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The Fight for Freedom
What do Winston Churchill and George Orwell have in common?
Thomas E. Ricks’ interesting dual biography with a straightforward title “Churchill and Orwell” tries to find out.
Spoiler alert: the answer is in the subtitle.
Who Should Read “Churchill and Orwell”? And Why?
Naturally, dual biographies are less thorough than those focusing on a single person, but, almost as a rule, they are also much more interactive and enjoyable.
So, “Churchill and Orwell” will be interesting not only to those people who like to find out more about either of these great men but also to those who are interested in trivia and connections, as well as the story behind the stories.
About Thomas E. Ricks
Thomas E. Ricks is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist whose main focus is national security and the military.
A member of Harvard University’s Senior Advisory Council on the Project on U.S. Civil-Military Relations and Book Review’s military history columnist, Ricks has reported on military activities in countries as diverse as Macedonia, Kosovo, Bosnia, Korea, Turkey, Haiti, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
Ricks has authored seven non-fiction books, the most famous among which are his bestsellers on the Iraq war, the 2006 “Fiasco” and the 2009 follow-up “The Gamble.”
He has won two Pulitzer Prizes for National Reporting as part of the teams of the “Wall Street Journal” (in 2000) and “Washington Post” (in 2002).
“Churchill and Orwell PDF Summary”
“One day in the 1950s,” writes Thomas E. Ricks in his dual biography “Churchill & Orwell,” “one of Churchill’s grandsons poked his head into the old man’s study.
Is it true, the child inquired, that you are the greatest man in the world?
Churchill, in typical fashion, responded, ‘Yes, and now bugger off.'”
One of the greatest British prime ministers in history and the man who kept Britain’s spirit up during the Second World War, a great rhetorician and a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill may not have been too far off with his self-assessment.
In fact, Britain seems to share his opinion even today!
Namely, in 2002, a BBC television poll voted Churchill the Greatest Briton in history, ahead of figures such as Sir Isaac Newton and John Lennon, ahead of Charles Darwin and Shakespeare!
The second guy to make an appearance in Ricks’ title is nowhere to be found on that list.
Which is surprising, since at least two of his books are still widely acclaimed and he was ranked by “The Times” as the second-best British writer since 1945.
All in all, we are obviously in the company of giants here!
However, it wasn’t always like that!
In fact, the lack of any recognition is the only fate Orwell and Churchill – two historical colossi nowadays – shared for years before the Second World War.
Case in point:
Frederic Herbert Maugham, United Kingdom’s Lord Chancellor during the year and a half before Germany attacked Poland, suggested that Churchill should be “shot or hanged” on account of his crazy ideas that Hitler is… well, crazy.
You see, Britain, believing that it is not sufficiently armed to oppose Hitler – and wanting to avoid war at all costs – appeased the German chancellor year in year out by making constant material and political concessions.
Churchill was one of the very few dissidents in his Conservative Party who didn’t like this one bit.
And who didn’t believe Neville Chamberlain when in September 1938 he proclaimed to the British nation that he has made a deal with Hitler which should bring “peace for our time.”
And then, one year later… it didn’t.
If Churchill was a pariah among the Conservatives, the “lower-upper-middle-class” Orwell was an outsider among the leftists.
He spent most of his early life hating people like Churchill. And when we say “like Churchill” we mean “Churchill included.”
But, then again – not many liked Churchill before he became Churchill.
What changed Orwell’s opinion was his involvement in the Spanish Civil War. He went there as a reporter, but Hemingway-like, he soon conscripted to fight for the leftist government.
However, once he returned to Great Britain, he was shocked at the half-truths and the lies the public was fed with:
I saw great battles reported where there had been no fighting, and complete silence where hundreds of men had been killed. I saw troops who had fought bravely denounced as cowards and traitors, and others who had never seen a shot fired hailed as the heroes of imaginary victories; and I saw newspapers in London retailing these lies and eager intellectuals building [emotional] superstructures over events that had never happened.
