This is a gossipy, chatty, sometimes catty and not always favorable biography of Winston S. Churchill. Among other things, the author was a former MP and political insider holding various offices in government. His father, Arthur Jenkins was a parliamentary private secretary to Clement Attlee - the man who defeated Churchill immediately after WWII. Some of Churchill's most famous aphorisms were insulting to Clement Attlee (A modest man, who has much to be modest about) and one wonders how Roy Jenkins felt about that and if it had any influence on the book.
Regardless, the book presumes the reader is more acquainted with English history and the English system of government than is likely for most Americans. The book focuses almost entirely on the inner political workings of government during Churchill's (and Jenkin's) time. It's also marred by diversions about various political figures who appear only briefly and don't have much to do with Churchill. The reader in England may be familiar with these characters and be interested in what happened to them but the American reader will not. It's almost more of a memoir than a biography because the author often inserts himself especially in the years in which he served in Parliament with Churchill.
I would first recommend William Manchester for a more complete picture of Churchill, even though it's longer and, ironically, incomplete.
I will say the voice characterizations by Robert Whitfield are excellent. By a change in accent or tone he is able to indicate a change in speaker leaving no doubt who is being quoted. This was extremely helpful. In particular, he does a decent imitation of Churchill himself. Even 40 years after his death, Churchill's words and voice are so familiar that it would be disconcerting to hear them spoken any other way.
That's right. This is a book of political fiction with a point of view. Deal with it.
The main theme of the book is what happens when leadership handles a crisis using ideology rather than practicality. When John Ringo wrote this book, it seemed likely that Hillary Clinton would become President. Instead we got Barack Obama and he has gotten several crises with which to illustrate Ringo's point. You only have to look at his feckless response to the Gulf Oil spill to know that Ringo is right on the money.
My only criticism of the book is that Ringo didn't need BOTH a plague and a weather-induced famine to illustrate his point. One or the other would have done nicely. Even something less dramatic, such as an oil spill, would have made the point. Life imitates fiction yet again.
This book treats obvious common knowledge as a great revelation.
You have to practice 10,000 hours to become expert? The old joke has had it for years. "How do I get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice." We've all known people who've practiced, practiced, practiced yet have not risen to the top. What I would have liked to have learned is what differentiates the successful practicers from the unsuccessful ones. We don't find out.
Speaking of Carnegie, why is it such a big revelation that Carnegie is steel and Gates/Jobs are computers? The Bard told us centuries ago "There is a tide in the affairs of men, Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune."
So Steve Jobs lived at the right time and place to start Apple? And Gates Microsoft. Thousands of others did too, although, as Gladwell points out, not everyone of their generation. Jobs/Gates childhoods were not THAT unique. What differentiated Jobs/Gates from everyone else who grew up just like they did? We don't find out.
We learn that certain cultures have advantages over others in certain fields. While some might accuse him of cultural stereotyping, I agree actually. Asian students are "good at math" because they come from a culture of grinding work in the rice paddies. He appears to offer this as a prescription for improving math scores in the U.S.
We learn that effective parents produce successful children. Again, no news here. Unfortunately, Gladwell confuses effective parenting with "privilege". The KIPP schools are held up as an example of how if only "underprivileged" children are given resources they can succeed.
He undercuts his own thesis when he fails to point out that the children in those schools have parents who care about education enough to enroll the children and support them. Privileged children have effective parents regardless of wealth. Short of the government confiscating children at birth, that can't be changed.
I enjoyed this picture of life in an era and a war theater now mostly forgotten. In these days of satellite communication, the internet and GPS, it's hard to remember just how isolated the Outer Banks were and just how dangerous navigation on the east coast could be. I have been up and down the Outer Banks, have visited all the lighthouses, and enjoyed the little bits of the real places woven into a fictional story. I had lunch in Morehead City yesterday and it's changed so much even in my lifetime.
I had been aware of the Uboat warfare on the east coast early in WWII and was glad to see it used in a story. The coincidence/plot twist at the end was, as others have noted, completely improbably but so charmingly done, I liked it anyway.
I took away one star because the narrator's attempt at the accents drifted in and out and was nowhere true to life. However, if you don't know the difference you probably won't notice the difference.
Unfortunately this book is only part of the story.
No less an authority than Charlie Wilson himself is on record criticizing the exclusion from the book of the role the Reagan administration played in supporting the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. (cf. "The Real Story of Charlie Wilson's War" on the History Channel).
The hidden irony in this book is the author's double standard in celebrating as heros Wilson and his CIA contact Gust Avrakotos as they broke every rule and not a few laws in their successful bid to give weapons to the Mujahideen who committed unspeakable acts to "kill commies" while deriding as criminal the Reagan administration's attempt to supply the Contras in Nicaragua to do the exact same thing.
The difference, of course, was that the Democrat Congress provided political cover for the program of one of their own, Wilson, while using the power of Congress to attack the same kind of program when run by their political opponents.
All in all a good read, but simply be aware of George Criles bias. All you need to know is that Criles was a produced for 60 Minutes and how overboard 60 Minutes went trying to get another Republican President.
I understand the other negative reviews. This is pretty much a specialist book. If you're looking for high drama or character development you will be disappointed. But I found interesting all the details that bored everyone else. It's the little oddities and quirks of day-to-day life that bring alive exactly what it was like to be in the Navy as an average sailor or low raking officer.
Like Forest Gump or Zelig, Archerfish was there. Except this boat was really there and not pasted in after the fact. If, instead of her crew, the boat herself could only talk.
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