I stumbled across the book, Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a
Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard because the author is a graduate of Baylor. Having married into the Sic ‘Em Bears cult I see things pop up on my social media feeds
about Baylor grads, and when I saw that a Baylor Bear had Amazon’s nonfiction book of the year for 2016 I took notice. As I noted in a previous post, I listened to this book on Audible, and got through most of it in one day.
First, I had a lot of familiarity with Winston Churchill before I read this book, but this was the first time for me to read a book about him. Always before Churchill has been one of a cast of characters of a book I was reading, not the protagonist.
Second, I knew absolutely nothing about the Second Boer War. In fact, I didn’t know there were two. I did not know what a Boer was. I didn't know the Boer War was fought in Africa. All I could have said was that once, at some point in history, there was a Boer War.
Churchill is one of the most important people of the last century. It is hard to overestimate his value, but one of the truly remarkable things about him is just how truly talented he was. He was an avid painter whose level of talent was debatable, and he was a prolific writer. His writing far surpassed his work as a painter, even if you are of the mind that he was a quality painter. As always he was confident in himself saying, “My literary talents do not exist in my imagination alone.” He was sent to Africa during the Second Boer War as a war correspondent. Among other correspondents to go to Africa at this
time were Rudyard Kipling and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Churchill was in such demand that he was the best paid correspondent of them all. Conan Doyle would later refer to him as, “The greatest living master of English prose.” Pretty strong words coming from the creator of Sherlock Holmes.
Churchill’s lust for fame and glory was largely due to this being the necessary platform upon which one had to build a political career if you really wanted to go far in England. In the words of Millard he wanted to be in the Boer War because this war, “Could make heroes out of men, and members of parliament out of heroes.” It seems a little crazy that if you had ambitions as big as Churchill’s you had to dangerously risk your life to gain the necessary reputation. Then again, I look at our last two presidents and think maybe the English were on to something.
Churchill’s wit was something to behold. One of his friends rashly married a woman and quickly regretted it. Churchill spent some time thinking through the situation with him trying to find a way out of the mess he had made, but ultimately he said, “I could suggest nothing better than murder, and there are objections to that of course.”
Churchill’s relationship with religion was adversarial at times, and he despised organized religion. He was not an atheist, but his views on God had little in common with orthodox Christian faith. Yet, when he escaped a prisoner of war camp and was on the run in enemy territory he prayed, in his words, “Long and earnestly.” There was nothing like a conversion at all, but even a cocky young Winston Churchill found room to accommodate a higher power when things seemed bleak.
I loved this book. I give books that I read a 5 star rating about 10% of the time. This one made the cut. I do wonder if part of my enjoyment was helped because I was able to immerse myself in this book like I am rarely able to do. I hear that is really how you are supposed to read a book. I think the people that suggest that don’t have jobs, spouses, or small children.
How many stars did I give this book on Goodreads? 5
In what format did I consume this book? Audiobook
Did Winston Churchill make it out of enemy territory? Yes, if you don’t know that already I don’t know what to tell you.