From #1 New York Times bestselling author Thomas E. Ricks, a dual biography of Winston Churchill and George Orwell, whose farsighted vision and inspired action preserved democracy from the threats of authoritarianism, from the left and right alike.Both George Orwell and Winston Churchill came close to death in the mid-1930's--Orwell shot in the neck in a trench line in the Spanish Civil War, and Churchill struck by a car in New York City. If they'd died then, history would scarcely remember them. At the time, Churchill was a politician on the outs, his loyalty to his class and party suspect. Orwell was a mildly successful novelist, to put it generously. No one would have predicted that by the end of the 20th century they would be considered two of the most important people in British history for having the vision and courage to campaign tirelessly, in words and in deeds, against the totalitarian threat from both the left and the right. In a crucial moment, they responded first by seeking the facts of the matter, seeing through the lies and obfuscations, and then they acted on their beliefs. Together, to an extent not sufficiently appreciated, they kept the West's compass set toward freedom as its due north.It's not easy to recall now how lonely a position both men once occupied. By the late 1930's, democracy was discredited in many circles, and authoritarian rulers were everywhere in the ascent. There were some who decried the scourge of communism, but saw in Hitler and Mussolini -men we could do business with, - if not in fact saviors. And there were others who saw the Nazi and fascist threat as malign, but tended to view communism as the path to salvation. Churchill and Orwell, on the other hand, had the foresight to see clearly that the issue was human freedom--that whatever its coloration, a government that denied its people basic freedoms was a totalitarian menace and had to be resisted.In the end, Churchill and Orwell proved their age's necessary men. The glorious climax of Churchill and Orwell is the work they both did in the decade of the 1940's to triumph over freedom's enemies. And though Churchill played the larger role in the defeat of Hitler and the Axis, Orwell's reckoning with the menace of authoritarian rule in Animal Farm and 1984 would define the stakes of the Cold War for its 50-year course, and continues to give inspiration to fighters for freedom to this day. Taken together, in Thomas E. Ricks' masterful hands, their lives are a beautiful testament to the power of moral conviction, and to the courage it can take to stay true to it, through thick and thin.
Churchill and Orwell Review
- May 5, 2017Dan RadovichI admit to not reading much non-fiction, the subject has to grab me or the author's reputation win me over. Ricks is a Pulitzer winner and these two men he writes of are noteworthy for huge reasons. The focus is on their lives during the 1930s and 1940s, a time when the world was battling fascism and communism. Each man excelled in his own way to push the fight to preserve human freedom, Churchill spoke eloquently and Orwell crafted wonderful prose. Concentrating on one integral portion of their I admit to not reading much non-fiction, the subject has to grab me or the author's reputation win me over. Ricks is a Pulitzer winner and these two men he writes of are noteworthy for huge reasons. The focus is on their lives during the 1930s and 1940s, a time when the world was battling fascism and communism. Each man excelled in his own way to push the fight to preserve human freedom, Churchill spoke eloquently and Orwell crafted wonderful prose. Concentrating on one integral portion of their lives makes each all that more important in history. A pleasure to read.more
- May 25, 2017Joseph RaffettoOrwell and Churchill: The Fight for Freedom by Thomas E. Ricks is an intelligent and gripping dual biography of arguably the most important writer and politician in the twentieth century.Orwell and Churchill were opposites in many ways: Orwell was a man of the Left, Churchill was a member of the Tory party.Orwell was one of the first to warn about Stalin and Communism and often criticized the Left when he thought they were wrong. Churchill began as a Conservative in the House of Commons then cro Orwell and Churchill: The Fight for Freedom by Thomas E. Ricks is an intelligent and gripping dual biography of arguably the most important writer and politician in the twentieth century.Orwell and Churchill were opposites in many ways: Orwell was a man of the Left, Churchill was a member of the Tory party.Orwell was one of the first to warn about Stalin and Communism and often criticized the Left when he thought they were wrong. Churchill began as a Conservative in the House of Commons then crossed over to become a Liberal, “supporting a minimum wage, unemployment, eight-hour work day, and public health insurance.”Orwell knew what it was like to be down and out; he tramped with the homeless and experienced extreme poverty. Churchill rejoined the Conservatives and remained a “pariah in his own party for some time.”Both men were almost killed in the 1930s: Orwell while fighting for the Left in the Spanish Civil War when he was shot