Book reviews by Steve Earles: HISTORY

Winston Churchill, Myth and Reality: What He Actually Said

By Richard M. Langworth

In 1968 Richard M. Langworth founded the Churchill Study unit and its journal Finest Hour, which he edited for over thirty years (since 2014 he has been Senior Fellow for the Churchill project at Hillsdale College in Michigan). It is fair to say that a person interested in the history of Winston Churchill wouldn’t live long enough to read all that has been written about him, but this fine and important book would be a great place to start. Churchill is like Marmite in the 21st century, either loved or loathed; here Langworth corrects a great many myths about the man.

Many of the sayings and events attributed to Churchill are false, and these tend to be used to perpetuate a negative bias towards his many positive words and acts. It seems fake news didn’t come in with the internet (though it has helped it spread greatly). Had Churchill been heeded, for instance, on his call for a sizeable and effective intervention against the Bolsheviks in the Russian Civil War, the world may have been spared the many miseries of Soviet communism.

It was a bit disappointing, however, to discover that the famous conversation with Nancy Astor and Churchill didn’t actually happen. (Supposedly she told Winston, ‘If I were married to you, I’d put poison in your coffee.” To which Winston had supposedly replied. ‘If I were married to you, I’d drink it.’)

A beautifully well-written, well-presented, and indeed, important book.

www.mcfarlandpub.com

Voices from the Easter Rising: Firsthand Accounts of Ireland’s 1916 Rebellion

By Joseph McKenna

There were an awful lot of books on the Easter Rising published in 1916 for its centenary (and some of them were awful) but this book is very good and well worth a read.

Well written and well researched, Voices from the Easter Rising really does capture and put into context the voices of those who were there. I’d have to put this in the upper echelon of books on the subject.

McFarland have done a fine job on presenting the book; I liked the photos and maps and thought they complemented the text well. It is horrifying to see Dublin looking shattered and destroyed, much the same as France was at the time. It is an interesting and awful parallel, as though violence and war are plagues that can afflict humanity at any place and time.

A great achievement and one that would form the basis for a fine documentary.

www.mcfarlandpub.com

Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking: The Royal Marriages That Shaped Europe

By Deborah Cadbury

That Deborah Cadbury is an excellent writer is in no doubt. Her Space Race, telling the story of the race between America and Russia to be the first to dominate Space is truly superb, while her The Dinosaur Hunters is a gripping piece of history, and one of my all time favourite books. I cannot understand why these two books have not been used as the basis for documentaries.

Cadbury’s latest book, Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking, explores the role that Queen Victoria played as an international matchmaker for Europe’s royalty in the late 19th century. At this point Victoria had over thirty surviving grandchildren, so she certainly had a lot of potential matches to make. Sometimes these matches were successful. Others ended tragically, such as that of Nicolas and Alexandra, Tsar and Tsarina of Russia. The former Alix of Hesse brought the gene for haemophilia into the Romanov blood line, leading to the Russian Royal Family’s dependence on Rasputin for his ability to ease their son’s bleeding – which fatally weakened them, and ended in their murders at the hands of a Bolshevik firing squad following the Russian Revolutions of 1917.

This is a book that works on a number of levels. It is a fine biography of Queen Victoria and her family, but it is also a superb portrait of a by-gone age and the political machinations that formed it.

A most worthwhile book, and as with the other books Deborah Cadbury has written, it would make a superb documentary.

www.bloomsbury.com

Steve Earles

Steve Earles is author and co-author of numerous projects, including To End All Wars: The WWI Graphic Anthology, available summer 2014 (http://toendallwarscomic.wordpress.com/writers/).