• Winston's War

  • Churchill, 1940-1945
  • By: Max Hastings
  • Narrated by: Robin Sachs
  • Length: 25 hrs and 4 mins
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (313 ratings)

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Winston's War

By: Max Hastings
Narrated by: Robin Sachs
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Publisher's summary

A vivid and incisive portrait of Winston Churchill during wartime from acclaimed historian Max Hastings, Winston’s War captures the full range of Churchill’s endlessly fascinating character. At once brilliant and infuriating, self-important and courageous, Hastings’s Churchill comes brashly to life as never before. Beginning in 1940, when popular demand elevated Churchill to the role of prime minister, and concluding with the end of the war, Hastings shows us Churchill at his most intrepid and essential, when, by sheer force of will, he kept Britain from collapsing in the face of what looked like certain defeat. Later, we see his significance ebb as the United States enters the war and the Soviets turn the tide on the Eastern Front. But Churchill, Hastings reminds us, knew as well as anyone that the war would be dominated by others, and he managed his relationships with the other Allied leaders strategically, so as to maintain Britain’s influence and limit Stalin’s gains.

At the same time, Churchill faced political peril at home, a situation for which he himself was largely to blame. Hastings shows how Churchill nearly squandered the miraculous escape of the British troops at Dunkirk and failed to address fundamental flaws in the British Army. His tactical inaptitude and departmental meddling won him few friends in the military, and by 1942, many were calling for him to cede operational control. Nevertheless, Churchill managed to exude a public confidence that brought the nation through the bitter war. Hastings rejects the traditional Churchill hagiography while still managing to capture what he calls Churchill’s “appetite for the fray”. Certain to be a classic, Winston’s War is a riveting profile of one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century.

©2010 Max Hastings (P)2010 Random House

Critic reviews

"Military historian Hastings adds to his illustrious reputation with this magnificent analysis of Winston Churchill's years of greatness." ( Publishers Weekly)

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    4 out of 5 stars
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A very different Churchill

Perhaps it is me. I have read many books concerning the Second World War and the major heads of government and each book seems to have its own area of concentration and viewpoint. This is, of course, as it should be and why different books about the same subject are likely to yield additional insight into the events for those of us who were not directly involved. The same thing is true of this book. Max Hastings, who also wrote the book Inferno about World War 2, concentrates on Winston Churchill and his direct involvement in the running of the war. This book is not about the war itself but rather about how Churchill directed Britain's efforts in the war, both successfully and unsuccessfully, his interactions with his military chiefs and with leaders of other countries. Those efforts were political as Churchill worked to bring the Americans into the war and convince them of the soundness or lack thereof of various actions as were his relationships with Roosevelt, Stalin and others like Harry Hopkins and Charles de Gaulle.

Hastings is clear in his regard for Churchill and refers to him as the greatest British personality of the 20th century and, perhaps, of all time. The last part of the book is fulsome with praise of Churchill who Hastings clearly regards as the only person who was capable of saving Great Britain at that time. Given those statements it is hard to square the book, with its constant drumbeat of Churchill's failings, with his conclusions about Churchill's leadership. Of all of the books I have read about Churchill and the Second World War this is definitely the most downbeat and perhaps that is why I found it tiresome enough that, toward the end, I had a hard time finishing.

Hastings is a gifted historian and writer and it is hard to take issue with each listed blunder, mistake and failing that he mentions. They are all valid points and documented with letters, memorandums, reports and the like, but the cumulative effect of all of them is to paint Churchill as a muddle-headed war leader full of bizarre and wrong-headed plans and capable of the most stunning strategic blunders. Clearly some of this is true as his continued insistence on attaching "the soft underbelly of Europe" resulted in the only really impossible Allied military operation of the war - the war in Italy. Similarly his attempted defense of Greece, his plan to seize Rhodes and the Dodecanese Islands, his plans for Malta and other similar operations were clearly wrong-headed and tended to put off the Americans and annoy the Russians. But the emphasis of the book seems to be on these poor strategic decisions and to give less credit to those of Churchill's choices which were either correct or the least bad choice and one is left with the idea that Churchill was essential only up until perhaps the end of 1942.

To be sure the book also spends a lot of time discussion how ill prepared the Americans were to fight the war in Europe or even to be partners with the British in preparing to fight the war. Hastings discusses how little coordination there was between the US Army and Navy in discussions with the British, how ill prepared the American chiefs were when meeting with the British at Placentia Bay in Newfoundland and how much personal dislike there was between the two groups and between the people of the two nations. But much more time is spent on Great Britain's helpless situation in the early 1940s and the cynicism of those in power, including Churchill, in dealing with their allies. This book presents a different view of Churchill and a very different view of Great Britain than is normally seen in histories of this period.

At the end of the book I was left with the impression that Churchill's main contributions to the war were his stirring speeches and his defiance of Hitler and, had I not been reading about this period for more than 50 years, I would have been left with the impression that Churchill was over-rated as a statesman. But I know better. It was Churchill that kept Great Britain independent and in the war in 1939 and 1940. Without him the US would never have been able to find a way to help liberate Europe as it would have been impossible to do so from the US mainland. It was Churchill that kept the Americans from directly attacking France in 1942 when such an attack would have been a total and complete disaster. It was Churchill that pointed the way to the Mediterranean as the only place to fight Germans in 1942 and the place where the American Army could become proficient in battle. It was Churchill who helped keep the Russians in the war against the Germans and made it possible to defeat Nazi Germany. It was Churchill who foresaw the subjugation of Eastern Europe. The list goes on. To be sure all of this is covered in the book but I felt that the balance between Churchill's foresight and Churchill's follies was wrong and left one with the wrong impression.

