Few books that I have read have made a deep impression on me. Atlas Shrugged was one that did and The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer was another. But, other than those two, I have read only a few books that really stuck with me after I read them. While I enjoy reading most books that I have read and reviewed, only a few stand out as particularly memorable. The Last Lion, a three volume biography of Winston Churchill is the most recent one that struck me as exceptionally powerful and changed my outlook on life, history, and politics.
In his three volume magnum opus, The Last Lion: Visions of Glory, The Last Lion: Alone, and The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm, William Manchester charts Winston’s Churchill’s entire life. From his youth in Victorian England to his 2nd Prime Ministership during the waning days of the British Empire and early days of the Cold War, Machester paints an incisive picture of Churchill’s life. His decisions, thoughts, eccentric habits, methods of writing and speech preparation are all covered, along with many other aspects of Churchill’s life.
That life was one that changed the world. Without Churchill, all of Europe might have remained under the cruel thumb of the Gestapo. Had Churchill not defended the West, we might never have woken up to the threat posed by the Soviet bear. Were Churchill never born, then Victorian England would have lost its last and staunchest defender.
He was a writer that shaped our view of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a politician that almost singlehandedly started the rearmament process in time to resist the odious Nazi regime, a magnificent speaker who inspired millions and instilled in them the will to fight, and a military mind who, like Flavius Aetius, remained a military genius fighting for his homeland and empire long after that empire had seen its best days. By “[mobilizing] the English language and sending it into battle,” Churchill was able to save the Western world multiple times from the clutches of tyranny.
That’s the image of Churchill painted in all three volumes of The Last Lion. He was a man with his faults, but a man to whom the entire world is indebted. Without him, the dark night that settled over most of Europe and Asia throughout much of the 20th century might never have been defeated.
In this review of The Last Lion, I will summarize each of the three volumes and then give my thoughts on why it is a work worth reading, why it is a biography that will change your outlook on life and give you hope for the future. These are dark times, times that try men’s souls. But, as long as there are men like Churchill out there, men willing to do whatever it takes to preserve the Western spirit, there will always be a light at the end of the tunnel.
Summary of The Last Lion by William Manchester
Volume 1: The Last Lion: Visions of Glory
Victorian England might have been the best time in human history to be an English-speaking human. It was certainly the most glorious period of history for the vast British Empire.
Britannia ruled the waves, the sun never set on the British Empire, the sight of Her Majesty’s red-coated (and then khaki-clad) troops inspired fear and respect in every nation they set foot in. British gold powered the world’s economy, British ships protected the world’s trade routes, and English inventors pulled the world forward. Pomp led to magnificent displays of English wealth and power, it was safe to travel most anywhere, and exotic climes the world over were tamed by the power of the Lee-Enfield rifle, the Maxim gun, and English railroads.
That glorious time period was the world Churchill was born into. His father, a Member of Parliament and descendent of the Duke of Marlborough, and his mother, a wealthy socialite from New York, gave birth to one of the greatest men the world has ever seen in 1874, the height of British power.
But young Winston, as the first volume of The Last Lion shows, was not exceptional from the start. He struggled at his boarding schools, barely got into Sandhurst, and was generally unremarkable. Yet he was able to overcome those early struggles as he became a young adult. His writing ability, vast knowledge of history, and immense capability to read and retain information allowed him to thrive as a cavalryman for Her Majesty’s armed forces.
As he matured while a cavalryman in India, Churchill discovered his knack for writing. His dispatches from the Spanish war against Cuban revolutionaries gave him his first minutes of fame, his articles from the front in Northern India gave him a lasting name in English newspapers, and his participation in and articles about the River War fight against the Mahdi’s army in Sudan cemented his position as one of the greatest writers in the Empire.
From that promising start, Churchill transitioned to politics. He began as a conservative member of Parliament and quickly rose to prominence because of his gift for powerful oratory and also was able to push through much-needed reforms. During that time, he didn’t give up his many writing projects. He published books, wrote a multitude of opinion articles, and even travelled to South Africa and participated in the Boer War, where he was captured and escaped a Dutch prison. As in the other wars, Churchill was noted for both his bravery and masterful command of the English language.
