David Reynolds is Professor of International History at Cambridge University and a Fellow of Christ’s College. He is author of two prize-winning studies of Anglo-American relations in World War Two – The Creation of the Anglo-American Alliance, 1937-1941, and Rich Relations: the American Occupation of Britain, 1942-1945 and One World Divisible: A Global History since 1945.
In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War
Churchill won the Second World War twice over. He led his country to victory, in his inimitable ‘bulldog’ style. Then, when it seemed it had rejected him in 1945, he spent most of his time as Leader of the Opposition, fighting a war of words with his monumental six-volume history, The Second World War. It was the ultimate achievement in what today we call ‘spin’. To this day, our view of the decisive battles, the major players, the key battlegrounds, and the reputation of the man himself, is a product of Churchill’s literary power, current political expediency and overriding personal need to write his own history.
David Reynolds reveals the fascinating yet surprisingly unknown story of Churchill’s war memoirs for the first time. He carefully unpicks the rhetoric by drawing on a huge amount of previously unpublished archive material, drafts and correspondence. He reveals a pre-war tactician, ensuring that Cabinet Office case law would enable his future use of official documents. He describes a former and future Prime Minister with political games to play, world leaders to mollify and the Cold War to win. He shows how Churchill as author was obliged to conceal the work of the Enigma code breakers, but chose to ignore the Red Army’s decisive contribution to the land war in Europe. He took licence with chronology, his decisions on what to include or omit are often highly personal, and occasionally he is simply muddled – leading in one case to inaccuracies about the development of the atomic bomb.
Churchill did not write two million words over ten years – some as serving Prime Minister – unaided. Reynolds reveals exactly how much research and writing ‘the Syndicate’ – his six-strong team of researchers – contributed. The Second World War was the biggest publishing phenomenon of its time, published in fifteen countries with extracts in some fifty newspapers and magazines across forty countries. Churchill was an exasperating author, demanding paid holidays, nail-biting deadlines and last minute revisions. The books made his fortune and won him the Nobel Prize for Literature and ensured that, as politician and writer, he truly was in command of history.