in the neck that missed an artery by millimeters. After he recuperated he found that Stalin had turned on the Left and Orwell barely made it out of Spain alive.Churchill was captured in the Boer War in South Africa and made a daring escape that made him a hero in England. But it wasn’t in the battlefield where he almost died, but on the streets of New York when he was hit by a car and received serious injuries.Orwell was not an important or well-known figure during his lifetime. Churchill was, of course, one of the most recognizable men in the world while Prime Minister.Both men were fighters. It was Churchill’s indomitable personality in England’s darkest hour, when he rallied the country’s spirits and courage. Orwell shared his fierce resistance and volunteered to go to the front in the Spanish Civil War, but it is in the written word where posthumously he received acclaim.Orwell and Churchill never met, but Churchill did read 1984 twice and evidently said it was “extraordinary.” Orwell praised Churchill in his diaries and essays and believed “he was the right man for the job at the right time.”Neither men were perfect, and Ricks focuses on Churchill’s personal issues and foibles more than he does Orwell’s, but Churchill and Orwell were the most powerful and enduring voices to help defeat Fascism and resist totalitarianism.But what binds these two together the most is their dedication to getting to the truth. Orwell is now lauded as the ultimate truth teller with the ability to face unpleasant facts. Facing unpleasant facts was also one of Churchill’s greatest gift.Ricks has eloquently documented one of the most important periods in the twentieth century. I’d like to think the majority of the United States leaders are familiar with Churchill’s and Orwell’s brutal honesty and the generation that led to the creation of NATO in 1949 that has kept the peace for more than sixty-five years, but it sure doesn’t seem like it for many on the Right. It’s obvious Trump has no clue. I think everyone should read this book.more
- May 29, 2017Larry HostetlerAn interesting concept, comparing Churchill and Orwell, the conservative prime minister and the socialist author. Showing how Churchill's conservatism and Orwell's socialism softened as they learned and grew is an interesting subject. How each subject's words affected history during their lifetime and beyond is instructive. The book was well-written, well-researched, and good reading.Unfortunately, I felt that there wasn't a consistent theme. What started out as a comparison of their viewpoints An interesting concept, comparing Churchill and Orwell, the conservative prime minister and the socialist author. Showing how Churchill's conservatism and Orwell's socialism softened as they learned and grew is an interesting subject. How each subject's words affected history during their lifetime and beyond is instructive. The book was well-written, well-researched, and good reading.Unfortunately, I felt that there wasn't a consistent theme. What started out as a comparison of their viewpoints and impact consisted too much of biography (which can be read in much greater detail from other sources), lengthy synopses of their writings, and opinion (the author's and others'). What comparison there was of the changing political viewpoint of both seminal figures was good, and the changing perspectives they experienced over their lives was also well covered. And while the growing impact of Orwell as 1984 came and went and even into the 21st century was interesting it was somewhat strained and belabored. I found myself on several occasions to be at odds with the conclusions the author draws from recent (21st century) history, perhaps due to differing political viewpoints. An author certainly is expected to conclude with their opinion on the subject, and a quick review of others' is helpful, but comments such as begins the afterward "When they were confronted by a crucial moment in history, Churchill and Orwell responded first by seeking the facts of the matter" are not supported by the previous 252 pages. And following that with an introduction of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the last five pages without attendant strong connection to either of the dual subjects, but only an echo of their words, weakens both Dr. King and the book's theme. It's also hard to know what to include to bolster the subject and when that becomes excessive. Perhaps others will find the explications to be helpful rather than distracting. I would give the book 3.8 stars were it allowed, and since this was an ARC of the book perhaps the thematic content will be strengthened and tightened. It is a worthy concept and thought provoking when not distracted by non-central ideas.more
