Thursday, April 26, 2007


Sometime towards the end of third grade, I got sick. I was going to be confined to my bed for days. Dad moved the TV into my bedroom.

Did you ever notice that some things in life never vary? For instance, if you turn on the television set and it’s a really good program, then it’s just ending. -- Or if it’s bad, then it’s just starting. I think it’s the law.

Now, if you’re sick, and you have 24 hours to watch, all of the programs will be bad. -- Or the good ones will come on when you’re sleeping and end just as you wake up. It’s the law.
To keep me happy, Dad and Mom went to the library and brought me a bunch of children’s books. One of them was a picture book about Daniel Boone.

I read it. I couldn’t stop. This was just as good as the TV show (Disney’s Davy Crockett)! I watched the clock. I couldn’t help it. Inevitably, the big hand came to the half hour. I don’t know what I expected. Maybe the book would vanish in a cloud of dust or something. If the TV is showing something really good, it always ends when the big hand reaches the half hour. It’s the law.

Anyway, the big hand reached the half hour but I decided to cheat. I kept reading. Something would surely happen to make me stop, but until then the story would continue. Nothing happened, a momentous nothing.

I made two discoveries: (1) there are no time limits on reading and (2) history books are interesting. Reading a history book was as interesting as watching any TV show. And it didn’t end just as you started it, especially if you went to the adult section and got a really thick, big book! As a bonus, I didn’t get into trouble for reading!

In that first batch of books was “The World of Captain John Smith” by Genevieve Foster. I asked, “What is this?” My mom answered, “He’s a little like Davy Crockett, isn’t he?”
It’s all these years later and I can’t forget that book. Foster was a famous children’s author in the forties and fifties. She wrote what she called “horizontal history.” She took a person’s life and then wrote stories from around the world during the time that person lived. The person served as an anchor on which she based a general history of the world during that lifetime.
Within a short period of time, I had read every one of her books that I could get my hands on. She’s largely forgotten now. Such a shame!

For all these years I’ve wondered why anybody else didn’t pick up on this approach to writing history. And why was this just for children?

1964 marked a divide for me. My interest in history led to the history that was currently happening on television and in the newspaper. I followed the election news avidly. The years since have been “current events” to me. I remember watching them on TV or reading about them as they happened. Before 1964 was “history."

This volume is about that period just before that year of the divide. The man to anchor the story on is obvious.

In the 1890’s he was already famous in the fields of war, sports, and journalism. In the 1900’s he became one of the leading liberal reformers in the world. When World War I began, he was head of the British navy. When it ended, he was head of the British Army. In the Roaring Twenties he was head of the British treasury. In World War II he was one of “The Big Three” Allied leaders. In the Cold War he was Prime Minister and the world’s leading anti-Communist. He rounded out his career with the Nobel Prize in Literature.

He’s Winston Churchill.

He was one of the greatest writers of the century. His interest in painting led to close connections to the art world. Science, movies, sports, war -- his story touched all these areas.
Want a travel story? His escape from a South African prison and trip across the wilds of the continent established his reputation.

Want a crime story? As Home Secretary he oversaw Scotland Yard. Documentaries still show newsreel footage of him directing gun battles in London.

Want a love story? There’s his marriage, the topic of such movies as “The Gathering Storm” starring Albert Finney and Vanessa Redgrave. There’s also the abdication crisis when the king gave up his throne for the woman he loved. One man risked his career and his reputation for him: Churchill.

In addition to his individual qualities, there’s another reason why this volume will devote considerable space to Churchill’s immediate world and British affairs.

During this period of history Britain is the established, though fading superpower. The United States is emerging. After World War I, it again turns inward. Russia fades in and out, too. In 1904 it is licked by the Japanese. After World War I, it is consumed by the Revolution. Only in World War II does both powers come into their own. Britain is down but under Churchill it is not out. During this period, the British Empire was the major influence on world history and Winston Churchill was the major influence on Britain’s.

This story begins with the Victorian Age at its height. Europe dominates the world. In the United States, Wild Bill Hickock, Billy the Kid, Bat Masterson, and Wyatt Earp roam.
It ends with the Space Age and Vietnam.

Franklin Roosevelt once told him, “It’s fun just being in the same century as you.” With a new century, we can no longer say that. It’s just fun. That’s the attitude behind this book.

Excerpt from a book in progress. Churchill Stories.