‘Born to succeed; doomed to failure’. For all its cruel accuracy, this quip about Randolph Churchill is not quite fair.
He was certainly born to succeed. A member of a great patrician family, good-looking, intelligent, energetic, with great oratorical gifts and quickness of mind, the young Randolph Churchill was the Golden Boy of popular imagination and seen as a young man of destiny.
Grandson of the colourful late-Victorian politician Lord Randolph Churchill and son of the even more celebrated and controversial Winston Churchill, Randolph seemed set fair to continue the family tradition. His father even referred to him as 'the younger Pitt'.
What went wrong? This book provides a convincing and fascinating answer. Both circumstances and his own defects of character worked against Randolph Churchill. He was spoiled by his father, his relationship with his strong-willed mother was not happy. Too much privilege sapped his initiative, he could never live up to his father's expectations and had an inability to establish close and loving relationships. His two marriages fell apart, the great love affair of his life was unrequited and, most important of all, he was handicapped by his self-willed, argumentative, bombastic and cantankerous nature.
Passionately interested in politics, he fought and lost six elections; the only time he got into parliament was when he was returned unopposed. Although his wartime experiences – in the Western Desert and with the SAS in Yugoslavia – showed his courage and were probably the high water mark of his achievements, he never covered himself in the glory he so ardently sought. A talented and occasionally brilliant journalist, he did not have much success in his final career as a biographer, dying after publishing only two volumes of what was designed to be a great five-volume life of his famous father.
In this shrewd analysis of Randolph's character, the author shows there was far more to him than just the self-indulgent braggart of popular legend. He was an ambitious, talented, unexpectedly sensitive man; touchingly devoted to his father, surprisingly loved by his friends and, although often offensive, never dull.
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