Ministers at War: Winston Churchill and His War Cabinet

In This Review

Ministers at War: Winston Churchill and His War Cabinet
By Jonathan Schneer
Basic Books, 2015
352 pp. $29.99
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Schneer has pulled off quite a feat: he has said something original about Winston Churchill as a wartime leader and has done so in a lively and readable book. The basic story—of how the United Kingdom’s coalition government formed in 1940 and how it held together until the Allies defeated Germany—is familiar. But Schneer’s telling makes the tale fresh, owing to his compelling portraits of Churchill’s cabinet members and his emphasis on the importance of postwar planning. The story features some remarkable characters, such as the imperialist Lord Beaverbrook, who became the fiercest advocate of mounting a second front to support the Soviet Union, and the austere socialist Sir Richard Stafford Cripps, who at one point during the war seemed poised to mount a credible threat to Churchill’s leadership. Schneer stresses the vital contributions that Labour members of the cabinet made and highlights Churchill’s skill in managing such a disparate group. His account also helps explain why Churchill lost his post in 1945, despite his personal popularity: British voters wanted a strong welfare state and feared that a Churchill victory would mean a return to the Conservatives’ less generous pre-war social policies.

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