Review Essay

The Liberal Lion

In This Review

Churchill: A Biography

Churchill: A Biography
By Roy Jenkins
Farrar, 2001, 1,002 pp. $40.00 Purchase

Walter Russell Mead is Senior Fellow in U.S. Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

When a critic charged that Oliver Goldsmith had written The Vicar of Wakefield for the money, Samuel Johnson is said to have replied, "No man but a blockhead ever wrote for anything else."

Roy Jenkins -- chancellor of Oxford University, former Labour chancellor of the Exchequer, and prolific author -- is no blockhead. And the enduring public interest in the greatest and most interesting Briton of the twentieth century gave him confidence that the public would welcome yet another biography of the man who beat Hitler. But Jenkins had more than money on his mind when he began work on his Churchill. This engaging, intelligent, and more than thousand-page-long life of Winston Churchill is the capstone of perhaps the most ambitious project in modern British biography: a triptych composed of lives of the three statesmen whose careers spanned the climax and fall both of the British Empire and of the Liberal Party. Jenkins' biographies of the British prime ministers William Gladstone, Herbert Asquith, and now Winston Churchill -- together with Mr. Balfour's Poodle, his 1954 account of the struggle between the House of Lords and Asquith's government from 1909 to 1911 -- give us one of the most accessible and comprehensive accounts we have of the ideology and the politics of America's great predecessor on the world stage.


This body of work is, above all, a history of Liberal Britain. Gladstone assembled the Liberal Party in the mid-nineteenth century from the remnants of the pro-free trade Peelites, aristocratic Whigs, and reform-oriented Radicals. Under Gladstone's leadership, the Liberals dominated British politics through much of Queen Victoria's long reign and were primarily responsible for the extension of the franchise to virtually the entire adult male British population. Under Asquith, who was prime minister from 1908 to 1916, the Liberals laid the foundation of the modern welfare state, prepared the groundwork for Irish independence, and reined in the power

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