Another Perspective

Churchillitis

There is such a thing as too many books about Winston Churchill.

By 4.30.07

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I have become afraid of Churchill biographies. In these uncertain days well-to-do academics, elderly statesman, and fresh-faced journalists write big books on Churchill. We read again and again how Churchill was an anti-fascist Victorian who loved grand pomp, hard work, and french fries.

How he was a happy man, though occasionally tormented by depression. We read how he served in India, fought the Mahdi Army in the Sudan, and saved Britain from the Nazis.

However, Amazon.com now counts over 27,666 books to do with Winston Churchill. My friends, Churchill was great but enough is enough.

Yes, I am afraid of Churchill biographies. Too often, after seeing the newest Churchill book in Borders, I am reminded of a comment I once heard at a dinner, uttered by a lady, who sitting beside me, had been listening to a discussion on Churchill's legacy between two clever men. She interposed with this remark, spoken in an important voice: "I think there can be no doubt that Churchill was a remarkable man."

She, too, is probably at work on a biography on Churchill. I am full of fear.

And yet, I love reading about him. But the biographer has to be someone who has led a truly adventurous and hardening life, only then will the biography have zesty narration and surprising perspectives on who Winston Churchill was. Among the "qualified" biographers I put: Roy Jenkins, John Keegan, and Martin Gilbert. Their biographies of the old "bull-dog" are first-rate. Indeed, they are classics. Illustrative, complete and concise, they brim with facts, succinctness and represent the best of "Churchillmania."

They show a Churchill genuinely absorbed in art and literature. Who loved what was fine as well as what was different. And had, too, a strong democratic and sporting side.

Churchill's life is awe-inspiring. And it is fun to throw the fist in the air, look whoever is the day's enemy in the eye, and say, "I won't give in."

He is part of our culture, but his accomplishments have been repeated so many times, his face plastered on so many book-covers, that it beggars disbelief. Churchill the Legend has morphed into Churchill the Mundane Never-Ending Commercial.

Maybe the true reason behind all this is our rotten political scene. We do not have politicians of comparable caliber, so we flee to the bookstores, rushing to purchase anything that says, yes, people this great do exist.

President George W. Bush does have Churchillian aspects. Conviction notably, but even he admits that he does not possess that most difficult of traits to master: oratory. And Winston Churchill was, if anything, a great orator.

Still, this never-ending onslaught of Churchill, Churchill, Churchill needs to stop. Desperation, boredom, I cannot put my figure on it, but our obsession is not healthy. We need to rummage around the centuries and find other great, almost contemporary, people to deify. General Charles "Chinese" Gordon? Allen Dulles? President Eisenhower? Maybe, dare I write, General MacArthur?

The pleasure-lovers, the idle, the rich gossiping do-nothings, no doubt will continue working on more re-editions of "Winston Churchill: A Life," to my, and probably a great many other people's, terror. But there is hope: over time, chances can only go up that there might emerge another.

Another Churchill, another tour de force-type politician, decent and courageous enough, who can speak so brilliantly that finally, finally, Churchillitis disappears from our collective bloodstream. Not only will that be a good day but a highly unusual one.

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About the Author

Thomas Cheplick is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist.