About this Recording
NA304712 - CHURCHILL, W.: Island Race (The) (Abridged)
English 

Sir Winston Churchill

Sir Winston Churchill

The Island Race

 

The Island Race is an adaptation of Sir Winston Churchill’s four-volume,

A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. Churchill worked on this superbly intelligent and resonant history during the years immediately preceding World War II; politically, he was then a voice crying in the wilderness, warning repeatedly of the dangers of appeasement and the need for rearmament. Some sense of the darkening world stage comes through in these pages: repeatedly he champions the cause of freedom, whether he is speaking of King Arthur (who ‘set decent folk an example for all time’) or of Magna Carta (...’here is a law which is above the King and which even he must not break’). Chapters were sent at the outbreak of war to his friend President Roosevelt, who must have been moved by Churchill’s largeness of spirit and deep love of the liberal values which the United States would also, in a few years, be called upon to defend.

 

When Churchill went to the Admiralty on September 3, 1939, ‘all this was set aside. During nearly six years of war, and an even longer period in which I was occupied with my war memoirs, the book slumbered peacefully’. Eventually, in April 1956, the first volume was published.

 

Churchill’s purpose was to show how, over the centuries, a culture, a

language, and a sense of how man might live decently and democratically, sprang from the heritage of these islands. In the full text, his material extends to colonies, Empire and Commonwealth: for this version I have concentrated on his account of the history of Britain and (largely) of England itself.

 

Not surprisingly, Churchill has a marvelous knack of capturing the great moments of British history in passages of vivid power — he was not only a serious writer but also an experienced journalist — but his accounts of complex movements and periods are remarkable for their clarity and acuteness. One has the sense always of a man who himself knew what power meant — the responsibility, the triumphs and disasters, the intricate interconnection of matters political, constitutional and military.

 

Isaiah Berlin has characterized Churchill’s historical imagination as ‘so strong, so comprehensive, as to encase the whole of the present and the whole of the future in a framework of a rich and multi-colored past...a desire to find fixed moral and intellectual bearings, to give shape and character, color and direction and coherence, to the stream of events’. This is a kind of historicism no longer fashionable amongst intellectuals. Churchill places strong emphasis on the role of great individuals in shaping events, but he also has a powerful sense of what we might call ‘destiny’, of the characteristics of a place, a people and a culture, and how they help to determine the course of history. This is essentially a romantic view: yet few historians can tell a story so clearly, and with such remarkable factual and interpretative grasp.

 

The style is at one with the approach: Churchill’s own, but owing much to classical rhetoric and to the rhythm of Dr. Johnson’s prose. It is akin to what we find in Churchill’s great wartime speeches — it has something of the color, the grandeur and the poetry of those extraordinary expressions of national will.

Churchill takes the listener from Caesar’s invasion of 55 BC to the close of Victoria’s reign. He writes as persuasively on military as on constitutional history — his account of Crècy may be more stirring than his analysis of Magna Carta, but both share a sense of the excitement of events as well as a desire to find shape and meaning. Anyone seeking to gain a swift grasp of not only the main facts but also (and perhaps more importantly) the underlying spirit of British history will find here an ideal guide.

 

Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace in 1874. Before entering Parliament in 1900 as a Conservative, he had worked as a war correspondent covering the Boer War. He joined the Liberals after a policy disagreement and helped to pioneer the introduction of National Insurance. Churchill took responsibility for the disaster of Gallipoli in 1915; after the war he helped to establish the Irish Free State. As Chancellor of the Exchequer he was active in defeating the General Strike. In the 1930s Churchill was out of office, and at odds with Conservative appeasement policy. He was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty on the outbreak of war in 1939, and succeeded Chamberlain as Prime Minister in May 1940. He led Britain through the war years to victory in 1945, only to be defeated in the General Election of 1945. He was returned as Prime Minister in 1951, resigning in 1955. His last years were lived out at Chartwell in Kent, the family home. He died in 1965.

 

Notes by Perry Keenlyside

 

About the Readers

 

A frequent reader on Naxos AudioBooks, EDWARD DE SOUZA is a familiar figure on the London stage, being one of the country’s leading classical actors. His film credits include The Thirty Nine Steps and The Spy Who Loved Me.

SIR EDWARD HEATH was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1970-74 and Leader of the Conservative Party from 1965-75. He is currently “Father of the House of Commons”, the longest serving member of Parliament. In 1992 the Queen appointed him a Knight Companion of the Most Noble Order of the Garter.

 

 


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