The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
Review Date: 24 Sep 2013
Frequent visitors of WW2DB might already know that William Manchester had become an instant favorate of mine since I first picked up American Caesar back in 2005. That said, even though I had not waited as long as those who were fortunately enough to discover Manchester earlier who had been waiting for the final volume to "The Last Lion" since 1989, it still felt that I had been waiting for Defender of the Realm for a long time. So long, in fact, that I had nearly forgotten about it. When I visited my local library one day toward the end of 2012, walking past the table at the entrance where the new acquisitions were put on special display, I caught glimpse of a cover featuring Winston Churchill. The name "William Manchester" at the very top of the front cover screamed at me. The final volume, which Manchester began to research for and finished by Paul Reid (Manchester had passed away since), had finally arrived!
This concluding volume focused on the final 25 years of Churchill's life, starting around the time when he was given the reins of a country which had just plunged into another war. While the brilliant leadership of Churchill was well known, Manchester and Reid's search and Reid's writing gave Churchill's story a human touch, presenting him as a person rather than a merely a chapter in history. They presented not the history of Britain at war, but the successes and failures of a prominent British politician that rose up to become a world leader. Very much like how Manchester presented Douglas MacArthur in American Caesar, the authors presented Churchill also as a man of extremes. A part of him refused to emerge from the Victorian Era during which he was born, but yet he readily prepared Britain for the "mutually assured destruction" doctrine that characterized the Cold War. While he was popularly remembered in anecdotes which had him drinking alcoholic beverages from the moment he woke up, the authors also reminded us of Churchill's prolific writings, his regular 16-hour workdays, and his never resting creativity. In terms of Reid's writing, he did not rose to meet Manchester's expert command of the English language, though that was not to say Reid was not a good writer; in fact, he did a fine job, only that he had to follow the footsteps of a master at his craft.
I had read through the first half of this book in print, but I ran out of renewals before I could finish this book. After waiting in the queue for a while, I found a copy of this title in its audio book format, and picked up where I left off. Clive Chafer's reading was good, his British accent and voice acting matching how I imagine many in the book's cast of characters would speak.
Beyond often being named as one of the most influencial figures in British history, Winston Churchill likely made key decisions that helped shaped the world today. Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 was not the strongest book out of the "Last Lion" series, but it nevertheless presented a wonderful portrait of Churchill. This book should be on the "must read" list for all with an once of interest in this leader.
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James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy, 23 Feb 1945