Thursday, October 25, 2012

Mr. Churchill's Profession

Peter Clarke’s new Winston Churchill biography, Mr. Churchill’s Profession, focuses on a less often explored side of the man who will always be best remembered for his defiance of Adolph Hitler during World War II.  This is a book, as the subtitle clearly states, about “the statesman as author.” Not having much considered this aspect of the great political figure’s life before, I was pleased by how revealing a portrait of the man such a focus makes possible.

Winston Churchill became a published author in 1898 and, for the rest of his life, the bulk of his income would be provided by his writing – not by the political offices to which he was elected.  Even as a young army officer, Churchill considered himself as much writer as soldier, and used family influence to attach himself to several military campaigns as a war correspondent.  The money he earned from newspapers and from repackaging the articles into books allowed Churchill and his widowed mother to maintain a lifestyle that would otherwise have been impossible after his father’s death.

Churchill’s parents enjoyed a lifestyle that always seemed just barely – if never completely - within their means of paying for it.  Randolph Churchill placed his own personal pleasure above any obligation another father might feel for educating his sons for the future.  So, in lieu of spending money on a better education, Randolph steered his son toward a military career and left it up to Winston to educate himself as best he could.  Unfortunately, although Winston did do a remarkable job of educating himself, he also inherited the spendthrift ways of his parents.

Peter Clarke
Randolph Churchill died still a young man and, after Winston’s mother largely ran through the remainder of the family fortune, he relied upon his writing income to support them until his mother remarried.  But an income tax loophole and his need to publish as often as possible combined to put Churchill on a writing-treadmill that he would spend his lifetime trying to dismount.  The tax code allowed taxes on book advances (which were extraordinarily large in many cases) to be deferred for three years, with one-third of the resulting tax obligation payable in each of the three years following receipt of the cash.

Churchill, barely making ends meet as it was, depended on advances for future books to pay the taxes on those already written.  This trap would keep him writing at full speed for the rest of his life in order to keep himself one year ahead of the tax man.  The speed at which he had to write frustrated Churchill’s publishers, impacted the quality of his work, and changed his writing habits. 

The “book that defined the ‘special relationship” between Britain and the United States is, of course, Churchill’s A History of the English Speaking Peoples.  Churchill originally contracted for the book in 1932, but the rise of Hitler, Churchill’s duties as Prime Minister during World War II, and financial pressure to write other books first, meant that the four volumes would not be finished until the 1950s.  The special relationship defined and explored in A History, although weaker now than at anytime in the last several decades, has lasted through a long succession of prime ministers and presidents.

Mr. Churchill’s Profession has succeeded in showing a side of Winston Churchill not usually explored in a Churchill biography.  It is a worthy edition to the Churchill story and a book that amateur historians will want to read.

(Review Copy provided by Publisher)


  1. Churchill has been popping up on my radar a lot lately. Also his parents. This looks like a good read.

  2. Susan, I think this is one you would enjoy. It's a unique approach to the biography of a major historical figure, but it really surprised me with what it reveals about the man's personality and day-to-day concerns.

  3. I don't think there can ever be too many books on this man, or Theodore Roosevelt.

  4. I haven't read all that much on either Churchill or TRoosevelt, Nan, so I found this take on Winston's life to be an interesting one...all new, and fresh to me.