I ponder the question because I have just bought another book, and yes, I know I confessed the other day to rampant 'bookoholism' and swore on my honour as a second-hand car dealer - did you say something? - never to buy another book but there is a genuine story as to why I was more or less forced to buy this one, you see . . . oh, hell, I can't be bothered, I bought the damn thing and that's it! The good news is that it only cost £1.30 in the Hospice Charity shop and it is a triple corker! Nor, I must tell you quickly, is it one of my pulp fiction efforts, this is a proper history book and despite only having reached page 95 I can confidently award it a Triple Corker Prize!
For a start it is tremendously well-written. I am not enough of an Eng. Lang. swot to provide a literary critique, suffice to say that the sentences flow off the page and into the mind leaving a lasting impression without, and I need to stress this, being overly florid. That is important given that the subject of the book is the late, and truly very great Winston Spencer Churchill. To continue my vague paraphrasing of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, this man 'bestrode the wide 20th century world like a colossus'. Stalin was a historical monster of epic proportions and FDR was a grubby, cunning but short-sighted machine-politician. Only Churchill, with all his gigantic faults which, nevertheless, were overshadowed by his even greater virtues, stands the acid test of history and comes out, warts and all, undiminished.
The book, a one-volume biography entitled, In the Footsteps of Churchill, is by the late Richard Holmes who I mainly knew as a 'telly' historian although I did hear him in person once when he gave a talk to my local history society. I had no idea that he could write so well, mixing passion and judicious judgment so finely:
I cannot deny Winston's extraordianry resonance for me personally. But in writing about him I am in the No Man's Land of historiography, and am conscious that some of what follows will inevitably succeed in offending both supporters and critics. Yet this is the measure of the man. He was neither wholly good nor wholly bad, as completely right about as often as he was hopelessly wrong, and the occasional raft of quiet humility was swamped by his raging ego. And even when my head urges me in one direction, my heart pulls me in the other.
Like most people with a shallow general knowledge, I am fairly well aquainted with Churchill's 20th century life but I must admit that his early years in the late 19th century were only vaguely known to say the least. I knew that he saw some action in the North-West frontier of India, that graveyard of the British army even to this day; and that he saw action in the Sudan, amongst other things, taking part in an old-fashioned cavalry charge against massed infantry; and that he then went on to South Africa and saw action against the Boers before being taken prisoner and then escaping. This I knew - generally - but not in detail and Holmes tells the various 'yarns' with that mixture of admiration and exasperation and some amount of detestation that Churchill managed to raise in almost everyone he knew and those who have studied him since.
It's a terrific book on a terrific subject. Love him or hate him you just know that in a thousand years his name will continue to resonate in the history of this battered globe of ours.
I am delighted to say that the Memsahib's big toe is very much better than it was two days ago in that it now more or less points forwards and lies parallel to its companion toes on her right foot. I doubt that she will be 'tripping the light fantastic' for a few weeks but what need has she for mobility when slamming her crutches on the bedroom floor brings me running?!