Book Review | The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932 by William Manchester

There are few political leaders that have captured my imagination like Winston Churchill does. William Manchester not only tells the story of what is perhaps Britain’s greatest prime minister, he does it in fantastic detail. I’ve read complaints that Manchester uses perhaps too much detail, but I could not have enjoyed it more.

Manchester paints a picture of life at the end of one era–the Victorian–and beginning of the next, the Edwardian. Churchill’s life straddled change in eras, and Manchester doesn’t just write Churchill’s biography, but a history of the time that is full and vibrant. Churchill isn’t just a great leader, but a product of both the past and the future. His lived as colorfully and dangerously as any writer could have imagined, in spite of a beginning that was marked by comfort and wealth.

Born to a wealthy aristocratic family, Winston was raised by a nanny while his father and mother (an American) were off gallivanting with the nobles of England. Along the way, Winston proved to be a poor student and got himself kicked out of several schools. Never close to his father–if at all–Winston would write pleading letters to his mother to come visit him during the years he would spend at prep school. His father died young after being marginalized from a career that put him on the threshold of England’s prime minister-ship.

The family’s wealth mostly squandered, Winston was required to find a career, unique from his aristocratic peers who were used to living off of their families’ wealth. He had always had an interest in the military, and he pursued a career that combined writing and military action, utilizing his mother’s influence in the aristocracy to go where the action was. He saw action in Afghanistan and Sudan, and he sent home breathtaking accounts to the newspapers that catapulted him into the nation’s consciousness. When he was taken as a POW in the Boer War, and escaped, he became a celebrity.

And it only gets better. Winston would feed himself by his pen for the rest of his life, writing articles, stories, books, and even publishing an entire newspaper during a nationwide general strike. He served as First Lord of the Admiralty at a time when Britain ruled the waves and the British Navy was unrivaled on the seas. Though later blamed for the disastrous Gallipoli campaign, Winston would be a remain force to reckoned with in the House of Commons throughout his life. Winston would levy powerful rhetoric in defense of his allies and against his enemies, giving “impromptu” speeches after hours of preparation the night before.

This first volume of the biography covers the first fifty-eight years of Churchill’s life, up to a time when many politicians would be entering the twilight of their careers. Faced with setbacks and defeats, Churchill himself switched parties twice over the course of his career. With yet, his greatest hour, and Britain’s, would come later with World War II.

I look forward to reading the next volume in Manchester’s trilogy.

The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932 Book Cover The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932
The Last Lion #1
William Manchester
Biography, History
April 1, 1984

When Winston Churchill was born in Blenheim Palace in 1874, Imperial Britain stood at the splendid pinnacle of her power. Yet within a few years the Empire would hover on the brink of catastrophe. Against this backdrop, a remarkable man began to build his legacy. From master biographer William Manchester, The Last Lion: Visions of Glory reveals the first fifty-eight years of the life of an adventurer, aristocrat, soldier, and statesman whose courageous leadership guided the destiny of his darkly troubled times—and who is remembered as one of the greatest figures of the twentieth century.

About Daniel

Daniel Burton lives in Salt Lake County, Utah, where he practices law by day and everything else by night. He reads about history, politics, and current events, as well as more serious genres such as science fiction and fantasy. You can also follow him on his blog where he muses on politics, the law, books and ideas.

  • Sounds fantastic. I love Winston Churchill, so this would be a great read. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • I sure enjoyed it, even if I have to use the caveat that I’m a sucker for this kind of thing. I hope you do, as well, paijslater, and I hope you’ll come back and let us know your take once you’ve dipped into it.

  • Emily

    The second volume is AT LEAST as good as the first.

    • I’m excited to hear it. Have you started the third, too?