Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill

Candice Millard. Doubleday, $30 (416p) ISBN 978-0-385-53573-1
Millard (Destiny of the Republic) takes a relatively minor episode in the life of Winston Churchill—his escape from prison during the Boer War—and makes hay with it, painting young Churchill as a brilliant soldier, talented raconteur, and politician in waiting. Churchill’s escape from a jail cell in Pretoria and subsequent trek through enemy territory are presented as the first signs of the grit and determination he would later show as prime minister. Apart from some enjoyable biographical detail (Millard has a weakness for hair “shining like a dark jewel” and interiors of “rich yellow silk”), the book contains little of interest for readers who are not already die-hard Churchill buffs. Churchill’s racism is consistently underplayed, the politics of the Boer War are ignored, and figures such as Leo Amery are reduced to drawing-room caricatures. By dwelling on Churchill’s privileged upbringing, Millard effectively extinguishes any sympathy the reader might feel for a pompous young man who once wrote, in typically overblown fashion, that if his plans for political office fell through, “It will break my heart for I have nothing else but ambition to cling to.” Not even some late attention to the wider world beyond Churchill can save the book from its hagiographic bent. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 06/27/2016
Release date: 09/20/2016
Compact Disc - 978-0-307-98793-8
Paperback - 640 pages - 978-0-8041-9489-1
Paperback - 416 pages - 978-0-307-94878-6
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