The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History
From London’s inimitable mayor, Boris Johnson, the New York Times–bestselling story of how Churchill’s eccentric genius shaped not only his world but our own.
On the fiftieth anniversary of Churchill’s death, Boris Johnson celebrates the singular brilliance of one of the most important leaders of the twentieth century. Taking on the myths and misconceptions along with the outsized reality, he portrays—with characteristic wit and passion—a man of contagious bravery, breathtaking eloquence, matchless strategizing, and deep humanity.
Fearless on the battlefield, Churchill had to be ordered by the king to stay out of action on D-day; he pioneered aerial bombing and few could match his experience in organizing violence on a colossal scale, yet he hated war and scorned politicians who had not experienced its horrors. He was the most famous journalist of his time and perhaps the greatest orator of all time, despite a lisp and the chronic depression he kept at bay by painting. His maneuvering positioned America for entry into World War II, even as it ushered in England’s postwar decline. His open-mindedness made him a trailblazer in health care, education, and social welfare, though he remained incorrigibly politically incorrect. Most of all, he was a rebuttal to the idea that history is the story of vast and impersonal forces; he is proof that one person—intrepid, ingenious, determined—can make all the difference.
great careers: had he not been knifed by Harold Macmillan in the 1960s, Rab Butler might have been Prime Minister. In 1940 he was a junior minister, and a strong supporter of appeasement. Here is what he had to say about the ascent of Churchill: ‘The good clean tradition of English politics has been sold to the greatest adventurer of modern political history,’ he was heard to say. ‘Surrendering to Winston and his rabble was a disaster and an unnecessary one’, mortgaging the future of the country
was a further reason why so many people looked at him in this way, as the natural man for the moment. They knew that throughout the amazing snakes-and-ladders of his life he had followed the pattern of Randolph not just in his ducal disdain for party or his Homeric desire for glory but in his willingness to back himself and his ideas—to take risks that no one else would take. In peacetime, such behaviour can be disastrous. But you can’t win a war without taking risks, and you won’t take risks
protectors as they performed their astonishing aerobatics, sometimes bringing down the enemy, sometimes crashing in dreadful blazes or heaps of tangled metal. Week after week they had a clear sense of what was at stake: that this attack on the RAF was the prelude to a full-scale invasion of Britain. They had every reason to think that they were next on Hitler’s itinerary of conquest. It is sometimes said that Churchill exaggerated the threat of invasion, to promote national cohesion and get the
complained Churchill. ‘It’s the victories that are so hard to get.’ It wasn’t just at Norway, Dunkirk, Greece and Crete where British forces perfected the manoeuvre that might be known as the ‘rabbit’ or headlong scuttle. The year 1942 was even worse, with a dismal series of debacles that began in the Far East with the sinking of the Prince of Wales and the Repulse. Then there was the fall of Singapore, when Churchill wrote to his generals specifically instructing them to fight to the last man
so many men, so many men. We should have done better.’ When he heard of the fall of Tobruk, he said, ‘Defeat is one thing; disgrace is another.’ His ego had become entirely engaged and identified with British military success—which made it easy for his rivals to torment him. ‘He wins debate after debate but loses battle after battle,’ said the Labour MP Aneurin Bevan, brutally, in the House of Commons; and indeed, public anxiety became so acute that Churchill’s own domestic position actually