The point of The Churchill Factor is that one man can make all the difference.
On the eve of the 50th anniversary of Winston Churchill's death, Boris Johnson explores what makes up the 'Churchill Factor' - the singular brilliance of one of the most important leaders of the 20th century.
Taking on the myths and misconceptions along with the outsized reality, he portrays - with characteristic wit and passion - a man of multiple contradictions, contagious bravery, breath-taking eloquence, matchless strategizing, and deep humanity.
Fearless on the battlefield, Churchill had to be ordered by the King to stay out of action on D-Day; he pioneered aerial bombing, yet hated the destruction of war and scorned politicians who had not experienced its horrors.
He was a celebrated journalist, a great orator, and won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was famous for his ability to combine wining and dining with many late nights of crucial wartime decision-making. His open-mindedness made him a pioneer in health care, education, and social welfare, though he remained incorrigibly politically incorrect. Most of all, as Boris Johnson says, 'Churchill is the resounding human rebuttal to all who think history is the story of vast and impersonal economic forces.'
The Churchill Factor is a book to be enjoyed not only by anyone interested in history; it is essential listening for anyone who wants to know what makes a great leader.
©2014 Boris Johnson; Published in association with Churchill Heritage Ltd. (P)2014 Hodder & Stoughton
Winston Churchill needs no introduction and, in the UK, nor does Boris Johnson, but perhaps he does elsewhere. Boris is one of those few people who are known to all by their first names – if you mention Boris over here, everyone will assume that it's this Boris you mean unless you specify otherwise. A leading light in the Conservative Party, he has been the Mayor of London for the last six years and is strongly tipped in many quarters to be a future leader of the Party and possibly a future Prime Minister. This is pretty spectacular for a man who is best known for being exceptionally funny on panel games, having a silly hairstyle and being an upper-class buffoon who would fit in well in the Drones Club. But that public persona doesn't quite hide the other facts about Boris, that he is a highly intelligent, extremely knowledgeable and articulate man, whose political ambitions reach to the very top. Prior to going into active politics he was a political journalist and editor so he knows how to write entertainingly and engagingly. You may already have guessed that I have a huge soft spot for Boris – it's just unfortunate he's as right-wing as Mrs Thatcher. But it's that ability to camouflage his views under his larger-than life personality that enables him to attract voters who wouldn't normally vote for his party.
In this book, Boris sets out to try to discover what made Churchill into the man who is considered to have been crucial in the British war effort. He does this with his usual panache, making the book hugely enjoyable and filled with humour, which doesn't disguise the massive amount of research and knowledge that has clearly gone into it. He makes it crystal clear that he admires Churchill intensely and, because he's so open about it, his bias in the great man's favour comes over as wholly endearing. In fact, this reader couldn't help feeling that Boris sees Churchill as something of a role model, and that his desire to understand how Churchill achieved all that he did is partly so that Boris can emulate him – hopefully not by becoming a great leader in another World War though! (Though I suspect Boris might be a little sorry he missed the last one...)
In each chapter, Boris looks at one aspect of Churchill's life – his childhood, his writing, his early army career in the Boer War, etc. – and analyses it to see what we can draw from it in terms of what made Churchill tick. Over the years, Churchill has had as many detractors as admirers, and Boris takes their criticisms of him head on, dismissing them with his usual mix of bluster and brilliance. That's not to say he brushes over the big mistakes in Churchill's career, but he puts them into context and finds that he consistently acted in accordance with his own convictions. (If only we could say that about many of today's politicians.) This didn't always make him popular but, had popularity been his main aim, he probably wouldn't have stood out so strongly against coming to some accommodation with Nazi Germany at the point where Britain stood isolated and close to defeat. Boris makes it clear that he believes that it was Churchill, and Churchill alone, who carried the argument in the Government for Britain to fight on, and who was crucial in persuading the US to finally become involved.
Although there is a considerable amount in the book about WW2, as you would expect, there is just as much about Churchill's achievements and failures both before and after. In a political career that stretched for over 60 years, he was involved to one degree or another in all of the major events in the UK, and indeed the world, from the 1900s to the 1960s – the Boer War, WW1, the establishment of Israel, the abdication of Edward VIII, the decline of the British Empire, the rise of the Soviet Union, the formation of the Common Market (now European Union). Boris shows how he was often at first a lone voice, perceptive through his deep understanding of history and politics, with other people dismissing him until he was proved right (or occasionally wrong). He also shows how Churchill was capable of changing his mind over time and admitting to it – for example, over women, where their contribution to the war effort persuaded him they should be entitled to rights he had previously argued against. A conviction politician certainly, but not hog-tied by it.
There's so much in the book that I've missed out far more than I've included – Churchill's writing, art, speech-making, personal bravery, etc., etc. It is however a surprisingly compact read considering the ground it covers. It's not a full biography – it doesn't set out to be. Boris has selected those events and episodes that he feels cast most light on the character of the man and what formed it – the Churchill Factor, as he calls it. It's brilliantly written, as entertaining as it is insightful and informative, and I feel it casts nearly as much light on the character of the author as the subject. For anyone who still thinks Boris is the buffoon he plays so well, this might come as a real eye-opener. And for those of us who already know that, like the iceberg, the important bit of Boris is the bit you rarely see, this reminds us that we better decide soon if we really want to buy tickets for the Titanic.