So, Orwell wrote “Homage to Catalonia,” a book which so openly criticized the Communists in Spain that Orwell’s publisher Victor Gollancz refused to publish it and “the Communist vendetta” against it resulted in it being sold in no more than 900 copies.
However, as we now know, Orwell and Churchill, the pre-War outcasts, were in fact right all along.
The whole world wasn’t.
And, according to Ricks, that’s exactly what they have in common.
Not the fact that they went against the grain, but the fact that their independence and intelligence provided them with both intellectual acumen and personal integrity to do so.
For Churchill and for Orwell, true enough was never enough – they wanted to see the world as it is, and act accordingly:
The struggle to see things as they are is perhaps the fundamental driver of Western civilization. There is a long but direct line from Aristotle and Archimedes to Locke, Hume, Mill, and Darwin, and from there through Orwell and Churchill to Martin Luther King writing his ‘Letter from Birmingham City Jail’. It is the agreement that objective reality exists, that people of goodwill can perceive it, and that other people will change their views when presented with the facts of the matter.
Key Lessons from “Churchill & Orwell”
1. Against the Grain Thinking Comes with Both a Price and a Medal
2. Rewriting History vs. The Pursuit of Objective Reality
3. Churchill and Orwell Shared the Same Views on the Art of Writing
Against the Grain Thinking Comes with Both a Price and a Medal
It’s easy to think nowadays that Churchill and Orwell were always the guys history remembers today.
The truth is that during the last few years before the Second World War, their critical and against-the-grain visionary thinking marginalized them to a little more but unassuming laughing stocks.
According to John Newsinger, Orwell’s anti-communist “Homage to Catalonia” “made virtually no impact whatsoever and by the outbreak of war with Germany had sold only 900 copies.”
On the other hand, Churchill’s opposition to the policy of appeasement of Germany propagated by the Conservative Party resulted in him being considered a warmonger, a silly politician, and definitely not a team player.
However, Churchill went on to become the Greatest Briton in history, and the then-socialist Orwell is still lauded today as one of the first who foresaw the dangers of the Communist ideology.
Rewriting History vs. In Pursuit of Objective Reality
“History will be kind to me,” remarked Churchill once, “for I intend to write it.”
Similarly, Winston Smith, the main character in George Orwell’s book “Nineteen Eighty-Four” – who purposefully shares his name with Britain’s Prime Minister – works as a clerk in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth and constantly rewrites historical documents to match the current party policy.
However, Orwell and Churchill – at least according to Thomas Ricks – became who they are for the exact opposite reasons: they saw the world as it is.
No stereotyping, pink glasses, no subjective biases.
And that made all the difference.
Churchill and Orwell Shared the Same Views on the Art of Writing
Even while overseeing a sprawling war of survival,” Ricks notes at one place, “Churchill paused to coach subordinates on writing.
Because he sincerely believed that what you say is intricately linked with how you say it.
Write in short, crisp paragraphs, avoiding long words and leaving out everything non-essential.
In other words: an abridged version of George Orwell’s much more famous 6 rules for writing:
#1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
#2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
#3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
#4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
#5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
#6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.
Interestingly enough, of the two, Churchill would be the one who will end up with a Nobel Prize for Literature “for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values.”
Orwell died just a year after he published 1984 – and he wasn’t even nominated.
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“Churchill and Orwell Quotes”
Orwell once commented that ‘whether the British ruling class are wicked or merely stupid is one of the most difficult questions of our time, and at certain moments a very important question.’ Click To Tweet
Our Critical Review
“Churchill and Orwell” is a highly enjoyable book, but also one which might have been a better one if it was actually two books. Churchill and Orwell never met, and they are just too few similarities between them to grant a dual biography.
However, even though we believe that Ricks should have written a book on Truth and used Churchill and Orwell as foundations (instead of the other way around), we still had a great time reading this wonderfully written tribute to two people Simon Schama rightly deemed “the architects of our time.”
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