Historians at the Helm

As I read (really, listened to as a book-on-CD) a recent short biography of Winston Churchill by Paul Johnson, I found myself thinking about the two historian-leaders of the modern era in the West — Churchill and Theodore Roosevelt.  Both were remarkable leaders and remarkable historians.

Churchill’s lifelong output of the written word was, according to Johnson, about 8,000,000 words, counting his speeches, magazine articles and so on.  Giving me credit for the third book I have written but not yet published on Aaron Burr’s western expedition and treason trial, that leaves me roughly 7,700,000 words behind.  Churchill’s is a staggering output.  But not only the volume is staggering, but the quality.  I think I tried to read some of them as a boy, inspired by my Churchill-admiring father and the impressive appearance of his multi-volume works, but I don’t think I got very far.  I know I have read none of them since adulthood.

An impressive element of Churchill’s writing is that he made money at it — a lot of money.  Indeed, his books and magazine articles were the basis of his fortune, and bailed him out of several bad investments.  I doubt multi-volume histories would sell very well today, but President Obama’s family wealth is based on his writing.  Both of his books — Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope — continue to sell well.

So, does history writing produce better statesmen?  Does the study of past mistakes sharpen the ability to chart policy in torubled times?  I suspect so.  Thoughtful political leaders are all interested in history — both for whatever complicated lessons in leadership it provides, but also for explanations for how things got to be the way they are.  Few individuals have the ability to write good history and become a political leader.  A rare combination, and evidently a potent one.

In any event, Churchill’s works include (listed below this photo of the history writer as Young Stud) – 

      • Churchill.jpgThe definitive treatment of World War II, for which he made a sweetheart deal with the British government (of which he was then prime minister) to have first crack at internal and otherwise classified material.  (The Second World War, still in print, in six volumes)
      • A four-volume treatment of the run-up to and the First World War, which is now available only in abridged form, or as a used book.  (The World Crisis)
      • A multi-volume account of the life and times of his ancestor from the early 18th century, John Churchill, the first Duke of Marlborough.  (Marlborough, His Life and Times, still in print.)
      • A lengthy examination of shared American, British, Canadian, and Australian history, which covers only four volumes.  (The HIstory of the English-Speaking Peoples).
      • A variety of accounts of his own experiences as a young soldier and adventurer in the Sudan, South Africa, and everywhere the Union Jack flew.  (e.g.,
          • NEXT POSTING:  The Historical Writings of TR! 

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