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Publisher's Summary

From New York Times best-selling 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-1930s - 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 each man once occupied. By the late 1930s, 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 1940s 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.

©2017 Thomas E. Ricks (P)2017 Penguin Audio

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  • Jean
  • Santa Cruz, CA, United States
  • 06-11-17

Elegantly Written

I have read so many books by or about Churchill that a new book must have a new approach or hook or else I will not be bothered to read it. This one did.

Both George Orwell and Winston S. Churchill came close to death. Both men faced an existential crisis to their way of life with moral courage. They also demonstrated that an individual can make a difference. These two men were different in many ways. They came from different social classes but each could think and write clearly. Both men were committed to critical thought and neither followed the crowd.

Both men were in disgrace in the 1930s. Churchill was a political pariah, alienated from the Conservative Party by his opposition to the appeasement of Hitler. Orwell wrote “Homage to Catalone” in 1938. It was a coruscating indictment of both left and right during the Spanish Civil War. He was denounced by many and his publisher refused to continue to publish the book. After the war broke out in 1939, Churchill and Orwell found common cause.

Both men thought honesty and language mattered at every level. Ricks tells of Churchill, over burdened with the war of survival, paused to coach subordinates on writing. He issued a directive to brevity, ordering his staff to write in short crisp paragraphs and to avoid meaningless phrases. In Orwell’s famous six elementary rules on writing, he includes “never us a long word where a short one will do”.

The book is well written and meticulously researched. Ricks made some comparisons with current politicians. I found the stories about the men most interesting.

The book is ten hours long. James Lurie does a great job narrating the book. Lurie is an actor, voice over artist and audiobook narrator.

10 of 10 people found this review helpful

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  • J.B.
  • Fort Lauderdale, FL, United States
  • 06-10-17

Disparate

Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom, by Thomas E. Ricks, and narrated By James Lurie. journalist and author who specializes in the military and national security issues. I am always thrilled when he is interviewed on TV as his insights are reveling; he defines the issue, provides the necessary facts and draws conclusions that are not obvious but seeded in the circumstance and fully analyzes the abnormality or impairment being discussed. I have previously read his works, Fiasco, history of the Iraq War from the planning phase to combat operations and The Gamble, the succeeding years in Iraq, to 2008. Insightful and a must read to understand the quagmire of the present war taking place in Iraq and beyond or the damage done to this earth in establishing the nations as was done at the end of World War I.

Okay, so one gets it; I praise Mr. Ricks’ works. Not here, though in Churchill and Orwell. We are talking about Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister in WW II and George Orwell, the author of Animal Farm and 1984. One wants to believe that Mr. Ricks was planning two long essays on each, had a book obligation and smashed the two together to meet his obligation. Why not, as both men were British – albeit of almost diametrically opposed attitudes.

The book’s purpose, per the publisher, is a work on how those men preserved democracy from the threats of authoritarianism. It has nothing to do with explaining despotism. It is simply a short biography of each man. In that sense, it is very well done and easy to listen too. Yet, unlike, the above-named works of Ricks, does not provide the same insight into political history and trends. It is a non-sequitur, short biography of each man. As that it is fairly good.

The book, tells each man’s history, from birth through their appearance in the mid-1930s and who each became factors in European society. Each proved to be courageous as each demonstrated by going to war, in Churchill’s situation WWI, and Orwell in the Spanish Civil War. Each had reverence for the lower social societies . . . and more about thier lives.

As a comparative study the matching of the two individuals is unsuccessful. Separate from the matching of the two for a comparative study, which fails, it is an interesting history of each man and their philosophy of dictatorship and how it must be resisted.

11 of 12 people found this review helpful

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It rings a bell for the issues government faces today

All around great book. Research and writing are complete and flawless. Narrator does a splendid job and conveys supporting emotional content.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Not that remarkable

If you have read other books that recount this time period, you will find the material very unremarkable, and a bit stail. My advice; skip the last 3 chapters.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Aneil
  • Durham, NC USA
  • 10-02-17

Tour de Force of 2 of the 20th Century's Greatest

As a huge fan of Orwell, I greatly enjoyed learning more about the foundations of this towering literary figure, especially his time in the Spanish Civil War. Ricks's profile, of Churchill, and his discussion of how both Orwell and Churchill came to similar conclusions about totalitarianism, both the left-wing and right-wing forms, despite their very different backgrounds, was masterful.

