A number of years ago, I picked up a copy of the second volume of Winston Churchill’s Second World War, entitled Their Finest Hour. I almost gave up on it after reading the first chapter but kept going. I’m glad I did as I loved it and devoured the rest of the series.
The reason that I almost gave up on it is that it is not like any other military history I have read. Instead of a narrative that relies heavily on the troops involved on the ground, it is more of a memoir of Churchill’s experience during the war.
Not only is it more of a political or biographical history, it is composed greatly of records from the war-time. So instead of summarizing his letters to Franklin Roosevelt or Joseph Stalin, he just reproduces them verbatim. The same is true for his communication to his generals.
This took some time to get used to but it ended up being what I enjoyed about the series. It becomes more of a primary source history than a secondary source and therefore a valuable series for understanding the war.
Without diminishing the historical value, The Second World War is extremely biased. Of course all histories are biased but Churchill is less subtle about his bias. He definitely wants to make himself look good and he portrays himself as knowing how things would turn out before they happened. We need to read this book with an understanding of the bias at the forefront of our minds.
Having said that, this series of books provides a tremendous amount of insight as to what was happening behind the scenes. We learn about plans that Churchill was determined to see happened but never took place because of unavoidable circumstances or resistance from other leaders.
We see in this book how Churchill tried to navigate the different needs of leaders, whether Stalin’s demands for a second front or the Australian prime minister’s fear of an invasion and desire to have Australian troops returned.
I found the relationship between Churchill and Roosevelt to be very interesting. A friendship was forged in the fires of war and when Roosevelt died before the war was won, it really hit Churchill.
If you are interested in World War Two, I strongly recommend that you real all volumes of Winston Churchill’s Second World War.
If you are interested in military history, please check out my Second World War Podcast.