Warlord: A Life of Winston Churchill at War, 1874-1945

Warlord: A Life of Winston Churchill at War, 1874-1945

by Carlo D'Este
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Warlord: A Life of Winston Churchill at War, 1874-1945 by Carlo D'Este

As riveting as the man it portrays, Warlord is a masterful, unsparing portrait of Winston Churchill, one of history’s most fascinating and influential leaders. Carlo D’Este’s definitive chronicle of Churchill’s crucial role in the major military campaigns of the 20th century, Warlord uses extensive, untapped archival materials to provide “a very human look at Churchill’s lifelong fascination with soldiering, war, and command.” (Washington Post)

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061943683
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/23/2009
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 880
Sales rank: 32,239
File size: 6 MB

About the Author

Carlo D'Este, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and a distinguished military historian, is the author of the acclaimed biographies Patton: A Genius for War and Eisenhower: A Soldier's Life, among other books on World War II. He lives in Massachusetts.

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A Life of Winston Churchill at War, 1874-1945

Chapter One

Toy Soldiers

The toy soldiers turned the current of my life.

He rather resembles a naughty, little sandy-haired bulldog, and seems backward except for complicated games with toy soldiers.
—Clara Jerome, Churchill's grandmother

It was only fitting that Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was born "amid velvet muffs, fur coats and plumed hats" in the early morning hours of Saint Andrew's Day, November 30, 1874, at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire, the ancestral home of the Marlboroughs. According to his parents his arrival in a temporary cloakroom adjacent to the grand ballroom was unexpected. As the newest descendant of one of the icons of British history, Winston Churchill began life in a hurry, a trait he would never relinquish.

His cousin and close friend Shane Leslie once noted that his birth seems to have been hastened by a gala event at Blenheim that night, the annual Saint Andrew's Ball, in which his mother, Jennie, participated with her customary ardor. "His previous and perhaps presumptuous arrival [his mother] alluded to as Winston's effort to make his first speec. . . . and historians will suppose that the band struck up martial music for his entry." In fact his birth was probably accelerated both by the fact that his mother had not only fallen during a shooting party six days earlier but had taken a rather jarring ride in a pony carriage that afternoon and was dancing enthusiastically when her labor pains began. His parents had intended that his birth take place in their London home inMayfair, but, as he would throughout his long and tumultuous life, Winston Churchill could be counted upon to do the unexpected.

An announcement in The Times three days later read: "On the 30th Nov, at Blenheim Palace, the Lady Randolph Churchill, prematurely, of a son."

Not only is the declaration by his parents that he was born some two months prematurely highly dubious, but in that day it would have been a medical miracle had he even survived. Hardly anyone in the Churchill family's immediate circle of friends fell for the ruse. Churchill himself seems not to have believed it, once noting with evident amusement, "Although present on the occasion, I have no clear recollection of the events leading up to it."

Churchill's parents have been unflatteringly described as "remote and tantalizingly glamorous. Randolph's glittering, bulging eyes and oversize whiskers hiding a small, intense face caused him to resemble a tenacious miniature Schnauzer, while darling 'Mummy' was another spectacle altogether." Indeed the descendants of the first and only notable Marlborough "were a thoroughly disreputable family, in debt, had scandalous relationships with women, and were incredibly rude to people, with only smatterings of respectability." Randolph and Jennie Churchill were exceptions; they captivated English political and social circles. "Neither Randolph nor Jennie needed to out-dazzle each other," noted Shane Leslie. "They both shone of their own light unlike the usual conjugal pairs who reflected each other like the moon and the sun."

Few who met her ever forgot Churchill's mother, Jennie Jerome, a vivacious, raven-haired American. She was one of the best known and most fascinating young women of Victorian England, for her great beauty, joie de vivre, and marriage to one of Parliament's rising stars, and as a woman of considerable repute, with a legion of lovers. She was the product of a traditional silver-spoon, upper-class upbringing that included a finishing school in Paris, where she met her future husband. Jennie was one of three daughters of a formerly ultrawealthy New York financier, cofounder of the famed Jockey Club, and onetime owner of the New York Times, Leonard Jerome, who had lately fallen on hard times as a result of the stock market collapse of 1873. The Jerome sisters, Jennie, Leonie, and Clara, were once described by a contemporary wit as, respectively, "the Beautiful, the Witty and the Good."

Jennie Jerome Churchill's admiring nephew Shane Leslie has described her as: "a magnificent type whose fierce yet faithful character [was] so utterly fearless towards those she loved, so scornful of those she disliked."

