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Churchill Defiant: Fighting On: 1945-1955
Barbara Leaming

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Format: Hardcover, 368pp.
ISBN: 9780061337581
Publisher: Harper
Pub. Date: October 12, 2010

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Description and Reviews
From The Publisher:

New York Times bestselling biographer Barbara Leaming has written a riveting political drama of the last ten years of Winston Churchill’s public life.

In Churchill Defiant, Leaming tells the tumultuous behind-the-scenes story of Churchill’s refusal to retire after his 1945 electoral defeat, and the bare-knuckled political and personal battles that ensued. Her ground-breaking biography Jack Kennedy: The Education of a Statesman, was the first to detail Churchill’s extraordinary influence on Kennedy’s thinking. Now in Churchill Defiant, Leaming gives us a vivid and compelling narrative that sheds fresh light on both the human dimension of Winston Churchill and on the struggles and achievements of his final years. At last, in Leaming’s eloquent account, we understand the tangled web of personal relationships and rivalries, the intricate interplay of past and present, the looming sense of history that makes the story of these years as fascinating as anything in the extraordinary century-long saga of Winston Churchill’s life.


“’Never give in!’ The fighting spirit of Winston Churchill comes alive in Barbara Leaming’s brutal chronicle of the great man’s second premiership.”
—Chris Matthews, Host of MSNBC's "Hardball with Chris Matthews"

It was the grandest of evenings. On April 4, 1955, the young Queen Elizabeth II paid her prime minister, Winston Churchill, the compliment of coming to dine at 10 Downing Street. The occasion was Churchill's retirement from the pinnacle of power after his second reign as prime minister. Wearing knee breeches and the blue sash of the Order of the Garter, Churchill saw her out just before midnight. He bowed and took her hand. An era seemed to be ending, one generation giving way to another; at last it would be Anthony Eden's turn. Back inside, Churchill sat gloomily on the edge of his bed. "I don't believe Anthony can do it," he mused.

The remark was, in a way, the last, private whimper from the man William Manchester indelibly called "The Last Lion." The scene, with its revealing and surprising glimpse of Churchill behind the curtain in his final political chapter, tells us much about the complexities and contradictions of Churchill at the end, and it closes Barbara Leaming's new narrative.

Leaming, most recently the author of a fine biography of John F. Kennedy, has given us a concise history of Churchill after the trumpets. Readers who know him only as the hero of 1940 will be surprised to find an all-too-human politician in these pages, a man who lived for power and was driven by a noble dream: the making of peace in a nuclear age.

Churchill's is one of the most chronicled lives in history (he himself once remarked that it was already "well-ploughed" in his own lifetime), but Leaming has done a good job of adding details to the familiar story: her account of Churchill's visit to Berlin, including to Hitler's bunker, is particularly strong. Here is her description of him on that day in July 1945, just before the British electorate turned him out: "The man who visited Hitler's bunker had recast himself in just five years as one of history's titans. Had Churchill died before 1940, he might have been remembered as a prodigiously gifted failure. On this day, he was at the apex of his glory. Yet thus far, he had appeared oddly detached and distracted. His bulbous, bloodshot, light blue eyes surveyed the devastation at the Chancellery..." He was old and tired--but he never gave up, as the nation would learn anew in the long decade between the 1945 general election and the dinner with the queen in 1955.

From Eden to Harry Truman, the supporting characters are well drawn, and they give the book a sprightly feel. Unfortunately, Leaming's narrative is marred by the occasional cliché and awkward phrasing (bombshells drop, rooms seethe, cold water is doused).

Taken all in all, however, the book is a well-told political drama about the greatest figure of an epic century. Not a bad achievement, that. Jon Meacham, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his American Lion in 2009, is at work on a biography of Thomas Jefferson. Reviewed by John Meacham.
—Publishers Weekly, Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Barbara Leaming is the author of the New York Times best-seller Katharine Hepburn, as well as the much-acclaimed Orson Welles. She was for many years professor of theater and film at Hunter College. Her articles have appeared in Vanity Fair and The New York Times Magazine. She lives in Connecticut.

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