Discussion in 'Books, Films, TV, Radio' started by Old Git, Aug 19, 2021.
The Spectator review eviscerates Wheatcroft's Revisionist history of Winston Churchill.
Clearly the reviewer is upset the author criticised him (16 lines up from the end) and allows his bruised ego to cloud his judgement. Have to say it is a long time since I heard anyone try and claim Churchill's Mediterranean Strategy was a successful adventure.
Having written 'The' recent book on Churchill, and fielded every attack imaginable for the last few years, I can't imagine for a moment Mr Roberts is upset or changing his persistent and consistent commentary on the man because of mention in a book he found to be bad. Not mentioning him would probably be peculiar.
Not read this one.
Roberts's book stands very high up in a pretty crowded field, though. A lucid, 'readable' bit of history that doesn't shy away from the man's failings. I'd recommend it first to anyone interested. Replaced Woy Jenkins for me as the best accessible biography.
The review is agenda-driven. The reviewer is clearly is upset the current book does agree with his version of Churchill. Not having read the book we can not say if the reviewer is factual but the spurious anti-Semitic/anti-American charges set alarm bell ringing for me. Whatever your prior opinion on Churchill the review can in no way be portrayed as anything but completely hostile and frankly verges on the hysterical.
I cannot comment specifically on this biography, which I have not read, but this being the Internet, I shall spout off about an associated topic!
Once upon time, not so very long ago, a new biography usually meant a new diary, source or archive had become accessible, been translated or otherwise come to light; today we are more likely to find an achingly relevant political drum being beaten.
Worse (perhaps), some writers seem to think that merely modernising the language of older writers, condensing the findings of multiple volumes or tutting in more appropriate places is sufficient justification for a revisit. As far as I'm concerned, it isn't. More reprints of classic biographies; fewer rehashes and hatchet jobs please.
Worst of all perhaps is the 'lifelong admirer'. It's the vanity of the age that posits the intensity of one's ardour as being tied to one's suitability to be write. The associated issue of relatives as authors is a part of this. Some seem to view it as their most pressing a duty to defend their ancestors against all comers, alive and (preferably) dead, and promote the importance of their work out of all proportion. In contrast, all the best biographies are 'warts and all' simply because most of us know from bitter experience that saints are (almost) invariably too good to be true. The life of a perfect man will never be a decent read, and at the risk of straying into psychoanalysis, the urge to rebut every trifling criticism seems often to betoken a genuine insecurity about either the subject's rank in the grand sweep of history, and/or about the author's relationship with that illustrious forbear.
Personally, with reference to subjects involved in the Second World War, I think the future lies in other directions:
First, forensic 'limited/quasi biographies' (Sir Francis Tuker & the 4th Indian Division 1941-44 or Smyth At Sittang Bridge, please). It's not like those obligatory twenty pages on the history of the subject's provincially prominent ancestors or the corresponding section on his retirement as a much-loved grandfather and the pillar of the community are ever any good anyway! We have the doorstep contemporary biographies to record such niceties for posterity, so why not wade into the depths and drop in when the action starts? We don't need everybody to write from the cradle to the grave if there's nothing new to add.
I read a book a number of years ago called Wittgenstein's Poker, in which the author took a ten minute confrontation between two eminent philosophers, the particulars of which are disputed by respected witnesses, and spun it out into two mini biographies that elucidated much that they had in common and much that might have fed into such a clash. I usually cannot stand comparative biographies (they encourage wild speculation and surface readings), but this was great stuff--more in a military line would be most welcome.
Second, modern 'institutional biographies' often feel more valuable to me--especially when the author has slaved away at weaving a tapestry of micro-biographies and has managed to assemble a good 'cast' through which to portray the history of the unit, office, location, service etc. I'm minded here of the late Anthony Kirk-Greene's superb publications on the history of the various branches of HM's Colonial Service. Although not really biographies, they contain slabs of fantastically selected biographical material from a man who must have spent half of his life poring over unpublished manuscripts, government publications and in-house newsletters.
So how is it different from you going in all guns blazing against the panzer fanboys and their delusions? Don't we all get narked when someone crayons over our pet subjects?
And there's never any shortage of opinions out there that deserve a hostile response. Perhaps it just comes down to which side we agree with.
I've spent decades looking for a decent biography of Aleister Crowley.
Found one, really (and that wasn't exactly great), among the hagiographies and new age wanketeers.
(Can't even remember the good one... All I'll say is avoid Churton.)
Think the Sugden Nelsons & 'The Bloody White Baron' might be the best biogs I've read, but who'd choose to do any really 'major' figure... Bit of a hubristic step into the viper's pit.
When I tackle the fanbois I make sure I use facts. The difference here is that the default opinion is criticism of Churchill is not to be tolerated and anyone doing so is to be smeared as an anti-Semite anti-Amrerican left wing luvie. The reviewer makes it a right v left issue rather than about Churchill.
And it stands out in the review. Its all about politics and -dare I say it-a petty attempt by one 'expert' to get a dig in at the competition.
Remember the issue is the review and not Churchill. Try and remember the difference.
Crowley's a step beyond.
He has biographers who claim, variously, to be his children and his spiritual (actual?) reincarnations!
Separate names with a comma.