As a parent Jennie left a great deal to be desired. She typified the upper-class women of her age for whom parenting did not rank high on their scale of priorities. Life in Victorian England as the wife of Lord Randolph Churchill was meant to be one of hedonistic pleasure, whether in the bedrooms of her lovers or the endless round of social events, parties, hunts, and attendance at high-profile racing events at Ascot and the annual regatta at Henley.

Notes Shane Leslie, "Destiny had not slipped her into the world to play with Princes or to tread the Primrose path of politics. She had been furnished with some virile qualities of steel in her veins. . . . Men she could consider and treat as they generally treated women. There was the pantheres. . . . in her temper—otherwise it would have been impossible for her to fulfill her only real destiny and duty which was to breed Winston." Herbert Henry Asquith's second wife, Margot Tennant, did not know who Jennie was when she first encountered her in 1887 at a race meeting. "She had a forehead like a panther's and great wild eyes that looked through you. . . . Had Lady Randolph Churchill been like her face, she could have governed the world."

Jennie was a woman of great contradictions who possessed far more than mere beauty. She disdained the Victorian dictates of humility and a woman's place in society. Her single-mindedness (which she passed to her two sons) was reflected in her commanding nature. After her boys were grown her causes ranged from founding a magazine to work aiding the wounded in South Africa during the Boer War.

A Life of Winston Churchill at War, 1874-1945
. Copyright © by Carlo D'Este. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

Nigel Hamilton

“Epic. . . . A briliantly exciting narrative. . . . D’Este has given us, finally, the lion not only in winter, but at war: impetuous, brazen, misguided, but indefatigable, indomitable, and magnanimous: the greatest and most energetic generalissimo of the 20th century.”

Max Hastings

“Carlo d’Este, one of the finest historians of the Second World War, brings to his new book all his skills as a military analyst. Even those who think Churchill’s life familiar will find this a wonderfully stimulating study.”

Rick Atkinson

“Carlo D’Este, among our very best military historians, has found in Winston Churchill a subject worthy of his talent. Warlord takes the familiar subject of Churchill’s amazing life and makes it glitter anew.”

Robert Kagan

“Winston Churchill’s life spanned the last decades of the British Empire, and to read Carlo D’Este’s enjoyable new biography is to recall the sequence of disasters that befell Britain between the final days of the Victorian era and its brush with extinction in World War II.”

