The Literary Churchill Author, Reader, Actor Jonathan Rose

Publication date:
12 May 2015
Yale University Press
528 pages: 216 x 140mm
13 b-w illus.
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A transformative portrait of Churchill, whose love of history, theater, and reading was inextricably linked to his life as a statesman

This strikingly original book introduces a Winston Churchill we have not known before. Award-winning author Jonathan Rose explores in tandem Churchill’s careers as statesman and author, revealing the profound influence of literature and theater on Churchill’s personal, carefully composed grand story and on the decisions he made throughout his political life.
Rose provides in this expansive literary biography an analysis of Churchill’s writings and their reception (he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953 and was a best-selling author), and a chronicle of his dealings with publishers, editors, literary agents, and censors. The book also identifies an array of authors who shaped Churchill’s own writings and politics: George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Margaret Mitchell, George Orwell, Oscar Wilde, and many more. Rose investigates the effect of Churchill’s passion for theater on his approach to reportage, memoirs, and historical works. Perhaps most remarkably, Rose reveals the unmistakable influence of Churchill’s reading on every important episode of his public life, including his championship of social reform, plans for the Gallipoli invasion, command during the Blitz, crusade for Zionism, and efforts to prevent a nuclear arms race. In a fascinating conclusion, Rose traces the significance of Churchill’s writings to later generations of politicians, among them President John F. Kennedy as he struggled to extricate the U.S. from the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Jonathan Rose is William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of History, Drew University. He lives in Morristown, NJ.

“An interesting and at times surprising account of Churchill's tastes as a reader . . . [Rose] is a very good stylist. He is also formidably knowledgeable, and many of his nuggets will be new even to Churchill junkies.”—Ben Downing, Wall Street Journal

“Immensely enjoyable . . . marvelous . . . This gracefully written book is an original and textured study of Churchill’s imagination.” —Michael F. Bishop, Washington Post

“A most wonderful book for Churchill admirers . . . fascinating . . . the book sparkles and is the best I have ever read on the man.”—Tom Perkins, Wall Street Journal, “Books of the Year”

'One of the most remarkable books ever written about Winston Churchill.'—Piers Brendon, Literary Review

‘Jonathan Rose. . .has shown how Churchill excelled in the application of language to the exercise of power and concludes that he 'modelled his politics on literature.' The proof is abundant and well presented in this excellent, thorough and enjoyable biography that adds a fresh and fascinating dimension to a great statesman.’—Lawrence James, The Times

‘This is no incidental postscript to the hundreds of volumes already published about Churchill, but a painstaking study building a formidable case for taking him seriously not just in political history but in literary history too. . .Rose made his reputation as the historian of the working-class autodidacts in Britain. Now he has consolidated it by writing about an upper-class autodidact, whose intellectual life he captures well.’ —Peter Clark. The Financial Times

‘[Rose] assembles a mass of fascinating information about Churchill’s writings, readings, and politicking, much of it until now available only in the archives at Churchill College.’—Cita Stelzer, TLS
‘Rose hopes to be breaking new ground in the multitude of books on Churchill and provides us with another highly readable account of the man in the course. Bugger Boris, read Rose.’—Stewart Rayment, InterLib.

‘The result of Rose’s careful scholarship is an absorbing account of the complicated overlap between aesthetics and politics. Churchill emerges as a figure largely unable to separate his reading, writing, political decisions and political self-presentation, such that, to use Rose’s closing words, Churchill’s life ‘demonstrates that literature matters, more than we think, in more ways than we imagine.’’—Neil E. Hultgren, British Studies.

‘Incredibly enough, considering the vast existing literature on Churchill, a sufficient number of aspects of his life remain unexplored to enable a gifted author like Professor Rose to present us with this suberb hefty volume.’—Antoine Capet, Cercles.

‘After the millions of words that have been written about Winston Churchill, Jonathan Rose still finds a new angle from which to approach him.’—Alaistair Mabbott, Glasgow Herald

‘Painstakingly researched and immensely readable, this in-depth study offers a new perspective on a complex personality and national hero, drawing a picture of a man whose sense of the dramatic changed the course of history.’—Good Book Guide.

The 2016 New Jersey Committee for the Humanities Book Award in the scholarly humanities non-fiction cateogry.

'Lucid, insightful, and authoritative, The Literary Churchill reveals in rich detail how a great political life was shaped by a love of books, a theatrical flair and a brilliant talent for turning a phrase. Unlike many politicians then or now, Churchill believed that literature mattered, and as this book demonstrates convincingly, his deep commitment to the world of the imagination influenced his career at every important turn.' - Michael Shelden, author of Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill

'One of the most remarkable books ever written about Winston Churchill.'—Piers Brendon, Literary Review