A lively and rigorous deep dive into the ambiguous, still-relevant geopolitical odyssey that Churchill represents.

CHURCHILL'S SHADOW

THE LIFE AND AFTERLIFE OF WINSTON CHURCHILL

An authoritative examination of how Winston Churchill’s ongoing geopolitical impact refracts and supersedes his actual biography.

Former Spectator literary editor Wheatcroft brings superior scholarship, controlled, intermittently witty prose, and warts-and-all admiration to the acknowledged surfeit of writing about Churchill. With an evenhanded perspective, he explores how textuality and reputation simultaneously distort and amplify Churchill’s impact. “I’ve tried to write as what Keynes called ‘the historian of Opinion’, seeing Churchill through the eyes of his contemporaries,” he writes, providing a sinewy account of Churchill’s strange, singular life, with its political fluctuations, admirable and shameful qualities, and repeated seasons of rise and fall. “Churchill’s life until the age of sixty-five,” the author writes about his “apotheosis” in 1940, “had certainly been a dramatic roller-coaster ride of highs and lows…until that ultimate and complete triumph.” Wheatcroft adds materially to this well-known narrative by exploring “the darker side of his character and career, too often brushed over, and the long shadow which he has cast since his death.” The author vividly depicts every dramatic stage of Churchill’s experience, from a privileged upbringing propelling him from colonial adventurism to journalism and politics, through the disaster of Gallipoli during World War I, to his “wilderness years” of lucrative book deals and behind-the-scenes maneuvering, to his “walking with destiny” as Britain’s savior against Hitler. The author achieves a strong balance between crisp, dramatic historical storytelling and the words and views of both Churchill’s many contemporaries—not least the scoundrels comprising his inner circle—and the scholars and writers who have addressed his enigma ever since. His posthumous legend became ever more diffuse—e.g., after 9/11, when George W. Bush and Tony Blair adopted the Churchillian mantle in inaccurate and grotesque ways: “the Iraq War had gone horribly, and predictably, wrong but Blair was impenitent.”

A lively and rigorous deep dive into the ambiguous, still-relevant geopolitical odyssey that Churchill represents.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-324-00276-5

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021

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A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

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PERIL

An account of the last gasps of the Trump administration, completing a trilogy begun with Fear (2018) and Rage (2020).

One of Woodward and fellow Washington Post reporter Costa’s most memorable revelations comes right away: Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calling his counterpart in Beijing to assure him that even after Jan. 6 and what Milley saw as an unmistakable attempt at a coup d’état, he would keep Trump from picking a war with China. This depiction has earned much attention on the talking-heads news channels, but more significant is its follow-up: Milley did so because he was concerned that Trump “might still be looking for what Milley called a ‘Reichstag moment.’ ” Milley emerges as a stalwart protector of the Constitution who constantly courted Trump’s ire and yet somehow survived without being fired. No less concerned about Trump’s erratic behavior was Paul Ryan, the former Speaker of the House, who studied the psychiatric literature for a big takeaway: “Do not humiliate Trump in public. Humiliating a narcissist risked real danger, a frantic lashing out if he felt threatened or criticized.” Losing the 2020 election was one such humiliation, and Woodward and Costa closely track the trajectory of Trump’s reaction, from depression to howling rage to the stubborn belief that the election was rigged. There are a few other modest revelations in the book, including the fact that Trump loyalist William Barr warned him that the electorate didn’t like him. “They just think you’re a fucking asshole,” Barr told his boss. That was true enough, and the civil war that the authors recount among various offices in the White House and government reveals that Trump’s people were only ever tentatively his. All the same, the authors note, having drawn on scores of “deep background” interviews, Trump still has his base, still intends vengeance by way of a comeback, and still constitutes the peril of their title.

A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982182-91-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

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A PROMISED LAND

In the first volume of his presidential memoir, Obama recounts the hard path to the White House.

In this long, often surprisingly candid narrative, Obama depicts a callow youth spent playing basketball and “getting loaded,” his early reading of difficult authors serving as a way to impress coed classmates. (“As a strategy for picking up girls, my pseudo-intellectualism proved mostly worthless,” he admits.) Yet seriousness did come to him in time and, with it, the conviction that America could live up to its stated aspirations. His early political role as an Illinois state senator, itself an unlikely victory, was not big enough to contain Obama’s early ambition, nor was his term as U.S. Senator. Only the presidency would do, a path he painstakingly carved out, vote by vote and speech by careful speech. As he writes, “By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low.” The author speaks freely about the many obstacles of the race—not just the question of race and racism itself, but also the rise, with “potent disruptor” Sarah Palin, of a know-nothingism that would manifest itself in an obdurate, ideologically driven Republican legislature. Not to mention the meddlings of Donald Trump, who turns up in this volume for his idiotic “birther” campaign while simultaneously fishing for a contract to build “a beautiful ballroom” on the White House lawn. A born moderate, Obama allows that he might not have been ideological enough in the face of Mitch McConnell, whose primary concern was then “clawing [his] way back to power.” Indeed, one of the most compelling aspects of the book, as smoothly written as his previous books, is Obama’s cleareyed scene-setting for how the political landscape would become so fractured—surely a topic he’ll expand on in the next volume.

A top-notch political memoir and serious exercise in practical politics for every reader.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6316-9

Page Count: 768

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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