If Winston Churchill was the greatest British leader in 500 years, as historians claim, it is no wonder books about him proliferate. Of five notable books about Churchill in recent years, the most remarkable is William Manchester and Paul Reid's “The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Defender of the Realm, 1940-65” (Little Brown and Co., $40).
A fixture in England's parliament several decades, Churchill was the wartime prime minister in 1940-45 and held that post again in 1951-55. His courageous leadership in war is the stuff of which legends are made. When it seemed England would fall to Hitler's sweep as France did, Churchill's eloquent speeches stirred a nation and the free world.
This book, almost 1,200 pages, captures the man, from birth in 1874 until death 90 years later. Statesman was his main passion and occupation, but he wrote books and news stories in his busy schedule, and he also was a painter. His varied relationships, including with President Franklin Roosevelt, are detailed with such skill that readers also learn about the associates' lives.
Manchester, in the genius class as a writer and historian, wrote about Churchill's earlier life. Ill health cut short his writing of what was to be his final installment, so he asked Reid to conclude the masterful biography. Reid proved to be a good choice. Reading about the old lion's final years and death can bring moist eyes, but Churchill's admirers want the whole story. It's here.
A less monumental book, but one of insight and love, is “A Daughter's Tale: The Memoir of Winston Churchill's Youngest Child” (Random House, $28). Mary Soames, the only surviving child of Winston and Clementine Churchill, looks at her 90 years, much of it spent in the glow of her father's affection. Soames shares stories of glittering personalities who crossed her father's path. Publishers Weekly commented, “Soames' memoir presents a unique perspective on wartime Britain.” Included is her service as a gunner in the women's auxiliary and a description of wartime hardships.