Monday, December 11, 2017

Book Review: Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard

Candice Millard knows how to tell history like nobody's business. She really is truly top-notch. And yet she isn't in the pantheon of historical biographers: Chernow, Isaacson, and Meacham. And I think it's because she's found a more unusual, more interesting niche for herself. Could she write a straightforward biography encompassing all of Winston Churchill's life and make it utterly fascinating and compelling readable? Without breaking a sweat. Yet, she takes it a step beyond that. She takes on not a super-obscure or super-well know subject. She takes on a super-well known subject and finds an obscure but pivotal time in his life (they've all been hims so far) and elucidates that moment. Yes, with President Garfield, the moment of his assassination wasn't as obscure (although as far as her subjects go, he's the least known), but to cover Theodore Roosevelt's amazon exploration and now Churchill's time in the Boer War, she manages to cover something not bizarrely tiny and far-flung, but something significant and yet overlooked. Those sorts of topics take a keener eye.

In this book, young Churchill sets out to make a name for himself, after having decided he wants to go into politics, but failing the first time he tried. He knows without some major accomplishment in his life, ideally a military one, he will always be in the shadow of his father, and will have his work cut out, trying to gain a foothold in British government. So when war breaks out in South Africa, he is super eager to go. So much so that he signs on as a reporter (he is a good writer and he doesn't want to get killed) to go right away. And while there, he is captured along with a a troop he was embedded with. Two men come up with an escape plan, and Winston hears about it and wants in. But when it came time to execute it, Winston was separated from the other men, and ended up being the only one to actually escape. Which is not so good as he only had a couple of chocolate bars and his name. He didn't even know the rest of the plan to get back to British-held territory, and he also now had zero supplies. So what he thought would be a heroic escape became suddenly quite perilous and nearly was his undoing.

I learned so much although I fear I will never, ever truly understand the Boer War despite efforts to do so. (Was first inspired upon reading The Forsyte Saga.) And it was a tad dense for audio perhaps, as I didn't notice at the time, but upon reflection back I think I missed some things. But it was a rip-roaring escape story, but one with consequences and real history at stake.I wish she'd write faster, but she does such terrific research, I can see why each book takes a while. Still, I wish she had a ton of backlist I could dive into.

I checked this eaudiobook out of the library via Overdrive. 

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