A false dialectic between great men and great events is often forced upon historians by those who want to ascribe or deny the power of free will and fate in the lives of men. Churchill, assuredly a great man, walks the center ground in his sweeping history encompassing the history of English speaking peoples.
This is narrative history in the grand old style, not often seen these days. While written merely 60 years ago, already the pages of his history, in their style, pacing, language, and conclusions give off the ineluctable scent of the ages. As I read, aware of the political history and powerful influence of Churchill as a great man shaping the great events that provided context to my lifespan, I had the feeling of sitting at the feet of a master who took his precious time away from the shaping of the world to teach us how it was shaped when it came into his hands. I wonder if British students of my generation learned their British history from these textbooks? I might hope that they had; they, from a closer angle, might have different opinions on the matter
Volume one covers the birth of Britain--a place name, title, and word freighted with great import, as Churchill shares, at one point referring to the cooperation of the English (those marauding Angle interlopers) with the British (the original islanders driven to the western and southern extremes) as a central aspect of the birth. As Churchill moves effortlessly forward through the centuries, covering up to 1485 and the death of Richard the III, the advances and atrocities of history pile up and start to add up slowly but surely toward recognizable people, places, and philosophies. Still, as a modern and as an American, I can only be shocked by the power and certitude of convictions that would lead a Richard the III to kill the King's minor heirs to usurp his crown, or (perhaps worse?) for Richard's enemies to claim that he had, to gain advantage for their claimant.
This is only the first of four volumes. I look forward to another session at the feet of Professor Prime Minister Churchill. The Renaissance starts tomorrow, and I can't wait to learn more of its great people and great events.
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