Robin Sachs' narration is well done including a reasonable impression of Churchill's voice. This is a very good book but readers might also want to read another book about the period such as the third volume of William Manchester's Churchill biography "Defender of the Realm" to get a more balanced view of Churchill and the war years.

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21 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Great Churchil Bio. The essential man, with warts.

I have read many books and Churchill and by Churchill. Winston's War is exceptional, and shows how and why Churchill was the essential man, anhistorically exceptional, yet imperfect leader. A visionary and an anachronism of Imperial Britian, creative and right in saving us from the Nazis, yet repleat with hairbrain and dubious ideas, but he held out and plugged the dike when defeating Hitler seem near impossible, except to him. A story of will, courage, leadership, and greatness, warts and all. We owe Churchill, big time.

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9 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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A Different Slice of WW 2

This book fills in details absent in general histories of WW 2, taking the point of view of the British concerning their participation in the war. The book draws on primary sources that reflect the thoughts and feelings of British people from all walks of life, but the main focus is on Winston Churchill, the extraordinary prime minister who, through the elegance of his rhetoric, his cunning
intelligence, and an indomitable will, shepherded his people through years of defeat to reach an ultimate victory. To me, the most interesting parts of the book detail Churchill's attempts to persuade a reluctant Franklin Roosevelt to commit American resources to the war. The author is honest about the unpreparedness of the British military to fight the disciplined Nazi forces, and Churchill's many futile attempts to coax Roosevelt onboard. Churchill's diplomatic and social relationships with other powerful Americans are described in an equally candid way and give insight into Britain's strained relationship with the US at the time. This is a first rate history that is also brilliantly narrated by Robin Sachs, who does a credible job of Churchill's stentorian delivery.

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5 people found this helpful

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Worth it

Any additional comments?

While I've been reading lots of WWII stuff over the past few years, this one fooled me. Not only did I get a better understanding of Churchill, but, for the first time, I gained a better understanding of the relative roles of Russia, the UK and the USA. You leave the book with no better feeling for Stalin but with a far greater appreciation of what the Russian people did. Nothing tarnishes Churchill, but the USA in perspective is revelatory.

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3 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Excellent

This is an excellent history and highly recommended to anyone with an interest in the 2nd world war. The narrator is outstanding and the book flows. I could not ” put it down”.

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3 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Winston's War Churchill 1940 - 1945

I have listen to books all about HItler and wanted to get a balance so this Churchill booked helped balance my feeling regarding history for WW II - Churchill was quite a guy.

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3 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

spellbound for 26 hours

Loved it. Excellent narration. It made me a converted fan of the military history genre.

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Well written, well informed

Any additional comments?

Max Hastings has produced an insightful record of Churchill's time during WWII that transcends both the hagiography and harping of other historians. Churchill emerges as a real human being facing difficult decisions.Compelling and revealing.

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Masterful Critical Review of Churchill at War

So much has been written of Churchill in World War II that, for me, much of it is repetitive, because it consists mainly of what Churchill said and did. The differences seem more a matter of intimacy—how close the author gets to Churchill the man and what his intimates thought of him, as does, for example, Andrew Roberts’ recent Churchill: Walking with Destiny—or approach, such as Roy Jenkins’ political life of Churchill. These and other fine works that I’ve read leave the critical element largely up to the reader.

Max Hastings is what I’ve been waiting for, and although his is not the latest Churchill bio, I think the Churchill reader should read the more descriptive Churchill bios before this one, digest it all, then read Winston’s War. For almost every thing about what Churchill says and does as UK’s WWII warlord is subject to Hasting’s cogent and well-informed criticism, positive and negative. That’s what I love in an historian. It’s what I love about A.J.P. Taylor’s Struggle for Mastery in Europe, his Bismarck and his Hitler. It’s what I love about Jean Edward Smiths’ treatment of Eisenhower. Hasting joins this august group in telling us not only about great men and events but what he thinks about them. A fine example is Hastings’ comparing Churchill’s Dodecanese Islands adventure with his World War I Dardanelles adventure to show how one man’s idée fixe can distort his judgment and cost lives and materiel.

I usually love the late Robin Sachs’ narration. His telling of Meyer’s definitive A World Undone: the Great War, is unsurpassed. But Sachs stumbles when he tries to imitate Churchill in quotation. He would have been better using his normal voice. But this is minor, for the rest of the narration is vintage Sachs.

For the student of Churchill, this critical look at Winston’s war is required reading. Being a journalist, Hastings knows how to engage the reader. But Hastings is also a fine historian, which makes his journalism reliable, a rare thing.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Insightful, fascinating, deeply researched

Where does Winston's War rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Ranks in my personal top 10 history books. Hastings' writing is deeply researched but presented personally with his own interpretations.

Have you listened to any of Robin Sachs’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

Yes, he's one of my favorite readers. His dialogue in other books is great. While he has less opportunity for dialogue in a narrative history, he makes the book come alive nevertheless.

Any additional comments?

A+ book and narration

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