Sunday, August 14, 2011

Book 54: The Churchills

I used my trip to England as an excuse to buy this book, and it was one of the reasons I ended up visiting Blenheim Palace, birthplace of Winston Churchill and home of the Dukes of Marlborough (Winston was the son of a younger son, so no title for him).  The palace and the surrounding parklands were absolutely gorgeous.  It took me a few chapters to get into the book, and I was ready for it to be over about fifty to a hundred pages before it was over, but in the middle, it was a mostly engaging overview of the Churchill family.  However, I would say the title The Churchills is a bit misleading - the main character and focus is Winston.  After a chapter on the family member that won the battle of Blenheim, and became the first Duke of Marlborough, Lovell fastforwards to Winston's parents' generation.
While the main focus is Winston, Lovell includes more about the rest of his family than would probably be included in a straight Churchill bio, though I would assume that much of the information would still be included.  Lovell is very sympathetic towards her subjects, and defends some of the family members who have previously received a bad rap from other biographers.  Compared to the rest of his family, Winston was actually a bit of a puritan, marrying for love and staying with the same woman for the rest of his life.  Actually, his brother also didn't get divorced, but the rest of the family was constantly marrying for the wrong reasons (American heiresses for money, such as Consuelo Vanderbilt), and having lots of divorces and affairs,  It was actually a bit surprising.  Winston's mother was part of the Marlborough set (Edwards VII's social circle when he was the heir), and I was surprised by the amount of affairs taking place in Victorian England.  It sounded like a lot of fun, though.
While politics played into it, the book focused more on the private lives (if public figures get to have "private lives") of the men and women of the family.  There is an overview of Winston Churchill's political career, but while Lovell covers the basics, she didn't necessarily get into all the intricacies of it all.  In a way, I almost felt like Lovell wanted to write a biography of Winston Churchill, but didn't want to compete with all the other ones already out there, so instead she sold it as a family biography that just happened to talk a lot about Winston.  Overall, I would say it works well as an introduction (like most history books I seem to read anymore), and it definitely made me feel like I could tackle a pure Churchill bio.  Given that so much is already out there about Winston, I actually wouldn't have minded a bit more about some of his family members, since sometimes it seemed like Lovell would forget about them and then include them after a few chapters about Winston.  Also, she was very defensive of the family, and not critical of Winston at all.  I understand that after spending a certain amount of time with a topic, it is easy to become very biased towards the topic, but that is another reason I am interested in reading a separate Churchill biography.  Overall, Lovell had a very conversational and slightly gossipy approach to the topic which made it an engaging and easy read, but I wouldn't take it as the definitive book on the topic.

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