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Publisher's Summary

Preeminent military historian Max Hastings presents Winston Churchill as he has never been seen before. Winston Churchill was the greatest war leader Britain ever had. In 1940, the nation rallied behind him in an extraordinary fashion. But thereafter, argues Max Hastings, there was a deep divide between what Churchill wanted from the British people and their army, and what they were capable of delivering.

Himself a hero, he expected others to show themselves heroes also, and was often disappointed. It is little understood how low his popularity fell in 1942, amid an unbroken succession of battlefield defeats. Some of his closest colleagues joined a clamour for him to abandon his role directing the war machine.

Hastings paints a wonderfully vivid image of the Prime Minister in triumph and tragedy. He describes the ‘second Dunkirk’, in 1940, when Churchill’s impulsiveness threatened to lose Britain almost as many troops in north-west France as had been saved from the beaches; his wooing of the Americans, and struggles with the Russians. British wartime unity was increasingly tarnished by workers’ unrest, with many strikes in mines and key industries.

By looking at Churchill from the outside in, through the eyes of British soldiers, civilians and newspapers - and also those of Russians and Americans - Hastings provides new perspectives on the greatest Englishman. He condemns as folly Churchill’s attempt to promote mass uprisings in occupied Europe, and details ‘Unthinkable’ - his amazing 1945 plan for an Allied offensive against the Russians to liberate Poland. Here is an intimate and affectionate portrait of Churchill as Britain’s saviour, but also an unsparing examination of the wartime nation which he led and the performance of its armed forces.

Max Hastings studied at Charterhouse and Oxford and became a foreign correspondent, reporting from more than 60 countries and 11 wars for BBC TV and the London Evening Standard. He has won many awards for his journalism. Among his best-selling books, Bomber Command won the Somerset Maugham Prize, and both Overlord and Battle for the Falklands won the Yorkshire Post Book of the Year Prize. After 10 years as editor and then editor-in-chief of the Daily Telegraph, he became editor of the Evening Standard, in 1996. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he was knighted in 2002.

©2009 Max Hastings (P)2014 Audible Studios

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  • Jean
  • Santa Cruz, CA, United States
  • 09-11-14

Full of perceptive insight

Max Hasting well known British historian attempt to take a realistic view of Winston Spencer Churchill. The author has written a subtly revisionist account of Winston Churchill during the war. Hasting has taken a different method of looking at Churchill that is by looking at him through the eyes of others at the time. Hasting used diaries, letters and stories then he ties it together with a bits and parts of Winston Churchill speeches. That Hasting is never seduced by Churchill’s effortless apothegms and anecdotes is an indication that this is a fine book rather than simply an addition to the hagiography.

During the period in which Britain fought almost alone—the Dominions being the exceptions—Churchill parsed what amounted to a series of defeats and evacuation as noble encounters. Finally the Russians entered the war and had to deal with 200 axis’s divisions, the British struggled to handle a couple of Afrika corps. I found one comment by Hasting that WSC was so frustrated with the British Army; all they could do is lose battles. Churchill praised the Air Corp and the Navy. Hastings said WSC was intensely frustrated by the caution and lack of imagination of his Army Generals—notably those who won the Victoria Cross in the First World War They were fighting the prior stationary war instead of adjusting to the fast moving current war.

The author wrote a damning indictment of Britain’s culture of war-making, making do with shoddy equipment, corruptions in procurement, appointments and promotions based on mere social statues not merit. These are the same complaints that Lord Wellington made during the Napoleonic war. Napoleon was the first to promote officers on merit. Napoleon once said “ give me my officers and the English soldiers and I could rule the world”. Hasting discussed the Russian Spies in England that kept Stalin abreast of every major development. The author also discussed the Union strikes during the War slowing down vital war materials.

This book may have some valuable lessons not just about leadership but about the relationship between soldiers and civil society. The book is well balanced revealing Churchill’s failings as well as his strengths. Despite his failings he is revealed as one of the greatest wartime leaders. If you are a history buff, a Churchill fan or interested in WWII you will find this an excellent book. Barnaby Edwards did a good job narrating the book.

7 of 8 people found this review helpful

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  • KRMurr
  • Los Angeles, CA
  • 06-01-15

Max Hastings "Finest Years" | Winston Churchill

Superb honest account of an extraordinary man who was not a perfect warlord, strategist or politician...but he was a man and a steadfast rock when the world needed one more than ever before or since.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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I loved it...

I'm a Churchill fan, and this is one of the best. The narration is excellent. Very welll done. I bought NEMESIS based on having enjoyed this so much.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Neil
  • Castle Hill, Australia
  • 04-06-15

WW iI A informative perspective

Extremely interesting after having listened to Winston Churchill's books on WW II.
Easy to listen to. Makes me want to read more.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Outstanding

Max Hastings has written another excellent book! A superlative and well balanced description of one of the giants of the 20th century.

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  • J
  • 11-13-14

Superbly written and delivered

If you could sum up Finest Years in three words, what would they be?

Thorough, compelling, entertaining

Who was your favorite character and why?

Churchill, with his big heart and indefatigable energy, dominates this book. A flawed leader, maybe, but a giant among his peers. He never went to University and took three attempts to pass the Sandhurst entrance examination and yet he put his well educated colleagues in the shade when it came to vision and strategy. What if Churchill had died during his reckless Boer War escapades or his experimental flights in pre WW1 planes? This book reminds us of the debt we owe to WSC.

Have you listened to any of Barnaby Edwards’s other performances? How does this one compare?

This is my first Barnaby Edwards performance and the narration is absolutely superb. His impersonations of the various characters are perfect and, for a moment, you think you are listening to Churchill himself.

