Idea Of The Day

Churchill Overwhelms a Biographer

Winston Churchill#2:}}’s ability to maintain forward momentum and mental equilibrium while pursuing life to extremes should never be underestimated, least of all by those who attempt to chronicle that life. The statesman, orator, writer, and drinker was excessive in all those pursuits—and he reached the age of 90, outliving many of those who attempted to keep up with his daunting regimen. Even from the grave Churchill imposes himself on those who choose to write about him—he has now exhausted not one biographer, but two. Today’s New York Times relays the news that William Manchester, well-known for his book about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, The Death of a President, has abandoned the third volume of his biography of Churchill, The Last Lion. Manchester, who had a stroke in 1998, began work on the first volume more than 20 years ago, but is now unable to carry on. He tells the New York Times: “I can’t put things together; I can’t make the connections. … I just can’t do it.” Manchester is in good company. Churchill’s son, Randolph (who, like his father, was a prodigious drinker, though the effects proved less productive), completed two volumes of his biography before his death in 1968; the remaining six volumes were composed by Martin Gilbert (whose appetite for the life of Churchill is on a scale that even his hero would marvel at). Unlike Randolph’s endeavor, Manchester’s project will remain unfinished, even if the author has made a good start. He says: “What I can’t get people to understand is that nobody else can write it. Nobody has my style. Nobody could put it in context like I can. I’m the only person who can write that book.”

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