THE GREAT REPUBLIC: A HISTORY OF AMERICA, by Sir Winston Churchill, edited by Winston S. Churchill, Random House, 460 pages, $25.95.
IF ever an Englishman was equipped to explain America, it was Sir Winston Churchill. He had the wisdom of a great statesman, the genius of a great writer, and the passion of a son seeking to understand the land of his mother’s birth. Now his keen insights on America have been distilled into a single volume, edited by his grandson and culled from the Nobel Prize-winning A History of the English-Speaking Peoples and various essays and speeches written between 1906 and 1963.
Beginning with European discovery, Churchill focuses on key political and military events and themes in America’s rise from backwoods colonial outpost to world superpower. While many chapters cover familiar ground, Churchill’s assessments of “great men” and their decisions are marvels of pointed perception. For example, Churchill writes that King George III’s myopic colonial policy came about partly because his “Hanoverian mind possessed an infinite capacity for mastering detail and limited success in dealing with large issues and main principles.” And while John Adams “was frequently right” in his judgments, “he lacked the art of persuasion. He was bad at handling men, and his reputation has suffered accordingly.”
Churchill writes about everything from James Madison to the virtues of American coffee, but his succinct, vivid renderings of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars are exceptionally strong. The reader can almost hear his thundering baritone in places. Following a guided tour of the Gettysburg battlefield, Churchill writes: “Great causes have been settled. Destiny pivoting here has stamped the ground with a ruthless heel; the path of the world takes a different turn henceforward.” Such gems of phrasing abound.
Though Churchill was keenly aware of America’s faults and foibles, he believed it remained a land of hope and destiny. Winston S. Churchill’s re-telling of his grandfather’s personal vision of America’s story is an absorbing and inspired interpretation of the land the statesman grew to know and love so well.
PETER KIZILOS is a freelance writer, communications consultant, and student of American history.