Becoming Winston Churchill, Hard CoverBecoming Winston Churchill, Soft Cover




Becoming Winston Churchill

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Becoming Winston Churchill: The Untold Story of Young Winston and his American Mentor. By Michael McMenamin and Curt Zoller. Greenwood World Publishing 2007. 304pp. $49.95 (Hardcover); Enigma Books 2009. 300pp. $14.07 (Paperback).
It is not easy to find a fresh way of saying something interesting about Winston Churchill. The authors are American 'Churchill buffs'. McMenamin writes regularly in a quarterly journal devoted to Churchill's life and Zoller has recently published an annotated bibliography of works about Churchill. The 'American Mentor' in the title is Bourke Cochran, a lawyer, great orator and Democratic Congressman from an Irish Catholic background. After Lord Randolph's death he became the lover of Churchill's mother, Jennie. Winston first met him - the rockstar of his time according to the authors - when he was twenty. Cochran became Churchill's role model for his own development as an orator. The 'story' is not quite untold - the authors acknowledge that other biographers have had something to say, most recently Martin Gilbert in Churchill and America. However, it has never been told in the way they have told it. On the one hand, the book contains the full text of all available Churchill-Cochran correspondence, some of which, on both sides, has never been published before. These letters, however, are all printed chapter by chapter, within a 'historical' narrative which draws upon other material about Cochran, Churchill, their families, associates and friends. All of this, in turn, chapter by chapter, is preceded by an italicized 'fictional' introduction (by McMenamin) which attempts to take us into the mind and mood of the two men at successive stages in their lives and in their relationship. The notes in turn tell the reader how much of this 'fiction' has a firm evidential base and how much rests upon inference and speculation. We are free to make up our own minds. The result is a volume which it is not easy to categorize. Perhaps that does not greatly matter, since the totality is cleverly and persuasively done. It is at one level, as the authors see it, the story of one remarkable man growing up; at another, the chronicle of an Anglo-American exchange, at a formative stage for Winston, on the political issues of the day; and at a third level, an evocation of late Victorian and Edwardian social, political and military life. There is, in short, something for everybody. If severe historians want to dismiss 'invention' and restrict themselves to reading the actual correspondence they can of course do so, but that would be a pity. The 'story' is intriguingly told.

Keith Robbins
University of Wales, Lampeter

Read the Finest Hour reviews by Anne Sebba and Ted Hutchinson.

Read the Oxford Times review by Maggie Hartford.

Read the Churchill Book Club review.

Read the Crain's Cleveland review by Shawn A. Turner.

Listen to the Cleveland Connection interview on CBS Radio with Jim McIntyre.

Watch the interview with Nick Gillespie.

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