike the following year than has often been alleged.

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Books, Arts, & Curiosities – Clash of the Titans

Finest Hour 176, Spring 2017

Page 45

Review by Richard A. McConnell

Nigel Hamilton, Commander in Chief: FDR’s Battle with Churchill , 1943, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016, 480 pages, $30.00. ISBN 978-0544279117

“I am everlastingly angry only at those who assert vociferously that the four freedoms and the Atlantic Charter are nonsense because they are unattainable. If these people had lived a century and a half ago they would have sneered and said that the Declaration of Independence was utter piffle.”

This 1943 statement by President Franklin Roosevelt is a stellar example of visionary rhetoric and is one of many examples of FDR’s drive to use the Four Freedoms (Freedom of Speech and Worship; Freedom from Want and Fear) as his compass to lead the war effort. In his latest book on Roosevelt during the Second World War, Nigel Hamilton continues his quest to give FDR his “day in literary court.”

This engaging read is Hamilton’s second volume (Mantle of Command being the first and reviewed in FH 168) investigating Roosevelt’s continued maturation into the role of commander in chief. Hamilton’s narrative goes beyond Roosevelt’s challenges commanding the US war effort. This account captures the myriad trials associated with galvanizing world leaders toward a vision of the post-war world. FDR used notions that, although they may have been novel at the time, have now been accepted as foundational for organizations such as the United Nations and NATO. Thus, this latest account engagingly describes a seminal moment in world history created by a dynamic leader, which changed the world permanently.

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The International Churchill Society (ICS), founded in 1968 shortly after Churchill's death, is the world’s preeminent member organisation dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of Sir Winston Churchill.

At a time when leadership is challenged at every turn, that legacy looms larger and remains more relevant than ever.