Friday, September 30, 2005

Churchill - Roy Jenkins

Churchill - A Biography was written by Roy Jenkins, himself a Chancellor of Exchequer in Labor Government and founder of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) which merged with the Liberal party and are now called Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) (It is gratifying to know that we are not the only ones with alphabet soup parties.)

It is an awesome book, an example of how a biography should be. For most of us Indians Churchill means "Blood, Sweat and Toil" speech and the person who called Mahatma Gandhi a half naked fakir. His role in winning the second world war is all we know about him (atleast that's what I knew about him till now). So it was surprising to know that he wasn't educated in a college but self learnt after Sandhurst, that he was always on a sticky wicket financially and many other facts.

After reading the book, what I consider as the courageous act of Churchill is his deciding to quit the Conservative Party and join the Liberal Party on the issue of protectionism. He was a first time MP, all of 30 years old and he was changing from ruling party to opposition on principle. He had declared his intentions and when he rose to give a speech, the entire ruling party along with the cabinet walked out. To face this humiliation with calmness was what defined his courage to me.

He was bombastic, arrogant, verbose but he was also the man who could take the strain of the entire nation when there seemed to be no hope. Before his secretary Eddie Marsh joined him, Marsh asked an acquaintance about Churchill. The Lady said, "In the first meeting with Churchill you will notice all his faults. Then your entire life time will be spent on noticing his virtues". The portrayal in this book is true to this assessment.

Jenkins has taken immense efforts to bring to life the background of the times Churcill lived and the ideas that shaped him. He doesn't excessively criticise him nor praise him. He has woven an interesting narrative. Any body wanting to write a biography should read this.

A word of caution - it is a big volume, and if you are not interested in history and only want to skim enough to know about the important data about Churchill, this is not for you. This book requires a lot of effort and interest in the subject to enjoy it.

6 comments:

Nilu said...

I have lost the patience to read 'big' books.

But I do remember watching a 3 hour documentary on Churchill. I think it was on PBS. It did cover his life quite well and you should be able to find it online...

Karthik R said...

Churchill wasn't too charitable towards Indians and was vehemently against Indian independence. And I just hate his bull dog like visage.

Even the Brits were so fed up with him, they booted him out of office after World War II.

More recently, his grandson has been in the news for fomenting hatred towards immigrants. Like Grndpa, like Grandson I guess.

Karthik R said...

As a follow up:

http://www.hindu.com/thehindu/mag/2005/06/05/stories/2005060500170300.htm

Chenthil said...

Nilu, thanks. Will try to find the dcoumentary.

Karthik, Churchill was antagonistic towards free India. But that doesn't preclude me from appreciating his finer qualities. Not everybody is perfect. And I do not subscribe to the view that we have to view everything from Indian perspective only.

Churchill was re elected as PM in 1951. Every statesman is complex, with warts and all. Nobody is God, including Gandhi.

And bull dog visage, it is individual perception :-)

Karthik R said...

Chenthil,
I've no problems in you appreciating Churchill at all. It's just that I can't stand the guy. Yup, and I conveniently left out the fact that he was re-elected to Parliament later on ;-)

Thomas Jefferson and George Washington were slave owners. Woodrow Wilson was an avowed racist. I agree history is full of such instances. It's just that I somehow cannot get myself to commend or appreciate a guy who thought so lowly of Indians. Or it could just be a case of not liking that bull-dog face of his. ;-)

Nilu said...

Karthik,
Why do you have to "appreciate" Churchill or for that matter anybody else?

I do not appreciate anyone other than myself. But that does not stop me from enjoying a docu on Churchill.

And what this association thing with ndia and Indians anyway?