Review: Maximizer of words, Churchill entertains and still inspires

  • Posted: Sunday, November 11, 2012 7:36 p.m.

CHURCHILL: The Power of Words. Selected, Edited, and Introduced by Martin Gilbert. Da Capo Press. 429 pages. $30.

Never in the field of human communication were so many compelling observations delivered by so prolific a writer/orator.

OK, so that’s a strained variation on Winston Churchill’s epic 1940 salute to the RAF’s Battle of Britain glory: “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

And when reviewing “Churchill: The Power of Words,” the best course is to limit your words while maximizing his.

With 200 extracts well chosen by historian and Churchill biographer Martin Gilbert, this book isn’t just informative and entertaining. It’s inspiring.

Lest you wrongly assume that the insights of the amazingly persistent Englishman, born to an American mother in 1874, came too long ago and far away for renewed consideration, check out this “Memoirs” sample that hits home:

“In March (1942) the main stress fell in the area between Charleston and New York, while singled U-boats prowled over all the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, with a freedom and insolence which were hard to bear.”

World War II pep talks from “The British Bulldog” prime minister still pack a firing-up spark, including this famous 1941 account to Canada’s Parliament of what he told French leaders more than a year earlier:

“When I warned them that Britain would fight on alone whatever they did, their generals told their Prime Minister and his divided Cabinet, ‘In three weeks, England will have her neck wrung like a chicken.’ Some chicken! Some neck!”

The unabashed advocate of not just the British Empire but “the English-speaking people” lacked some of our modern sensitivities.

Churchill also lacked, at least in his younger days, patience with the Fourth Estate.

In June 1915, during the disastrous World War I Gallipoli campaign he triggered as Lord of the Admiralty, he told his Dundee constituents:

“I do not think that the newspapers ought to be allowed to attack the responsible leaders of the nation, whether in the field or at home.”

Any journalist, and Churchill was one, should know better.

Yet this great man of many talents was a historian, too.

Ponder the analogy he drew during a radio broadcast on Oct. 1, 1939, a mere four weeks before Britain declared war on Germany:

“Of all the wars that men have fought in their hard pilgrimage, none was more noble than the great Civil War in America nearly 80 years ago. Both sides fought with high conviction, and the war was long and hard.

“All the heroism of the South could not redeem their cause from the stain of slavery, just as all the courage and skill which the Germans always show in war will not free them from the reproach of Nazism, with its intolerance and its brutality.”

All of “Churchill: The Power of Words” lives up to its title.

Reviewer Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier.

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