- May 29, 2017Justin TappThis book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a review. Review and opinions within are my own.I had previously read Ricks' Fiasco and The Generals, both of these dealt largely with specific failings of the US military and its bureaucracy. This venture is quite a departure; apparently Ricks got interested in both Churchill and Orwell while studying the Spanish Civil War, where Orwell had volunteered, and Ricks found that both men had been war correspondents like himself.Th This book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a review. Review and opinions within are my own.I had previously read Ricks' Fiasco and The Generals, both of these dealt largely with specific failings of the US military and its bureaucracy. This venture is quite a departure; apparently Ricks got interested in both Churchill and Orwell while studying the Spanish Civil War, where Orwell had volunteered, and Ricks found that both men had been war correspondents like himself.The common bonds between Churchill and Orwell were that they were both Britains who took great stands against totalitarianism. Churchill rallied his government and fellow countrymen to fight the Nazis regardless of the outcome. Orwell channeled his own first-hand observations to write how totalitarian regimes like the Soviet Union were squelching dissident voices and demanding absolute loyalty. The work of both men arguably kept totalitarianism from Europe for the 20th century. Churchill's stand against the Nazis hastened their defeat. Orwell's bestsellers innoculated generations from the dangers of totalitarianism by illustrating them so vividly in the imagination.While I finished this book, US President Donald Trump took his first overseas trip and famously asked NATO members to step up their timeline for increasing funding as a percentage of their GDP, as well as became the first President to not state the importance of Article V of mutual defense. German Chancellor Angela Merkel later gave a speech to her constituents that Europe could no longer rely on the US and Britain, stating "The times in which we can fully count on others are somewhat over." Other leaders appear to be in agreement with her sentiment. The Atlantic and other journals are dismayed, writing that "the old order has passed." Ricks' book is about how that old order was built and its importance. He concludes the book with some ominous warnings in the parallels he sees between what Orwell predicted and the world we live in today. Ricks writes that "Orwell and Churchill recognized that the key question of their century was...how to preserve liberty of the individual during an age when the state was becoming powerfully intrusive into private life" (loc. 53). "Liberty" was not a word one heard much in the 2016 US Presidential campaign. The reader is left to wonder whether, when the next totalitarian threat arises, there will be any Churchills or Orwells to rise to the occassion.My detailed review:Ricks has obviously dug deeply into these mens' histories, so deeply that he felt the need to include many details that he should have omitted. I learned more about the details of these mens lives and works than was necessary. Churchill and Orwell were not extraordinary men, their lives were somewhat pathetic and unenviable. Before 1939, no one would have predicted their fame, indeed Orwell was largely unmentioned in lists of British authors published at the time. Orwell was an unwealthy scholarship student at Eton College, whereas Churchill's parents were part of the elite class and he was a precocious boy of privelege. Both saw the workings of the British Empire from abroad, Churchill in India and Africa, and Orwell did service as an MP in Burma. Both had poor role models as fathers and both enjoyed literature. Both had health problems and an apparent awkwardness among women.Unlike Churchill, Orwell (real name: Eric Blair) despised class difference and colonialism (see his essay "Shooting an Elephant"). He was a democratic socialist, volunteering on the front lines against Franco's nationalist forces in Spain. There he saw how the Soviet NKVD were co-opting the communist forces to suit their own needs, including destroying the Trotsky-sympathetic POUM Socialists that Orwell was fighting with. It was only when he returned from the front after a near-fatal wound that he saw how the Soviets were censoring the media, rounding up POUM sympathizers, and inventing problems to blame them for. He noted the Soviet use of the media and literally re-writing history to suit their needs. The Soviets had no intention of defeating Franco's forces and used the exercise simply to purge subversive threats. (The NKVD used the same propoganda techniques as seen in the recent invasion of Crimea, painting the Ukranian army as actually being Nazis, similarly to how they claimed the POUM were actually fascist Nazis as well). Orwell writes of how he and comrades would pass on the street and pretend not to know each other as everyone was trying to avoid being arrested. After being indicted for espionage and treason by Barcelona, Orwell and his wife narrowly escaped the crackdown, and he later learned a bounty was put on his head, which gave him concern for his own life after publishing Animal Farm in 1945.During the war, Orwell volunteered for the Home Guard during the blitz and later had an uninspiring career with the BBC while continuing to write articles and books. He wrote in his diary and letters of his fondness for Churchill and how he rallied the country to fight rather than surrender to the Nazi threat. His wife's brother died early in the war