12 December 2015

Book Review: Churchill's Trial: Winston Churchill and the Salvation of Free Government, Larry P. Arnn

Arnn sets out to show how Churchill saved free government. He attempts to do so using three macro-themes: War, Empire, and Peace. In each section, Arnn uses Churchill's writings and speeches to decipher his thoughts on these issues and how he influenced England and the world.

I really can't decide how I think about this biography, Churchill's Trial. It would have been better for me to have read a more traditional biography first, before tackling this political/sociological biography. I needed more background on Churchill the man before trying to understand Churchill the politician. Essentially, all I knew about Churchill was his strong leadership of England during the darkest days of World War II.

I don't think he succeeded in demonstrating that Churchill saved free government — no one person could accomplish that. He did succeed in showing how Churchill stood against intrusive, big government … mostly. And, rather than stretch history and force Churchill into a single line of politicial thought throughout his life, Arnn was willing to show how Churchill adapted to the needs of his time. While Churchill might not have been a saviour, he was certainly influential and many of his themes are echoed by conservative politicians of the early 21st century.

It seems to me that Churchill was a pragmatist — he was against socialism as an overarching political and social philosophy, but he was willing to adopt and adapt some elements of socialism because they were the right things to do. Churchill's biggest fear about socialism was that a socialist government would ultimately and inevitably insinuate itself into every nook and cranny of the life of an individual citizen and Churchill believed that the root of a strong nation was its citizens, not its government.

The best chapter was the last: Conclusion: Churchill's Trial and Ours. Arnn summarized well the things he tried to point out through the book. For me, at least, many of those things were less than clear until this point. In the second section of this chapter, Churchill's Lessons, the phrase "Churchill taught" was way overused — to the point that it was obnoxious to me. Churchill was not a teacher or master or sage in the traditional sense of those words. His teaching was through his volumnious writing.

I also appreciated the Appendices which were significant articles or essays written by Churchill. The best of those was the first, Fifty Years Hence, published in December 1931.

All in all, this is a book worth reading. Churchill was remarkably insightful about the dangers (as he saw them) of big, socialistic governments. Churchill lived and was in positions of political influence during a critical period in the history of democracies. I felt like Arnn's treatment of the themes were difficult to follow and absorb. Be prepared to read, reread, and to spend time mulling over what Arnn (and Churchill) are trying to communicate.

(DISCLAIMER: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, via their bloggers' review programme,  BookLook Bloggers, in exchange for an honest review. I receive no additional compensation except for continued participation in the programme.)

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