As if two huge personalities aren't enough for one book, I listened to the Audible audiobook version, which is beautifully narrated by actor Simon Shepherd, who has one of the loveliest voices known to man (or woman) and the perfect rather plummy accent for this kind of book. It's a great narration that does full justice to the book – held my attention throughout, which doesn't always happen with audiobooks. In fact, I found myself frequently doing that 'just one more chapter' thing which normally only happens with the written word. Going to bed each night with Winston, Boris and Simon has been a lot more fun than you might imagine...
NB This audiobook was provided for review by Audible UK.
I wanted to know more about one of the greatest leaders of our time warts and all and this book delivers in spades. I was glued to this audio book, it made my travel journeys to work most enjoyable. I would happily recommend this booh to anyone.
I liked understanding what made Churchill who he was and what he had to face in this countries most difficult times.
Churchills day to day activities during the war.
Churchill remembering the little people, his nanny, when she died.
I would listen to this audio book again and again.
Absolutely. Thoroughly entertaining.
There is only one!
I enjoyed the narration however it is such a shame Boris didn't read.
The never-ending and colossal impact, achievements and humour of WSC make emotion inevitable.
More Boris! But please read your own books!
Dr Dinah Parums. I am now retired and have always been an avid reader of fiction, non-fiction and biography. Audible have widened my range.
Yes, I would listen to The Churchill Factor again and plan to do so.
I cannot compare this book with any other, as it is rather unique.
It is not an in depth academic biography of Churchill, in the style of Roy Jenkins or Martin Gilbert.
Instead, it is a mixture of social history, an insight in to the mind of its author, Boris Johnson and an attempt, by references to modern popular culture, to remind us of the importance of Winston Churchill and his continuing relevance to society today.
Simon Shepherd is an excellent narrator and does a good job in bringing in some Boris-style tone.
I did listen to this at one sitting and intend to do so again.
It would have been wonderful to hear Boris Johnson narrate his own book. Perhaps, next time.
For people who want more insight in to the intelligence and intellect of Boris Johnson, this is a good route.
I think this biography will be very popular and much appreciated, not just for its insight in to Winston Churchill, but also for its insight in to the author.
Not really, the only disappointment about this was that Boris did not read it himself. How awesome would that have been! It is a superb and entertaining bio of the man and of the period, told in the way only Boris could create.
There are two main characters - Churchill and Boris. This is a personal analysis of WC to such a degree that you learn as much about BJ as you do WC, I think.
It was ok, a bit sloppy in a couple of places where he seemed to stumble a little bit; the first time I have noticed this in an audio book and it was a bit of a surprise, but it didn't spoil it at all.
Boris' Bio of the original British Bulldog Politician
Judith Corstjens Author of: Xtensity, Why 5% of Dieters Succeed; Storewars: The Battle for Mindspace and Shelfspace; Strategic Advertising
I found this account of Churchill gripping for the whole 12 hours. It is not a blow by blow biography, but an exploration of Churchill's character and place in history, over a 90 year life and 65 year career. Johnson makes a good case that Winston S. Churchill himself really did change the course of history. People do matter at critical junctures (corollary: we should chose our politicians with care).
Boris Johnson does his level academic best to be objective and critical, but his admiration and affection for his subject shine through despite himself. (And well they might - we need a few heroes in this world.) I'm not enough of a historian to be able to comment on the quality of Johnson's research or conclusions (far from), but I can give a personal aperçu of the authenticity of the picture Johnson paints. My (late) mother grew up in England during the war years, and must have imbibed deeply of the Churchillian spirit via the radio and newspapers of those times, because through this book I could see how much she had absorbed of Churchill's philosophy. Maybe it was the spirit of the age, or maybe it was him, but the sense of the importance of the individual, of freedom, of some things being worth fighting for, of a certain conception, that je ne sais quoi, of quintessential Englishness (Oh, and humour, irony, wit), reminded me so often of my mother, of things she had thought worth repeating to me, that I'm convinced Johnson has captured the spirit of the man and his times, and how he spoke to ordinary British people.
The latter chapters cover Churchill's actions and speeches on Europe, the Middle East and Communism, which are interesting background to the current situations. None of it is dull; all written with verve and pace.
Narration: I gave Simon Shepherd five stars, for doing a fine job, but I would have dearly liked Boris to have read this himself. However, I do understand that Boris has a couple of other jobs, and has to delegate some tasks.
Very interesting to learn more about Churchill's history but as it goes on, it gets more and more heavily biased towards peddling Boris Johnson's political opinions including issues like the EU referendum. Gets a bit unbearable towards the end. Decent but probably won't listen to again.
This is my first book by Boris Johnson. I bought it, not because of the author (being Belgian, I know him only because of the "Boris Bikes"), but because I'm a great admirer of Winston Churchill.
Having read a number of books about the great man, I'm quite surprised about the quality of the information contained in this book. It's a very good summation of all that is/was Churchill, bad and good alike, even if M. Johnson is a bit of an apologist concerning the "bad stuff".
I even got a glimpse about the reasons (that I really couldn't understand previously) why Brits have so many problems with the EU.
All in all, a very enjoyable book: serious, but not too much so; at times funny and at others emotional; factual, but with a (not so?) slight tint of admiration (that I share myself); well written and well read. What more to hope for?
This was my first book by Boris Johnson.
It won't be my last.
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