and that deeply affected her and their relationship as well. Orwell's earlier works were not considered good. Animal Farm's original run was only 2,000 copies but it has been in print ever since. The book was considered such an overt attack on socialism that Orwell had difficulty trying to publish it. Ricks notes how Animal Farm has been popular all over the world, how many in Soviet countries, Middle Eastern dictatorships, and elsewhere remark of how it summed up their condition remarkably. Even though Orwell had never lived under totalitarian threat, he'd almost paid with his life for his observations of its practice in Spain. He witnessed the Communists re-writing of history to erase the memory of Stalin's previous treaty with Hitler. He interacted with left-leaning people in England who held Stalin and Communism in high esteem (it was not until after Kruschev revealed Stalin's mass-murders that the world would get a clue). He wrote in 1945 that "I belong to the Left and must work inside it, much as I hate Russian totalitarianism" (loc. 3298). 1984 was published not long before Orwell died and remains a bestseller.Winston Churchill's political career was considered "finished" not long before he became Prime Minister. While a Torie, he had previously been with the Labour party and was trusted little by anyone. His previous Cabinet experience had been as First Lord of the Admiralty, where he organized the disastrous defeat at Gallipoli. He had made a name for himself publishing the accounts of British actions in South Asia and in the Boer War, but Ricks writes that Churchill's experiences were not that noteworthy, Churchill's ambition was to try to get famous to move up the social ladder and perhaps prove his father (who had once served in the Cabinet) wrong about his potential. Churchill championed a single cause that was considered political suicide in 1939-- he criticized Neville Chamberlain and the British Government for pursuing a policy of appeasement with the Nazis. He considered the Munich Conference to be a great disaster and correctly predicted that it would soon cost the British a great deal more to beat back the fascists than it would have if they had held firm years before.Reading the book, I was stunned by how much we Americans take the British and then the Americans' standing up to the Nazis for granted, much less defeating them. I grew up on a steady diet of WWII documentaries and movies and was keenly aware of the crisis the British faced during the blitz, the disasters of Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, etc. But it's easy to think that there was always that resolve after 12/7/1941 to defeat the Axis powers no matter what. But the reality in 1938-1939 was quite different. England wanted peace with Hitler, gave ticker-tape parades for Chamberlain for his attempts to appease him. The King himself supported appeasement. A conservative MP formed pro-German, anti-semitic group. At least one British mayor flew a swastika flag upon the agreement at Munich. The elite and intelligentsia had many friends in the Nazi party, as well as with Mussolini, spent time in Germany and Italy and praised Hitler's character. Why was Czechoslovakia a concern for them, anyway? Everyone secretly shares his disdain for the Jews, etc. Others were Communist spies or double-agents, like British correspondent/MI-6 officer Kim Philby, eager to undermine Western democracy and hasten its demise. One of the most ardent critics of Churchill's dissent and proponents of England's surrender to the Nazis was US Ambassador to England Joseph Kennedy. After Britain declared war, Kennedy was constantly cabling Washington predicting London's imminent surrender and proposing that Roosevelt also consider making a pact with the Nazis. "Kennedy told Roosevelt that he believed that events would make it necessary for the United States to implement, 'possibly under other names, the basic features of the Fascist state: to fight totalitarianism, we would have to adopt totalitarian methods'" (loc. 1165-1167). One of the most poignant scenes in the book is when FDR throws Kennedy out of his house, removing him from his position, and basically calling him a traitor. (This bit of forgotten history helps illustrate conservatives' later ire for JFK.) FDR would later send his own man, Harry Hopkins, to evaluate Churchill and the British position for himself in order to undue the misinformation that Kennedy and others had propogated. There were plenty of other "America First" isolationists in the US like Charles Lindbergh who thought America should make friends with Hitler.After Chamberlain resigned, Halifax, who had been head of the British Foreign Office, was expected to take up the mantle but refused, instead supporting Churchill. It was Halifax who had specifically requested Britain's soccer team give the Nazi salute when playing in Berlin in 1938. "Had Halifax been willing to take the prime mintership instead of Churchill, he very likely would have entered into peace talks with the Germans" (loc 1196). Churchill gave passionate speeches, began demanding the rusty wheels of government begin turning, and issued orders to put Britain on the offensive. When