During my very short visit in London almost ten years ago now, being a wide-eyed teenager and unashamed of embracing touristness, I dragged my family to the haunts of Sherlock Holmes, the 101 Dalmatians, Sir Neville Marriner.... and Winston Churchill. True, the Cabinet War Rooms was a bit of an afterthought, but it made its way onto our list somehow, nosing out other sightseeing standards such as the crown jewels and the London Eye.
As of this year, the Cabinet War Rooms are now known as the Churchill War Rooms, as they have been expanded to include more information and access to parts of the structure more directly related to him. Even with the simplicity of the limited tour we took those years ago, though, the experience of stepping belowground and entering the War Rooms was striking.
Of course I had heard of Winston Churchill, but I knew little about him aside from the standard set of basic facts. I left with more of an understanding of the breadth of his accomplishments but still without an understanding of his personality.
I became a bit wary of biographies shortly before my trip to Europe; books on the composers that spent more time degrading the subject for his lack of scandal or analyzing his motivations based more on his clothing choices than his words and reputation put a wet blanket on my interest in learning about historical figures. Is anything aside from the facts more than guesswork?
But I left the War Rooms with a book on Churchill anyway, because for all his famous bulldoggish later years, he was a sad-eyed child, and I wanted to know about that child.
Winston Churchill had a childhood that would make any child sad-eyed, so say the facts. I returned to the book about his childhood now and then, remembering and wondering. What kind of man had Churchill the little lost boy become, and where had he found the strength of personality to accomplish what he did in later life? When I found the opportunity to read and review the recent biography of Winston Churchill published as a part of the Christian Encounters series, I leaped.
Christian Encounters is a line of biographies from Thomas Nelson, aspiring to give readers a chance to access and learn from the lives of great men and women, pointing out that "their relationships, struggles, prayers, and desires uniquely illuminate our shared experience." Despite my tentative relationship with biographies, I was excited to crack open this slim, nicely bound little volume.
I must confess, I read the first chapter with less interest than I expected. Mid-paragraph, my eyes would glaze over, and I'd find myself scanning pages over and over and over without actually taking them in. I read the first couple chapters with growing disappointment, but by the time I hit the third chapter, I was riveted. John Perry tells the story of this life in a straightforward and unpretentious manner, presenting a basic framework and resisting the urge to embellish. Winston Churchill was a contradiction, an anomaly, the ultimate unreliable narrator and yet.... my husband can attest to the fact that a week after finishing the book I can't stop mulling over the fascinating character study.
No doubt there are much more detailed biographies of Winston Churchill that delve more into the nitty gritty (my husband claims to have read at least two), but I think this slender book holds its own quite well, proposing and fulfilling its purpose as a candid look at an amazing person. I can't speak as an expert on Winston Churchill's life, but if you enjoy learning what makes people tick, push through the first couple chapters of this biography, and you'll be rewarded by a clarified and yet multi-faceted image of this man who spent his life earning the right to become a glowworm amongst worms.
Disclaimer: We here are members of Thomas Nelson's Book Review program, and although Thomas Nelson Publishing provided this book at no cost to us, this review is an expression of honest opinion.