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Connecticut River Valley, New England, United States

Friday, June 13, 2014

Another Connected Politician Earlier Than JFK But Similar

Young Titan: The Making of Winston ChurchillYoung Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill by Michael Shelden
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Years ago, when I was teaching in a school that had morning announcements over an intercom to every classroom, our principal handed down a directive in which he said " Starting today there will only be one instrument for the consumption of liquids allotted per student!" . The students looked at me with perplexity, wondering what new rule this was and how it pertained to them. Fortunately, having listened to many politicians, including Winston Churchill, by then I was able to interpret the message as: you each only get one straw!

Granted my knowledge of WC was in his waning days. He was a short fat old man with a hat perched strangely on his head and a cigar in his mouth. His voice was a drone heavily accented with high British tones. My parents were not enamoured of him and nothing I saw or heard did much to alter my opinion that he was a bore who spoke in meaningless wordy pronouncements that boiled down to similar messages--you get one straw or something equally insignificant.

Still, I wanted to read about him as a young man. There must have been some reason that he rose so high to power at a very young age. Something other than just his connections to the aristocracy on his British father's side and to the wealth of America, on his mother's. I'd read books about Jennie Churchill, the beauty and one of King Edward's lovers. I'd also been aware of his father, Lord Randolph Churchill who'd died of syphilis at a fairly young age. But I'd not really known much about the son's young manhood, only of his lonely childhood, sent off to prep school after a series of nannies, as was and is sometimes still the custom in such circles.

In the first few chapters, despite the very readable descriptions of Winston the freckled red-haired Mommy's darling boy, I just could not seem to get the image of the old man out of my head. It probably didn't help that the focus was on his speechifying in which he delighted, whether out socially or performing politically. But within fifty pages the young man began to emerge. Here we see the charming, witty fellow who kept falling in love with some of the most beautiful women of his social set, only to have them either refuse his marriage proposal outright or manage to sidestep him so well that he never got the chance to propose.

We also see the rebel who is bound and determined to shake up the stodgy House of Commons and even gathers around him like-minded cronies to form a group called the Hooligans in the Tory Party. When his ambitions are stymied by his remaining a Tory, he blithely transfers his loyalties to the Liberal Party and attacks vigourously some of the Tories who played important roles in his ascendance. He manages to keep a friendship going throughout his life with the one woman who fell deeply in love with him, the daughter of the Prime Minister, while he marries his Clementine.

As I read about his speeches denigrating the House of Lords and its aristocrats, I could not help but saying to myself--but your family background is littered with these people. And sure enough, the people and the press of the day, had exactly the same reaction. Reading of the alliances and the fallings out of these politicians in a system of government so different from that in the US, I could not help but notice that the systems might be different but politics is not.

I did not come away liking Winston any better nor did I become terribly impressed by him as having accomplished very much but I did have a better grasp of what formed the man I did remember who had come through the Second World War much more successfully than the First. But then the allies were different and so were there leaders then.

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