- Writes well (Nobel-prize-winning stuff).
- Helped to make the history he writes about.
- Has a deep understanding of history.
- Does not see the world in Marxist terms.
- Understands that power, empire and war can be forces for good as well as evil.
- Writes from a moral centre – there is true evil in the world.
If you enjoy reading the The Economist, then you will probably enjoy this too.
Yes, I know Churchill was a racist and an imperialist. I know people who refuse to read him for that reason. Churchill thought white people – in particular Anglos – should rule the world because they were just plain better than everyone else. It was not his fault he was born as one of them. That is how he looked at it.
But, in fact, part of what makes Churchill’s histories good is that he does take sides like that, he does see it from a strong point of view. You know it, he does not hide it, and, as it turns out, even when you do not agree with him it still makes his storytelling better.
It is a long book, so long it is divided into six volumes. My advice is to read the first volume and see how you like it. It can be read on its own. His account of the fall of France to Hitler in that volume more than makes it worth the read.
Even when you know what will come next – you know that France will fall, you know that the atom bomb will work – he can report it in a way that still leaves you in shock. He has this matter-of-fact way of reporting terrible things that makes them seem all the more terrible.
It is clearly a British history of the war: British campaigns are described in loving detail while American and Russian campaigns are only described to the degree necessary to understand the war as a whole. But that is just as well since in America you get a different take on the war. It is interesting to hear an account of the war where Japan and the Holocaust are not the main things other than Hitler himself.
It is a measure of how honest and thorough Churchill was that you can read his history and find yourself taking sides against him with Stalin and Roosevelt.
The worst thing about his history is how it ends. Just when Britain, America and Russia were making the peace at Potsdam, Churchill lost the election and had to go home. And that is just where the book stops. Nothing about how Potsdam ended, nothing about the dropping the atom bomb, little about how the war shaped the future. Very odd.