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

In a world gone mad with hatred, oppression and disregard for human life, Churchill stood out as a man of compassion. His heart for his enemies was remarkable.

Any additional comments?

This book is superbly written and expertly narrated. Production of the narration is as good as I've heard and Barnaby Edwards' theatrical ability makes the book a compelling read. Profoundly disappointed to have finished it - must look now for another Hastings / Edwards combination.

9 of 9 people found this review helpful

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  • Alistair
  • 11-08-15

A Fine Biography Of The Finest Years

What made the experience of listening to Finest Years the most enjoyable?

Winston Churchill is certainly a man of whom several biographies have been written but I feel that Finest Years is one of the best I have ever read. The audio version narrated superbly by Baranaby Edwards made it much more enjoyable by allowing the listener to have a much stronger grasp of Max Hastings's points.

This specifically applied to areas where Hastings discussed certain battles or strategic decisions for an extended period of time as it became much easier to follow without being in danger of forgetting what was being discussed.

Regardless if it was elements of The Battle Of Britain, American involvement or Churchill's failure to understand he was being either ignored or played by Stalin I as a listener could follow the book even when it went into extensive depth unlike other books on the topic where I had to listen to certain sections multiple times.

Which character – as performed by Barnaby Edwards – was your favourite?

Edwards is possibly one of the most 'true to life' Churchills I have ever heard. It felt sometimes like they had used the actual recordings themselves as he truly convinced you that Churchill himself was persuading you to invest troops in a particular plan - or during more personal moments - was asking those around him if he was liked as a man.

Churchill was personally a very flawed and old-fashioned figure with his own bias and beliefs that the majority of his public - even those in his own party - knew would not and could not work. Despite this Edwards manages to make you not only sympathize with his position but understand why he believed it. I congratulate Edwards on an excellent narration.

Any additional comments?

This book was one of the best biographies - be it of Churchill or otherwise - I have ever read. Hastings does a maverllous job of explaining each decision in just the right level of depth and enabling the listener to understand the consequences without talking down to them. Because of this book I just recently purchased Hastings's book on World War II spies and espionage and look forward to it greatly. Both the book itself and the perfect narration get a 10 out of 10 from me. You will not regret getting this book.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Sp Wickes
  • 02-05-18

poor Churchill narrative

you won't get much from this book that isn't coveredbetter elsewhere. the history is lacking far too much detail.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • jamie
  • 08-26-18

Well read and greatly detailed

great detail from start to finish and very well read with well sourced evidence. the observations are key to understanding not only Churchill but his effect on others such as family, friends and most of all allies.

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  • Carol Crowther
  • 08-11-18

Compelling listening marred by Sir Max’s favourite hobbyhorse plus a hint of ‘faint praise’

I’ve read and enjoyed several MH books always finding them compelling and hard to put down. This one on Churchill, excellently narrated, was up to a point, no exception.
In fact, up to two points.
First. The author seems obsessed on the subject of the incompetence of the WW2 British Army. On the one hand It is hard to disagree given the dismal performances at Tobruk and Singapore, among others. On the other hand I got the message on this in some of his other WW2 books. For listeners/readers new to MH, the point was driven home early in this book, reinforced by the over use of irrelevant quotes from the likes of ‘Mrs So and So of London’ (and others, elsewhere) ‘writing in her/his diary’
MH is obviously very passionate on this subject but I’m finding the criticism somewhat tedious. Instead of using books like this one as a platform to again bash the WW2 British Army, why does he not write a book exclusively on the topic where he can fully vent his sentiments, hopefully to completion?

My second point.
Throughout the book, even when speaking positively of Churchill, I detected a touch of ‘going through the motions’ to demonstrate even handedness. The expression ‘Dammed by faint praise’ came to me several times throughout the book. What’s more I felt that MH did not recognise, or failed to give more fulsome credit for some of the exceptionally brave initiatives of Churchill.
For example, on Greece, Churchill demonstrated courage and commitment in travelling there on a Christmas Eve, eventually, by sheer force of his personality wringing an agreement out of the Greeks.
What’s more, his sincere and compassionate attempt to improve the desperate situation of the Polish people by travelling to the Moscow vipers nest, otherwise known as the Kremlin, at that late stage of the war, was covered with some appreciation by MH but did not fully reflect Churchill extraordinary bravery and commitment.
Nor did he adequately contrast Churchill’s actions to the naive and even politically ignorant actions (or inactions) of the Americans
Finally, MH’s glowing peroration of Churchill did not for me quite reflect the conditional tone of his writing in earlier chapters
Despite my comments, I could not, as it were, put this one down until completed.
Compelling reading, indeed.



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  • mr g livings
  • 05-29-18

Churchill impersonation irritating<br />

I'd rather the book was read straight, i.e. no attempt at Churchill voice impressions. It got increasingly irritating as the book read on. Did the man really speak like the characterisation? MH actually didn't have that much positive to say about Churchill. I appreciate that's his view so I've no quibble in this are as regards to the quality of presentation. When I get round to it I'll need to have a chat with MH himself!

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  • Andrew J. Gilchrist
  • 03-27-18

Rewrites what I learnt as a kid.

Really well read, provides a fascinating insight to the politics rather than the fighting.
Gives you a new insight into Britain's military contribution to the war.

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  • James Spencer
  • 02-02-17

Fine account of Churchill

I've listened to a number of Max Hastings books, but this ranks among my favourite and Barnaby Edwards is the better of the narrators in my opinion.

The book leaves nothing left unturned, giving a very equal view of Churchill and leaves you in no doubt of his character and efforts (good and bad) during WW2.

The final 20 or so minutes are both sad and uplifting. A fantastic listen, and should be a must for those who love Hastings work.

1 of 2 people found this review helpful