Visions of a wartime leader
When Gretchen Rubin decided to write about Winston Churchill, she found that some 650 biographies of Britain's wartime leader had already been published. Nevertheless, she went ahead in an effort to make sense of conflicting evidence about one of the men responsible for saving the civilized world from Nazi Germany. In Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill, she has assembled a fast-moving slideshow of literary portraits of this bold statesman whose self-assuredness, egotism and ambition were evidenced by his prediction: "History will be kind to me for I intend to write it." Some of Churchill's biographers, however, were not charitable to the great diplomat, and Rubin pits the favorable views against the disparaging ones. This technique makes for some startling contradictions when considering such topics as Churchill's youth, sex life and politics. Perhaps Churchill's greatest strength was his use of words. With his oratory, he braced Britain against the bombs and rockets that killed 60,000 of its civilians. Yet, in private conversation, he was considered a bore. When he began to talk at a meeting with Roosevelt, the exasperated president passed a note to an aide: "Now we are in for one-half hour of it." A few other eyebrow-lifters: Churchill had no university education but won the Nobel Prize in literature. He spent most of his adult life in debt but depended on a valet to tie his shoelaces and dry him after bathing, and never did without expensive liquor, cigars or pale pink silk underwear. Rubin previously wrote Power Money Fame Sex: A User's Guide, a book that offered strategic advice on helping the ambitious prevail a theme on which Churchill could easily have expounded. Her new book is an accessible study of one of history's most fascinating figures.