family members urged him to consider fleeing to Canada should London fall, he declined, writing that "There are too many of these exiled 'antifascists' already. Better to die if necessary" (loc. 1409). Churchill was still not always popular; many, including Orwell, thought he would have to resign after the British suffered a tremendous defeat in Singapore. But his resolve and determination, particularly against the elites who he saw as not doing their fair part, helped motivate and save the country. Despite all the details covered, Ricks leaves out the importance of the Great Depression in the 1930s backdrop, Roosevelt's political campaign reminding America of how he kept them out of war while at the same time getting ready to enter it, all the politics and history of lend-lease, etc. (David M. Kennedy's book Freedom from Fear covers this period quite well.) He does remark from Orwell and others that Americans became less and less popular in Britain as the war went on. By D-Day, the American contingent numbered 1.6 million and England was virtually occupied. Many British who fretted about the decline of their empire resented Churchill for having traded the British Empire for a new American one. Ricks writes that the relationship between FDR and Churchill is often embellished; they appear to have had little in common other than the common cause of fighting the Nazis. As the war went on, the friendship never really deepened. Churchill, oddly, chose not to attend FDR's funeral in 1945 (perhaps because he was keenly aware of his own mortality) and LBJ reciprocated when Churchill died in 1965.Neither Churchill nor Orwell ended well, however. Orwell's wife died unexpectedly and Orwell's respieratory problems never improved. Churchill likely had a heart attack while visiting the US in 1943 and suffered from extreme fatigue during the war. Losing the 1945 election was a major blow, and his return to the prime ministership from 1951-1955 is best left forgotten. Ricks writes that the relationship between FDR and Churchill is often embellished; they appear to have had little in common other than the common cause of fighting the Nazis. As the war went on, the friendship never really deepened. Churchill, oddly, chose not to attend FDR's funeral in 1945 (perhaps because he was keenly aware of his own mortality) and LBJ reciprocated by not attending or even sending his VP when Churchill died in 1965.Ricks reviews all of Orwell and Churchill's works, including each of Churchill's WWII memoirs. The author closes the book with a look at modern citations of Orwell, as various political camps claim Orwell for their side, and Ricks offers opinions about whether he was "right" or "wrong" on certain issues. One takeaway is that now America home to a large intelligence state where information is easily collected and housed. We are also in a state of perpetual war, similar to Oceania. Those wars are increasingly fought by small groups of highly-trained soldiers or even remote-controlled drones in far away places. The use of indefinite detention and torture are now almost expected. Hicks interestingly notes that Churchill freed a Nazi sympathizer in 1943 and included his explanation because it was the right thing for free peoples to do in order not to turn into the totalitarian beasts they were fighting (Orwell applauded the move at the time for the same reason). Churchill stated:"The power of the Executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him judgment by his peers for an indefinite period, is in the highest degree odious, and it is the foundation of all totalitarian Governments, whether Nazi or Communist...Nothing can be more abhorrent to democracy than to imprison a person or keep him in prison because he is unpopular. This is really the test of a civilization" (p. 3043).If you have read Guantanamo Diary, you will definitely agree with this quote.Somehow, Ricks pulls Martin Luther King, Jr. into his train of thought and the book really concludes awkwardly.I once lent a copy of Animal Farm to an English student in a former Soviet country where I was working. He was familiar enough with the re-writing of history in his country to appreciate the book, but I never learned if he ever read it. Animal Farm helped me understand the control of thought I saw clearly in the propoganda of Soviet and even post-Soviet textbooks. I started 1984 as a boy but I will now read it quickly and with much more appreciation. (With an understanding of Orwell's personally being plagued by a keen sense of smell and breathing problems.)I give this book 4 stars out of 5. It is certainly well-researched, but many of the details were unnecessary. Still, these figures and this period are more essential for our time than ever.more
- June 2, 2017Michael ShaoulGreat summary of two great livesReally enjoyable way to combine these two thinkers and doers an excellent job of discussing the major issues at stake. Only weak part was the final chapter and the discussion of Blair, Bush and Iraq which felt a little forced. Otherwise excellent.more
- May 25, 2017Book Seller GVFascinating history of two great men - a must read!
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