Then tragedy struck: the Great War began and a generation of the finest men in the British Empire were slaughtered as they ate barbed wire in Flanders. Those lions led by donkeys were slaughtered en masse by German bullets. Churchill, as the head of the Admiralty, tried to prevent that slaughter. He pushed forward the tank project, which broke the stalemate on the Western Front, and designed projects such as the invasion at Gallipoli.
But that invasion failed and Churchill was blamed. Pushed out of the Admiralty, he did what he felt was his duty and went to fight in the trenches of the Western Front, fighting and suffering alongside his countrymen.
Churchill then returned to Parliament, where he did what he could to fight for the Empire’s interests, in Ireland and farther abroad, throughout the post-war period.
Volume 1 of The Last Lion delves into all of those events and more in an engaging way. Lasting from 1874 to 1932, it covers Churchill’s rough childhood and the first part of his career, where he came into his own and became one of England’s staunchest, if also most controversial defenders. From his earliest days as a cavalry officer, he was attracted to glory and sought it out on battlefields around the world and in Parliament, fighting for both himself and his country. The Last Lion: Visions of Glory shows why Churchill became the man he did and what aspects of his life put him in a position to become the most important man in the Empire.
Volume 2: The Last Lion: Alone
The Last Lion: Alone is about the time period that Churchill called his “Wilderness Years.” From 1932-1940, Churchill was left practically alone in Parliament. He was not a member of the Conservative or Liberal Party and fought back tirelessly against the pacifist policies of the government.
During that time, the world became a dark place. The Empire, bled white by the Great War and left with its Exchequer empty, struggled to maintain its place of prominence. Hundreds of naval vessels were decommissioned, the Army was cut to almost nothing, and even the RAF was starved for resources. At the same time, the Nazis rose to power in Germany, fascists took over Italy, Japan launched genocidal campaigns of aggression in China, and the Soviet Union became one of the most powerful nations on the planet.
Problems, such as the Nazi threat, could have been strangled in the crib. Millions of deaths could have been avoided. But Englishmen had lost their will to fight. Distraught and disillusioned by the slaughter of the Somme and the horror of Passchendaele, they couldn’t bring themselves to rearm and stand up to the Nazi threat. Hitler broke the terms of Versailles and began to rearm and reassert Germany’s position in the world, but the British were unwilling to intervene.
Well, all of the English except for Churchill. As is recounted in The Last Lion: Alone, Churchill remained a lone voice of sanity in Parliament. While his colleagues cut Britain’s armed forces to the bone, Churchill demanded that England rearm and defend the world from the threats posed by the Soviets and Nazis. He railed against Soviet tyranny, eloquently described the threat posed by Nazi Germany, and used his private network of informants to show the Empire that it was falling behind Germany. The Empire could have been saved by a few interventions and a few millions spent on rearmament, but cowards like Chamberlain were unwilling to do so.
As a result, tragedy struck yet again. Emboldened by their seizures of the Rhineland, Austria, and Czechoslovakia, the Nazis invaded Poland and sparked World War II.
The Wehrmacht crushed Poland and blitzed France, but England, left defenseless by Chamberlain’s policies was unable to intervene.
The Last Lion: Alone ends with Churchill becoming Prime Minister during England’s darkest hour. Its troops were trapped at Dunkirk, its Navy was falling apart and unable to protect vital imports from U-boats, and invasion of the British Isles appeared imminent. It was a dangerous position, one that few men would have stepped up to rectify. But Churchill did. All of his past experiences had prepared him for the battle that was to come.
Volume 3: The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm
The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm covers 1940-1965, but most of it is about World War II. The events described in many World War II books I have reviewed over the past year, An Army at Dawn, The Two-Ocean War, Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945, The Rise of American Air Power: The Creation of Armageddon, Blitzkrieg: The Long Armistice to the Fall of France, American Betrayal, Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, D-Day by Stephen Ambrose, and others are all covered in-depth by Manchester and Reid.
