cover image Churchill on Home Front

Churchill on Home Front

Paul Addison. Random House (UK), $22.95 (493pp) ISBN 978-0-7126-5826-3

During his lifetime, Churchill was generally overestimated as a military leader and underestimated as a domestic politician. Addison's achievement in this balanced and entertaining book is to narrow the gap between these perceptions, showing that Churchill's wartime and peacetime careers exhibited the same errors of judgment and intuitive genius. ``He was not so much a character in British politics,'' writes the author, ``as a number of different characters all played by the same actor.'' By the end of his career, this ``most protean of personalities,'' who kept a statue of Napoleon near his desk, had held all three top government appointments-President of the Board of Trade, Home Secretary, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He had introduced an astonishing quantity of legislation, first as a ``radical'' Liberal, later as a Conservative. But Addison also reminds us that this heir to the Empire blamed its decline on the advances of democracy and universal franchise, particularly for women. Essentially, Churchill felt his country had abandoned the ``masculine'' democracy of 1914 for a ``feminine'' one after 1928, a belief that made him sound increasingly reactionary. Churchill's fascination with Mussolini contrasts with his early, energetic resistance to Hitler; and, though opposed to Bolshevism, he courted Russia as an ally after 1934. And so it was that in the summer of 1940, this aristocratic careerist eventually ``met the British people marching in the same direction.'' It was an historic role, a role for which Churchill had been rehearsing for decades. He remembered the war effort years later with uncharacteristic humility. ``It was the nation and the race dwelling round the globe that had the lion's heart. I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar.'' (Dec.)