Reviews - What do customers think about Great Contemporaries?
Churchill on "great" men Dec 6, 2004
Although Winston Churchill is remember best as a statesman (and in my mind the greatest man of the 20th Century), he made his living through his pen. Churchill though of aristocratic background, was not extremely wealthy. While he could have survived on the family fortune, his expensive tastes and zest for living would have bankrupted him. So he turned to writing to earn his living.
Great Contemporaries is a series of essays written between 1929 and 1937 on the "great" leaders of the day. Churchill knew many of these leaders personally, and is able to supplement what might otherwise be a dry recitation of the facts of a career with personal stories and vignettes.
Perhaps the most famous of the essays is on "Hitler and his Choice, 1935." This essay is often cited by neo-Nazis and far leftists as proof that Churchill actually admired Hitler. But finally getting the chance to read the essay shows that any such analysis takes Churchill's words extremely out of context. Hitler was to be Churchill's great antagonist in the coming decade. In 1935, Churchill recognized that Hitler was facing a choice - would Hitler take a moderate road and perhaps be remembered as the leader who restored German honor, or who Hitler take the road of war. Churchill ends the essay with a warning, that German rearmament was continuing, and, of course, tragically, Churchill's misgivings were played out.
One problem, with this book is that many of the "great" men described are almost forgotten today, at least outside their home countries. Men like the Earl of Rosebery (Prime Minister in the 1890s) or King Alfosno XIII of Spain probably make no impression on the American reader while George Curzon is remembered, if at all, as the man who roughly proposed the border between Poland and the Soviet Union (the "Curzon Line").
The book includes essays on well-remembered men such as George Bernard Shaw, Clemenceau and Churchill's protégé T.E. Lawrence (better known as "Lawrence of Arabia"). These essays, full of personal remembrances by Churchill, are well worth the time.
Winston Churchill writing while between jobs--magnificent! Oct 28, 2003
Consider this passage, about the political climate in Britain before World War One:
"At the time, conflict unceasing grew year by year to a more dangerous intensity at home, while abroad there gathered sullenly the hurricane that was to wreck our generation. Our days were spent in the furious party battles..., while always upon the horizon deadly shapes grew or faded, and even while the sun shone there was a curious whisper in the air."
Who could the author of such Churchillian lines be but Winston Churchill himself? The stately but rarely stentorian pacing and tone, imitations of which are rarely successful, still impresses upon the reader the power and beauty of the English language.
These biographical essays, written while Churchill was in political exile in the Thirties, were collected in book at the end of that decade. His majestically simple (or simply majestic) writing brings long-gone controversies and personalities back to life, if unavoidably suffused with the aura of the author's own personality.
Some notables that would seem to have been natural subjects for this book are missing: Gandhi, Lloyd George, Edward VII. But an American reader only passingly acquainted with the luminaries of early 20th century Britain would be interested in Churchill's memories of the First Earl of Birkenhead, Herbert Henry Asquith, and George Nathanael Curzon. The pieces are light on biographical detail and heavy on evaluation, but Churchill's estimation of most of these people is generous. He dismisses George Bernard Shaw as a jester, gallantly defends the ex-Kaiser from the worst of the late war-time propaganda, and warns of the rising influence of Germany's new chancellor, Adolf Hitler. The reader is also reminded from time to time that Churchill was indeed a politician, as in the essay on Lord Fisher, in which he deflects blame for some WWI naval setbacks onto that gentleman.
Excepting Walpole, probably no statesman's collected bread and butter writing has ever been so memorable, or made for such good reading.
Everything was on a grand scale. Sep 20, 2000
There is very little about Sir Churchill that can be considered routine, average, or some standard he can be compared to. Everything he did was generally on a scale that helped to create the Legend he has become, and that he will remain. Even when he erred, it generally was not minor, however rare, but on balance we do not, nor will we have his kind again. He loved his Country, and he loved the US, for he was 50% American, so that even in Washington D.C. today, a statue of him striding forward has one foot on British, and one on American soil.
His life was long, stretching past the 90-year mark, allowing him ample time to write and give speeches, which are routinely quoted to this day. He was a master at both disciplines, with his writing awarded the Nobel Prize For Literature in 1953.
"Great Contemporaries" is a book that is more about the men and women he knew than about the Author. He is evident throughout the read, as the impressions of these people of History are his. The 21 profiles he shares with the reader are incredible in their range, and that they were his "contemporaries" is one testament to the History he created and was a part of.
Contemporary people of fame are often identifiable by a first or last name alone. However as we live in an age where you can chat in real time across the planet, fame does not require the same level of notoriety. The fame is of a different character and caliber.
The Kaiser, Shaw, Chamberlein, Hindenburg, Foch, Trotsky, these are only a fraction of the essays this man of history will share. Too, there is Lawrence of Arabia who requires a bit more than a last name, but it is not do to his renown, rather the generic nature of the end of his sobriquet.
These reminiscences are different than those of today's leaders, there was very little distance between these people, they often met alone, and they did not bring an array of lackeys, translators, and gadflies.
A tremendous sweep of one man's impressions of people whose actions resonate to this day, and in all likelihood will not cease.