Throughout all of those struggles, Churchill was able to persevere. Even as London was bombed to rubble by Heinkels and Buzz Bombs, while the Army was beaten back in North Africa and Greece, when Singapore and Hong Kong fell, and when it appeared that Britain might not be able to import vitally needed foodstuffs and arms, Churchill remained a fighter. Always appeared the optimist, he flashed his characteristic “V for victory” when England was left alone and invasion could have happened at any time. He set Europe alight and fought on even when Britain was almost out of the fight.
Thanks to his perseverance, the world was finally able to wake up to the threat of Nazism and fight back. Churchill cajoled FDR, negotiated with Stalin, and did whatever he could to assure England’s ultimate victory, whatever the cost.
His words during that time period, especially his “Fight them on the Beaches” speech, inspired Britons to regain their fighting spirit and step forth into the breach once more. The Empire’s coffers were empty, its Air Force attritted down to a few squadrons, and its Army defeated on the Continent, but Churchill kept fighting. The result was victory.
But his countrymen were ultimately ungrateful. They cast him out of Downing Street in 1945, once the war in Europe was won, and replaced him with a socialist that brought the Empire to its knees. Industries were nationalized, hard-won territories were given up, and the Soviet Bear was left free to gobble up all of Eastern Europe.
That time period was Churchill’s final battle. He spoke out against the dangers of socialism, woke the West up to the Soviet threat with his “Iron Curtain” speech, and was ushered back into the Prime Minister position by Britons tired of the rationing and stagnation caused by Attlee’s socialist policies. Despite his old age and the tremendous sacrifices he had already made, Churchill stepped up for his beloved empire once again, fighting with all his strength to save it in its final days.
He couldn’t fully succeed, the world had changed too much for colonialism to remain viable, but he did save England from the socialist menace before finally retiring.
Churchill was by no means perfect. He was rude to his staff, viewed the world through the prism of a hierarchy of races, and did little to help or protect even his most loyal subordinates. But he did save the world during its darkest days, not once, but twice. The Last Lion tells the tale of how he was able to do so.
Why You Must Read The Last Lion
The world is again facing ominous clouds. The Chinese Dragon is rising and owns most of the American system. Terrorism has shaken our view of liberty and small government to its core and the wars against it have drained our treasury.
But all is not lost. We just need a man like the Churchill described in The Last Lion. We need a man committed to a vision of Western greatness and who is willing to defend that greatness. Churchill remained a staunch defender of Victorian ideals, even when it was unpopular to do so.
We need someone who recognizes Western greatness and is willing to fight for it against the Chinese threat and evil specter of radical Islamic terrorism.
The Last Lion shows how such a man can come to exist and who to look for. We don’t need a pure partisan or a charlatan that makes promises he has no intention of keeping. Instead, we need someone who is accomplished and willing to fight for that which he believes in. Churchill stood alone for eight years. He was attacked and denigrated, slandered and badgered for his enduring commitment to British greatness and the need to rearm. Hopefully, America can find such a defender.
These are dark days. America’s power is waning, as the British Empire’s was. We aren’t committed to a common vision for the future anymore and our military power has attritted far too much. We need to find our Churchill, someone who can mobilize men and words to fight against evil.
The Last Lion is excellent. It’s inspiring, full of information, and will give you hope for the future. Read it. It will fill you with a spirit and vision of greatness.
I’m a different person for having read The Last Lion. You will be too. It’s a masterpiece about one of the world’s greatest men, someone who constantly entered the arena rather than merely criticizing from the sideline. Read The Last Lion so that you’ll learn about, and perhaps become more like Churchill, someone who we should all try to emulate.
I’d like to end this review of The Last Lion with two quotations from it. I think they’ll give you a view of what the world could be like and how Churchill thought:
“Then out spake brave Horatius, the captain of the Gate: ‘To every man upon this earth death cometh soon or late. And how can man die better than facing fearful odds, for the ashes of his fathers and the temples of his gods?” –Macaulay, Lays of Ancient Rome
“History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days.” -Winston Churchill, from a speech in 1940
Be like Churchill in The Last Lion. Even if it means dying fighting for the memory of your forefathers and their gods, your gods, do so. Rekindle the glory of those older days, whatever the price. There’s no better way to go down than with a sword in your hand.
By: Gen Z Conservative