Winston Churchill a life by John Keegan is an intellectual biography about the life and accomplishments of Winston Churchill. Keegan was a British military historian, lecturer, writer and journalist. In 1960 he was assigned to a lectureship in Military History at the Royal Military Academy, the training establishment for officers of the British Army. He held the position for 26 years, and became the senior lecturer in military history during his contract.

During this time he also held an on call professorship at Princeton University and was a renowned Professor of History at Vassar College. As a distinguished professor he was very qualified to write about the life of Winston Churchill. Keegan is a military historian and it that makes him a very good candidate to compose a short history about Churchill’s leadership during the war. The back of the book pretty much sums of the significance of Churchill, “When today’s leaders require inspiration in times of crisis, they often invoke Winston Churchill.

This is a very interesting biography that describes the important historical personality who helped shape the dynamic of the world we live in today. Keegan focuses on Churchill’s political stances, intellectual stances, and personal stances. The book covers all the major events in Churchill’s life. The first several chapters include a lot of his political pretension before the war. The book offers a short introduction to his post-war life and career; it mostly focuses on his decisions and actions as prime minister.

The book gives a good description of both former military experiences and the guidance of the British forces during the war. Keegan covers all the major episodes of Churchill’s life he focuses on the River War, the Dardanelles, his pacing back and forth across the Parliamentary floor, and of course, his wartime Leadership. Keegan regards Churchill as a very important figure and in a very positive manner. He shows us pieces of Churchill’s famous speeches so we can get the idea of what kind of man he was.

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It showed us his intelligence, his determination and willingness to do whatever it takes. Keegan shows us how Churchill almost single handedly led his country to victory. Unfortunately Keegan’s work is inadequate and objective. For example, Keegan rightly writes on Churchill’s early support for social reform but claims that Churchill (not David Lloyd George) was “largely responsible for the achievements of the Edwardian Liberal Party” (p. 72), instead of David Lloyd George. He also wrongly refers to Lloyd George as Churchill’s beneficiary at the Board of Trade (p. 67).

The reader is given a false impression of the affair and the man, and unless you have studied Churchill before, you would not have known any different. This biography is very short and easy to read. It provides the reader with an excellent overview of Churchill and his life. It is hard to get everything that Churchill accomplished in this short of a book, but the author does a good job touching on the subjects that are most important. It can be considered a very good introduction to Churchill and even though it may have its flaws, it’s still very informative and engaging.

I wouldn’t consider this book as a significant contribution to scholarship, maybe as a secondary source for someone who is doing research on Churchill and the time, but I don’t believe that it has enough information to provide someone with adequate information for a full-fledged research assignment, although it is still a very good biography and for someone who is looking for a short, perceptive and insightful look into Churchill then this book is a perfect choice.

I believe that this book is an example of popular history, its not some boring biography that drags on about every little thing that happened, it is aimed at readers who are interested but who are turned away from the longer more detailed biographies. It is perfect for undergrad or high school students or any reader that is interested in the life of Churchill and the history of the time.


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