One of the classic volumes of autobiography, My Early Life is a lively and colourful account of a young man's quest for action, adventure and danger. Churchill's schooldays are undistinguished, but he is admitted to Sandhurst and embarks on a career as a soldier and a war correspondent, seeing action in Cuba, in India, in the Sudan - where he took part in the battle of Omdurman, of which he gives us a stirring account - and finally in South Africa.
Taken prisoner by the Boers, Churchill makes a daring escape. Back home he embarks on the political career that is to make him one of Britain's most distinguished parliamentarians.
First published in 1930, when Churchill's most testing time still lay ahead of him, My Early Life is memorable both as an adventure-story and as an account of the events and influences that helped to shape the career of a great Englishman.
©1930 Charles Scribner’s Sons (P)2014 Audible Studios
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I remember reading about a dinner party Winston Churchill attended in the late 19th Century. When the table talk turned to God and the Cosmos, a female guest observed that all men are worms. Churchill agreed. “All men are indeed worms” he said, then added a characteristic coda, “but I do believe I am a glow worm.”
And so he was. Another reviewer has likened the adventures in this book to those of Indiana Jones, and they are about right (with the crucial, almost unbelievable difference that these adventures aren’t the product of Hollywood scriptwriters and stunt men).
Accused of rampant self-promotion then and later for his willingness to insert himself into the thick of events, it’s hard not to see his side of things. Born to privilege, he nevertheless found himself on the outskirts of power—due to his father’s political miscalculations—and in need of a way to make a living. Not content to merely possess a respected name, he strove to make others respect him. Though without an aristocratic purse he certainly enjoyed an aristocratic self-confidence—and a confidence in his country and its empire—that carried him through events that would leave you and me seeking the nearest bomb shelter.
Besides high adventure there is common sense and uncommon insights here. Do we revere the Greeks and Romans for what they wrote and thought? Of course we do—they came first, when all the good ideas were as yet un-thought and unwritten. Has the similarity between your daily routine and a hell-for-leather cavalry charge ever occurred to you? There is a parallel:
“In one respect a cavalry charge is very like ordinary life. So long as you are all right, firmly in your saddle, your horse in hand, and well armed, lots of enemies will give you a wide berth. But as soon as you have lost a stirrup, have a rein cut, have dropped your weapon, are wounded, or your horse is wounded, then is the moment when from all quarters enemies rush upon you.”
There is much here to cheer us non-glow worms. He was, for example, a flat failure at school. Mathematics and languages frustrated him as much as they frustrated you and me (well, me at least). He lost his first election—a local by-election—by 1,300 votes. His first foray in the public arena—a speech excoriating the barriers that had been erected in music halls to separate the sexes—was never delivered. And perhaps most oddly of all, considering his later reputation, he had to learn to like the taste of whiskey.
Then there is much to make us feel our worm-hood. He escaped captivity in the Boer War twice, hiding in mines and bales of wool. To be in on the campaign that climaxed at Omdurman, he braved the official disapproval of no less a man that Kitchener. It was that bit of hutzpah that lead to his participating the last cavalry charge in British military history. He used the hours of leisure afforded a cavalryman stationed in India to read, making up for his lackluster academic performance. He was under fire more times than I can count. He wrote so well about it all, in both newspapers and between the covers of books, that his work caught the eye of the great—and put his finances on a firm footing. At the end of this volume (published in 1930), it’s hard to believe that the biggest chapters of the story are still waiting ten years in the future.
Fredrick Davidson was the perfect selection for this recording. His cadence, his sense of the shape of sentences and his unerring way of adding just the right sarcastic, humorous or excited edge to the words—along with the slightly Churchillesque tone he assumes throughout—can make it seem at times as if you’re hearing the man himself.
I confess that I am not generally a huge fan of autobiography, but I will make an exception for this one. Churchill was as good a writer as he was a speaker. The book makes a great listen to a story of an interesting time in history. Great stuff.
Crisply written and wry, Churchill's Early Life gives the reader a retrospective of military life in the waning British empire. Churchill recounts minor actions in Egypt and India and his capture and remarkable escape during the Boer war, all through eyes that had since witnessed, and had been deeply affected by, the Great War. Without dwelling on the moral aspect to these adventures, he finds that their justification does present challenges. Worth reading as history, or as simply a good story.
Churchill is the Cicero of the English language. This story is a prime example of Churchill's ability to communicate, inspire, and dive to the heart of an issue.
I have known several people who were early readers in life. Most have had remarkable careers, although not all were famous outside their local community. Being a reader and a bit of person who was going to make his own path has made him into a remarkable story teller that pulls the reader in where they don't want to stop listening. The easy flow, the quirky insights, and just plain honesty!
Can't wait to read more of his works.
Churchill writes with wit, candor, and informal ease. Many parts of the story, such as childhood and school, may relatable to the reader, as they were to me, despite differences of status and era. The narration is superb. I felt like I was listening to Churchill speak to me directly. This first part of the great man's life story also contains unintentional foreshadowing (as it was written in 1930.) it ends rather abruptly, but in the most charming and intimate way! All you lovers of history, listen to this book!
Interesting to hear about his childhood years and his struggles.
Overall a good listen. I seem to have a problem staying focused on narrators with a British accent, but it wouldn't seem right otherwise.
First, the narration is excellent, a tad slow so I pushed it to 1.5 speed but the older English accent made it sound as though Winston himself told me his story.
Second, wow, what a life he had! This man saw more to the age of 27 than more do in a lifetime! Focusing on his days leading up to politics Winston leans on his experience as a war correspondent to eloquently express his days all over the world in the British army.
Lastly, I highly recommend this autobiography to anyone. If you are looking to read classics, add this to the list.
"A very good listen"
A combination of a real biography and a tail of true adventure. I thought I new a little of WC but I knew nothing of what shaped him through his first quarter century. Very enlightening.
An engaging journey from his first memories of childhood through to his early political career.
Being read by a very plausible voice alike of the man himself gave extra gravity to this book.
I listen to this book every day using my one hour commute until it was finished.
A most excellent book that I would have no hesitation in recommending, in fact only my second audio book and it helped me become hooked into the concept.
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