The Churchill Complex: The Curse of Being Special, from Winston and FDR to Trump and Brexit

Ian Buruma. Penguin Press, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-0-525-52220-1
Buruma (A Tokyo Romance) examines the dynamics between U.S. presidents and British prime ministers in this brisk and insightful history. Positioning Winston Churchill (who was born to a British father and an American mother and used the phrase special relationship to describe the Anglo-American alliance in a 1946 speech) as the embodiment of the principles behind the partnership, Buruma tracks the ups and downs of the past 75 years. The surprise intergenerational connection between Harold Macmillan and John F. Kennedy was followed by Lyndon Johnson’s overbearing, almost abusive, treatment of Harold Wilson, according to Buruma, while Margaret Thatcher’s synergy with Ronald Reagan was bookended by her lack of rapport with Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush. Tony Blair and George W. Bush bonded over their efforts to overcome alcoholism, Buruma writes, and Blair’s “messianic streak” dovetailed with Bush’s “evangelical view of American destiny” in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Barack Obama’s move toward Germany as a preferred ally coincided with the rise of political sentiments behind the era of Trump and Brexit, which Buruma describes as a time when the return to “greatness” means “the planned destruction of the very ideals—open, internationalist, liberal—that many people once admired most about the Anglo-American order.” Though his analysis doesn’t break much new ground, Buruma writes fluidly and paints vivid sketches of key figures and moments. Political history buffs will be fascinated. (Sept.)
Reviewed on : 06/18/2020
Release date: 09/01/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
Book - 978-0-525-52221-8
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