I only wish Ricks had applied his significant analytical powers to applying the lessons provided by Churchill and Orwell to our present circumstances more fully in his last chapter, even thought was not the purpose of this very important book. What these two have to each us is even more relevant and timely for today than it was for their contemporaries.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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So much to be gleaned from these men...

Timeless and invaluable lessons abound in the legacies of Orwell and Churchill. A wonderful book.

3 of 5 people found this review helpful

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Two Great Stories Not Quite Woven Into One

I enjoyed this book for both its brisk account of Churchill’s leadership of Britain during WWII and its introduction to Orwell’s career, which I knew nothing about. Ricks lays alongside one another Churchill’s military fight against Hitler’s fascism and Orwell’s literary attack against Soviet totalitarianism. He delineates the characters of these two 20th century heroes with a sharp eye for the telling details of their personalities, balancing their greatness against their all two human weaknesses. Ricks writes well too, free of academic jargon and political axes to grind.

It’s main weakness lies in how he finally cashes out the comparison of the two men and their battle to preserve individual liberty from the twin threats of Communism and Fascism. One sometimes feels the two stories aren’t sufficiently linked, that more could be made of the comparison. For instance, I would like to have seen more reflection on the different but equally effective ways Orwell the writer and Churchill the orator mobilized the English language for this battle of the century. I finished the book wishing Ricks had explored more explicitly the complementary role of the obscure novelist, whose main weapon in the fight was the literary imagination, and the famous statesman, whose main weapon was political skill and oratory. Why were both weapons so crucial to the fight?

In short, this is a good book, but it could have been great had he drawn more penetrating insights from the comparison. He does this in the conclusion, but it’s a little too little and a little too late. Ricks weaves the Churchill and Orwell narratives too loosely, but each tale is told with great. The reading by Lurie is pitch perfect.

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Poignant and apt for our fraught times<br />

Tom Ricks is a prescient and important voice for our times. I loved this book.

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This was a great book!!

The idea to compare and contrast Orwell and Churchill is a great one, so similar yet so different. I enjoyed it and my children listened to it as well and liked it

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Misleading Title & A Waste of Your Time

When this book came out last year I was excited. How could you not...we have two of the greatest individuals of the 20th century.

If there was ever a perfect example of the saying don’t judge a book by its cover this is it.

Let me get straight to my points as to my negative review:

1.) There was little interaction between the two men, so if you are expecting more based on the cover...don’t.

2.) The book was nothing more than two parallel biographies on the two men.

3.) If you have read about either man, you won’t learn anything new.

***and if that were the only things wrong I would have given the book three stars***

Here is where the book becomes unbearable:

Towards the end of the book the author spends considerable time ripping Churchill and those on the right (I realize some might like that), in doing so makes several clumsy arguments. For example, there is a joke/quote often attributed to Churchill about his encounter with Lady Astor regarding he being happy to drink poison she purported to say she would give him if he were her husband, to which he responded he would gladly drink it. I’m not sure what National Review (a conservative publication in the US which has been around for 50 years) has done to Mr. Ricks, but he couldn’t help blast them for two pages for repeating this quote...this quote may very well be an old rehashed joke and the exchange may never have happened but...you can find it in the Imperial War Museum which is not owned by the William F. Buckley Estate.

The book goes on to talk about Iraq war and purporting how Churchill would have warned Britain about going in...talk about a big time stretch. Forget one’s views on the necessity or waste of the Iraq war...but given Churchill’s “war mongerer” reputation, this theory that Churchill would be this wise man warning against such operation is, well, a big time stretch.

More ironic is this diatribe of Churchill’s elderly wisdom comes after he tears Churchill’s post war service apart. Basically, Ricks is mad Churchill adopted some modern conservative
views and tears apart his memoirs...basically ripping him apart from when he was voted out of office to his funeral.

Let me say I deserve a Purple Heart getting through the last quarter of this book. Would have much preferred my wisdom teeth pulled, but I am one who finishes what I start. To which I advise prospective readers don’t waste your time.