Introduced by Celia Sandys
Written before he became prime minister, Churchill’s canny and witty insights on the great figures of the day remain entertaining and illuminating.
Featuring newly researched photographs and biographical information, this remains one of Churchill’s most accessible works – it illuminates its subjects and reveals the personality of its author. For this edition we have used the 25 essays Churchill personally selected for the 1938 edition, and Celia Sandys has provided a warm and insightful introduction, describing her grandfather as a man who always thought of himself as a professional writer, regardless of his extraordinary political career. As Lady D’Abernon wrote when she received her copy of Great Contemporaries, Churchill ‘was himself far the Greatest Contemporary of them all’.
Winston Churchill was one of the foremost figures of 20th-century politics; a truly iconic character, he was also a socialite, an artist, a journalist and a writer. Written in the decade before he became Prime Minister, Great Contemporaries is a collection of essays on the giants of that age, including Kaiser Wilhelm II, George Bernard Shaw, Lawrence of Arabia, King George V, Roosevelt and Adolf Hitler.
Throughout his varied life and career Churchill rubbed shoulders with the good, the bad and occasionally, the downright rotten. While he is honest and generous in his praise, he is equally at home pinpointing the faults and failings of his subjects, and as such his famously scathing wit provides as much entertainment as revelation. When he writes of Bernard Shaw it is obviously with some admiration – ‘we are all the better for having had the Jester in our midst’ – yet he does not stint on his criticism of what he sees as Shaw’s hypocritical nature. Similarly we see evidence of Churchill’s forthright honesty when he tells of sternly berating T. E. Lawrence over lunch for daring to embarrass the king; yet he goes on to describe him as the best of men, and wilfully adds fuel to the legend of Lawrence of Arabia: ‘From amid the flowing draperies his noble features, his perfectly chiselled lips and flashing eyes loaded with fire and comprehension shone forth’.
‘We cannot tell whether Hitler will be the man who will once again let loose upon the world another war in which civilisation will irretrievably succumb, or whether he will go down in history as the man who restored honour and peace of mind to the great Germanic nation and brought it back serene, helpful and strong, to the forefront of the European family circle. It is on this mystery of the future that history will pronounce. It is enough to say that both possibilities are open at the present moment. If, because the story is unfinished, because, indeed, its most fateful chapters have yet to be written, we are forced to dwell upon the darker side of his work and creed, we must never forget nor cease to hope for the bright alternative.’
Winston S. Churchill (1874–1965) was born at Blenheim Palace, the seat of his grandfather the seventh Duke of Marlborough, to Jennie Jerome, an American socialite, and Lord Randolph Churchill, a Conservative politician. Educated at Harrow and Sandhurst he joined the Queen’s Own Hussars and served as both a cavalry officer and war correspondent. Captured in South Africa during the Second Boer War Churchill famously escaped and returned to England. He entered Parliament in the 1900 General Election as MP for Oldham, and became First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911, after a brief period as home secretary. Following the ill-fated Dardanelles campaign he left the Admiralty and served another brief period in the army. Rescued from the political wilderness by Lloyd George, Churchill remained in Parliament until 1922 when he lost his seat, but returned as Chancellor of the Exchequer in Baldwin’s Conservative Cabinet in 1924. He became prime minister in 1940, after the fall of Chamberlain, and served in that post throughout the Second World War, until his defeat in the 1945 election. Churchill regained the prime ministership in 1951, but finally resigned in 1955. Throughout his life and career he was a prolific writer and was awarded the 1953 Nobel Prize in Literature ‘for his mastery of historical and biographical description’.
Celia Sandys, daughter of Sir Winston Churchill’s eldest child, Diana, and Cabinet Minister Duncan Sandys, is an internationally recognised author, journalist, television presenter and speaker on the subject of her grandfather. Her previously published books include From Winston With Love and Kisses (1994), Churchill Wanted Dead or Alive (1999), Chasing Churchill (2003), We Shall Not Fail (2003) and Churchill (2003).
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