The Gathering Storm, Winston S. Churchill

The Gathering Storm, Winston S. Churchill

The Second World War Vol. 1

This is the first volume of one of the classic histories of the Second World War. Churchill was the only one of most important national leaders of the war to produce a history. By the start of the war Churchill was an established author, with a famously distinctive style. It was inevitable that he would write his own account of the war, and his defeat in the 1945 election helped to speed up the production of this remarkable series of books.

Volume one is split into two. The first half looks at the road to war, beginning in 1919 with the peace settlement and then moving on to examine the rise of Hitler and his pre-war career. The second half of the book covers the invasion of Poland, Churchill's time at the Admiralty, the Phoney War, Norway and finishes with the fall of the Chamberlain government and Churchill's own appointment as Prime Minister (not perhaps the most accurate part of the book).

These books are often described as a mix between an autobiography and a history, but I feel that that is rather unfair. From the start of the war Churchill was close to the centre of power, and from May 1940 he was at the very top of British affairs, so he is bound to dominate large parts of the early books. These six volumes of the Second World War were produced with the help of a large and often very distinguished research team, including senior representatives of every branch of the armed services. They are supported by lengthy quotes from important documents and by lengthy appendixes.

The book does have some flaws, most of which come from its early date of publication. Most obvious to modern readers is the absence of any mention of the Enigma machine and the breaking of the German codes, still top secret when Churchill was writing. In some later volumes this does lead to some rather strained explanations of events. Churchill was also a generous author, and so some events that wouldn't have reflected well on his colleagues are ignored. Finally, and perhaps most excusably, Churchill had always believed in his own abilities, and from time to time he does rather dramatise his own role in events. Churchill's writing is so powerful that his version of events has sometimes distorted the popular view of the war ever since.

Despite these view weaknesses, this is still one of the most valuable and readable narrative accounts of the Second World War. Add to that an insight into the thinking of one of the most important figures of the war, and you have a series of must-read books.

Author: Winston S. Churchill
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 752
Publisher: Penguin Classics (2005 reprint)
Year: 1948

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