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A History of the English-Speaking Peoples (1956)

de Winston S. Churchill

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A four-volume history of the British Empire from the Roman invasions to the death of Queen Victoria and its influence upon the other English speaking peoples of the world.
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The first time I read Churchill's history, I was impressed by his language and the sweep of the story. This time, I was fascinated by these books as the propaganda triumph they were intended to be. When Churchill began writing, in the mid-1930s, it seems clear he was interested in aligning the English-speaking democracies in preparation for the war he saw coming, and so he stressed their common origins and interests. This doesn't have to make bad history, but it does in these volumes. Read them for Churchill's writing and to admire his vision but not as history. ( )
  nmele | Feb 4, 2021 |
Splendid throughout but some words, ominously written in 1938, resonate more to the modern reader:

About world policy makers advocating the building of walls, Winston describes how the king of Mercia, Offa, built around 790, a dyke between England and Wales"We have a tangible monument of Offa in the immense dyke which he caused to be built between converted Saxon England and the still unconquered British....But "Offa's dyke" shows policy as well as man-power. In many sections it follows lines favorable to the British, and historians have concluded that it was a boundary rather than a fortification, and resulted from an agreement reached for common advantage. It was not a Roman wall, like those of Antonine and Hadrian, between savagery and civilisation, but rather the expression of a solemn treaty which for a long spell removed from Offa's problem the menace of a British incursion, and thus set him free with his back secure to parley and dispute with Europe."

On Churchill profound humanism::
"What claim have we to vaunt a superior civilization to Henry II's times? We are sunk in a barbarism all the deeper because it is tolerated by moral lethargy and covered with a veneer of scientific conveniences."
(From vol. I - The Birth of Britain) which massively covers the birth of the British Empire that dovetails with the wedding of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

After reviewing how the Roman Gaius Julius Cesar set his ambitions in 55 A.D. on Britannia, and how the Roman army, through subjugation, makes Britannia a Roman province. The author describes that around the 4th century this province had lost its sense of security under the barbarian invasions. But then after this obscurity "Dawn rose on England, humble, poor, barbarous, degraded and divided, but alive."
Churchill contends that after the Fall of Imperial Rome, the "Christian Church became the sole sanctuary of learning and knowledge". But at the same time, Churchill, a former First Lord of the Admiralty, can't help but admire the long-ships of the viking Ragnar Lodbrok which will plunders the treasures, in gold and silver, of the monasteries.The author devotes a whole chapter to Alfred the Great, a "wonder for wise men". ( )
  Artymedon | Mar 30, 2018 |
A read these volumes after the first 2 volumes of William Manchester's biography of Churchill (which, by the way, picks up pretty neatly where Churchill himself leaves off) partly based on Manchester's recommendation of Churchill as a prose stylist. Churchill was not independently wealthy and had to support himself on the strength of his pen. His insights in history are not exactly groundbreaking; he wasn't a historian presenting new scholarship. Rather, the value here came for me precisely from Churchill's non-historian perspective. It's fascinating to read about William of Orange or Wellington through the lens of a man who faced his own national existential crisis. It's hard not to read into his conclusions about historical figures and events, and indeed that's where most of the fun resides. For instance, his take on Roman subjugation of the Britons feels like it's colored by Churchill's impression that Britain's Imperial possessions (India and Ireland especially) were better off under the canopy of British rule.
As an American reader it was especially interesting to see Churchill's take on the US Civil War. First, I was shocked at the depth he went to. I'd have to double check, but I feel like it was given more pages than any other conflict including the Napoleonic Wars. We see day-by-day accounts of troop movements on and around all the major battles. Still more surprising were the strong opinions Churchill put forward about practically every political and military leader on both sides. A few of these opinions flew in the face of anything I'd ever heard before (he thought Stanton a snake, Grant a "negation of generalship", and pitied McClellan ALMOST half as much as McClellan pitied himself). His views on reconstruction were a bit unpalatable. Clearly it's a blot on US history and grossly mismanaged, but Churchill's sympathy seems to go excessively to the mistreated Southern whites who were dealt with too harshly (possibly a reflection of Churchill's belief that Germany's resurgence might have been avoided by less recriminating terms after WWI?) rather than to the multitude of freed slaves who were left to shift for themselves. If anything he seems to suggest that the blacks of the South were enfranchised too abruptly. Again, this feels very much like the opinion of a man whose character was still the product of Victorian world-views, drawing a clear line between people fit to govern and those suited only to be governed. To 21st Century sensibilities this paternalistic outlook comes off both naive and insulting.
My biggest disappointment was a bit of a sense that the title was a misnomer. I was excited by his choice to avoid calling it a history of "the English", foretokening an unprejudiced look at all the parts of the world that speak the language. At the very minimum I expected to hear more about the Irish and the Scottish, but they are always exclusively viewed from the perspective of English ambitions. The US is given large sections, but these are clearly subplots to the main story. Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa each get half a chapter. India is discussed quite a bit, more than Ireland I think which is odd considering how much later India becomes relevant to the English story. Nigeria, Kenya, Belize, Singapore, Trinidad, Guyana, Jamaica--none of these was more than mentioned.
The overarching theme that runs across all 4 volumes is that the English Speaking Peoples share a common heritage rooted in the English legal traditions that value individual liberties and rights of self-government. It's an interesting premise. His last line is also interesting in as much as it seems to suggest a vision of a future date at which all English-speaking peoples are united in an enormous supranational entity committed to these ideals. In the post-war period, facing down authoritarian Russia, this was perhaps not an unthinkable notion. ( )
  CGlanovsky | Jan 11, 2016 |
If you want to see Strunk&White's rules in action this series is irreplaceable.

But really, the value of this work is the insight into the pride in & love of England and its democratic traditions Churchill carried. It is implied in certain parts of the book that he was writing, or at least thinking about writing, it during WWII.

The only drawback, which is an ethical failing rather than a literary one in my sight, is that the Empire is left out almost entirely except for occasional reference to Ireland. ( )
  ewalrath | Jul 17, 2009 |
This is for Volume 2, The New World. A good way to read history, though I confess that the first volume which covered Druids, Romans, Vikings, Saxons and Normans was more interesting to me. This one bogged down in Parlimentary decrees and various monarchs and the intrigues against them. Still, I think it helps to sort out some of the history one is always referenced to. ( )
1 vota MrsLee | Nov 14, 2006 |
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A four-volume history of the British Empire from the Roman invasions to the death of Queen Victoria and its influence upon the other English speaking peoples of the world.

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