Review for

As much as I like him, I have to say it: this is *not* Churchill at his best. He lacks any personal connection with the material, and he comes off as little more than a school-teacher. (Or a school-boy.) Elsewhere I find him to be almost the model of a literary historian, but here I must with sadness say that Sir Winston's "Classical" education did not always serve him well at every turn. He really did a much better job writing about men less remote in time from himself: like his own ancestor, John Churchill (Marlborough). Here, there is little to distinguish him from anyone else writing in all the biases of the old, the ossified, and the Classical: an unkind word about the Saxons here, a bit of pedantic Greek-ness there...and the rest...(He has this thing against the Dread Saxons, pre-Alfred-the-Great, after that, he gets all stuffy every time he has half-a-chance to mention The Great Place Called Wessex...And he of course sings of the praises of the Common Law as compared to what he calls "Roman" law, fine, but when he was doing Roman Britain, he went on and on and on about how the Romans had this, that, and the other thing, all of which made them better than the primitive heathens, but he never mentions, 'but their laws were crap'...)I mean, there really are alot of wierd generalizations--wide, yawning gapes in reasonable speech which open like some dread, mile-wide precipice, or something equally hyperventilating--Savage Saxons! Remarkable Romans! Prosperous Christians! Barbaric Heathens!--not to mention, that the prose sometimes lapses into tedious, and the whole "let's prove....by quoting...." thing that Churchill just isn't suited for. (Occasionally he even insists on quoting what fourteenth-century Johnny said in raw, untranslated, and unintelligible Middle English.) But it's only mediocre-average, if you learn to ignore the bad bits.......And yet, disappointing. Even in approval, Sir Winston comes off as being patronizing not-too-infrequently, and, God, considering how poorly some of it is written, it would have been nice if he could have cut away some of the deadwood, and gotten through it all a bit faster. Writing for a general audience, sometimes it just does not do to linger too long in the dim mists of distant centuries....the Vikings fought no battles upon the Boyne, after all... In short: not totally terrible, and it has its moments--he does a relatively good job with Alfred the Great, for example {although I suppose he doesn't bother with Brian Boru}-- but it's also rather disappointing, on the whole. And, just to add, it seems like long streches of the book are supposed to teach you about the origins of the English system of common law, or something, but Churchill isn't really the guy for that. He doesn't really do long-term trend lectures very well, and he wastes too much time trying: he could have just focused on the personalities and their stories, since that's his natural talent...but sometimes he even mucks that up, since he's not exactly the sort to have his finger on the pulse of medieval intrigue, if you follow. (And, then again, all attempts at characterization are perforce thwarted when the narrative consists of an endless string of names.)It drags on so long, the flaws get kinda dragged out, until you start to see it as more half-baked, than merely second-rate. And the part about the Third Crusade just makes you feel like you've walked in on some boyish school-project. (Sorry, Sir Winston.) I mean, the histrionics about the heroics of Richard "Coeur De Lion", absentee landlord extraordinaire--who sold half the kingdom so he could go off on an inspiring voyage to find faith and fight infidels, who left the country in the charge of corrupt relatives and clownish regents while he was gone, who was so skilled in battle that he got captured and needed a ransom that bankrupted whatever bits of England he hadn't already mortgaged to bankroll his wars, and who was so grateful for all that, for all that service his country had rendered unto him, that he immediately left for his Norman provinces and built himself a nice little castle in France, which he called the "Château Gaillard", as a little present to himself, I guess, for being so perfect. (It got captured a few years later because the English presence in Normany was strategically untenable, no matter how much money they wasted building castles there.) So "Coeur De Lion" had the reverse Midas touch, but no matter how much he wrecked, he got away with everything because he was the hero and the "Crusader". *This* is the guy Sir Winston wants so much to be King Arthur, that he literally invites him to sit at some mythic Eternal Round Table, you know, in a chummy sort of way. But maybe it was meant as "humour"--some of it actually was kinda funny. You know, like when he called Edward I, the Hammer of the Scots, "a master-builder of British life". And you know what else? There are too many campaigns narrated which, unlike the exploits of Marlborough, seem to me to lack both strategic relevance and narrative cohesion--and in the case of Crécy we are snowed over in a sea of detail which is merely tactical in nature, and this in a book which has the rather large object of narrating a thousand years or so of history. (And compare with Brunanburh, which is dismissed with vague hyperbole.)And yes, the story of how the Genoese crossbowmen got fucked over by their French employers (at Crécy) is kinda cute...but that's really just *another* problem: Sir Winston has this annoying habit of making these rather barbaric medieval gorings sound a wee bit more cute than they really were... Some people criticize the amount of space Churchill devotes to the American Civil War in 'The Great Democracies', but I do not share that complaint. I find his account of that war to be rather well-ordered, complete, and, not least, relatively restrained, given the lakes of ink and the reams of paper some have sacrificed recalling that particular bloody fiasco. But here, amid the dim and dusty roads of France and Flanders, not too far, he takes care to tell, from the Somme and all that, he races along with his longbow-toting hordes of conquering Englishmen, and seems to lose his balance: he forgets to keep his foot on the brake. But to be fair, he does do a good job with Henry V, (with a little help from Shakespeare, which admirably recalls his use of a line of Byron's in 'The Age of Revolution'), and so he has a good chapter on Henry the Fifth to go with his good chapter on Alfred the Great, and these two stand as islands in the storm, so to speak, because the rest does not live up to the competence reached here, and there. Indeed, Churchill does himself credit by being able to draw a picture of Henry's sins (his suppression of the Lollards) as well as his crowning triumph (Agincourt). But the rest, as I say, does not measure up, and it is, indeed, cruelest irony that Sir Winston should take note of the failings of one of England's greatest kings, Henry the Fifth, and yet blind himself to the many failings of one of her worst kings, the so-called "Coeur de Lion". Look, all I'm saying is, it could have been a three-volume series, beginning in 1485. No, really: Volume I-- The New World, Volume II-- The Age Of Revolution, and Volume III-- The Great Democracies. There is no fourth volume; it's apocryphal. (6/10)
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