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Warlord: A Life of Winston Churchill at War, 1874-1945 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
willyvan More than 1 year ago
Carlo D'Este is a renowned historian of World War Two. His previous books include Decision in Normandy, Bitter Victory: the battle for Sicily 1943, Fatal decision: Anzio and the battle for Rome, and a biography of General Patton. Now in this extraordinary book, he studies Churchill's role in Britain's many wars from 1897 to 1945. Churchill wrote in 1897 from the war on India's North-West Frontier, "All who resist will be killed without quarter. The Mohmands need a lesson - and there is no doubt we are a very cruel people. . with fire and sword in vengeance . we proceeded systematically, village by village, and we destroyed the houses, filled up the wells, blew down the towers, cut down the great shady trees, burned the crops and broke the reservoirs in punitive devastation. . I wonder if people in England have any idea of the warfare that is being carried on here . no quarter is ever asked or given. The tribesmen torture the wounded & mutilate the dead. The troops never spare a man who falls into their hands - whether he be wounded or not . The picture is a terrible one . I wish I could come to the conclusion that all this barbarity - all these losses - all this expenditure - had resulted in a permanent settlement being obtained, I do not think however that anything has been done - that will not have to be done again." Very prescient, given the current Anglo-American commitment to endless, futile war on Afghanistan. Churchill participated in Britain's wars across Africa, from north to south. The Daily Mail's war correspondent wrote of Omdurman, "It was not a battle but an execution." Of the Boers, Churchill asked, "What sort of men are these we are fighting? They have a better cause - and cause is everything." D'Este calls World War One 'the most colossal folly in the history of mankind'. Even within this folly, Churchill's disastrous Gallipoli scheme stood out. Early in World War Two, Churchill directed reinforcements from North Africa to Greece. This stopped General O'Connor from taking Tripoli, leaving it open for Rommel to seize. "This removal disastrously changed the course of the war by spawning disastrous setbacks in Greece and North Africa - and later in Crete." D'Este believes this was 'the most serious strategic misjudgement of the war'. Churchill argued that Allied operations in the Mediterranean would not delay the cross-Channel assault beyond 1943, but of course they did just that. The Italian campaign, as D'Este notes, 'simply distracted the Allies from their real task: crossing the English Channel and opening the endlessly delayed second front." He recounts the great 1944 controversy - should the Anglo-American air forces knock out the French railway system to prevent Hitler reinforcing his troops in Normandy, as Eisenhower, backed by de Gaulle, proposed? Or should they carry on bombing Germany, as air-force chiefs Harris and Spaatz, backed by Churchill, wanted? Harris and Spaatz adhered to the Trenchard doctrine that strategic bombing alone could win wars, so they thought that the D-Day invasion was unnecessary. Eisenhower, rightly, overruled them all.
Poppy2 More than 1 year ago
Mr. D'Este has crafted a much needed and incisive look at Churchill the soldier and war chief. D'Este zeroed on his subject with laser like precision and was never distracted from his stated mission of presenting and defining Churchill's life-long attraction to all things military; particularly the British military. Other works have touched on Churchill's military service, experiences, and leadership but none, to my experience, have done as thorough a job of presenting Churchill the soldier. It's a brisk read that doesn't waste a page, paragraph, or word as D'Este presents a "warts and all" look at one of the two or three leading citizens of the Twentieth Century.
HistorybuffMD More than 1 year ago
Warlord by Carlo D'Este presented an interesting aspect of Winston Churchill's life in that it emphasized his influence both good and bad on the military campaigns of both world wars. Without question Churchill was one of the giants of the 20th century; however, as a military strategist and tactician he blundered as often as he inspired the war efforts. He was as much a thorn in the side of his military commanders as a help and guide. His courage was unquestioned but his military judgements were often disastrous. i
MikeZ More than 1 year ago
I am certain that as you read this book you will hope that it never ends. A fascinating, human portrait of one of the most interesting men of the last century. A must read in combination with Churchill: A Life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This presentation was enlightening. I have always been a Churchill fan but have to admit that most of what I knew about him was from his own writings. Warlord exposed some weaknesses I wasn't fully aware of. The book was still overwhelmingly pro-Winnie and I haven't changed my overall opinion of him.
BrianIndianFan 8 months ago
To the casual observer, Winston Churchill bears a resemblance to a doting grandfather who is known solely as the leader of England during World War II. Said observer may also know about his Iron Curtain speech or other speeches he has given; mostly, he is held up as an icon in world history. While that is indeed true, it should be remembered that our heroes are fallible people. Carlo D'Este brings out that fallibility in the course of examining where Churchill presumed to be knowledgeable about military matters. Churchill, born into an aristocratic family on the decline due to the lavish spending habits of his parents, was seeking a way to make himself a prominent member of English society. Driven by his father's humiliating fall from political power after his December 1886 resignation as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Churchill sought election himself to Parliament. First, however, he pursued a military career as a means of enhancing his standing before the electorate. His time in school and early career in the military are notable for his lack of desire to put in the required work and to use his family's name to create opportunities for himself. Indeed, the Churchill of the 1890s is an arrogant, spoiled, entitled rich boy who wants the title but none of the work to acquire it. This is probably enhanced by the fact that the English army officer corps functioned as a glorified social club where rank was for sale and the need to keep up appearances by having all of the uniforms, horses and accoutrements therein. As expected, a young Churchill left bills unpaid and creditors hanging because of his desire to be a proper part of the army. His postings included tours of Cuba, India, and the Sudan. It was in the Sudan where Churchill found his first real exposure to war at Omdurman. His experiences in the Sudan led him to write "The River War" which was critical of Kitchener's campaign. After leaving the army, he found his way back to the front lines as a reporter during the Boer War in South Africa. From reading D'Este's account, it is altogether realistic that young Winston Churchill could be loathed by the very society he sought to enter. D'Este crafts a story that builds from an arrogant young man to seasoned, wiser, but still somewhat reckless man. It can be reasonably argued that Churchill, while possessing a fertile mind and imagination for military weaponry yet was in some respects still hampered by the Victorian mentality he kept. While not as beholden to past strategies as his inner circle and officer corps, he nonetheless deserve credit for bringing the services together and standing alone in those cold days between the fall of France and the entry of the US into the war. BOTTOM LINE: An alternate look on the life of Churchill that amateur historians need to read.
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A remarkable view of history as lived by Winston Churchill. An excellent vision of the man and the world he lived in and had a strong hand in shaping.