The first 30 years of Winston Churchill’s life subverts your impression of the powerful, confident, alcoholic, jowly, overweight prime minister. I appreciate the candid nature of this autobiography, from admitting the assistance he received from his powerful rich parents, to his jealousy of the Oxford/Cambridge educated, and his initial fears of public speaking.

Winston begins by describing his childhood and schooldays, growing up an aristocrat in Dublin, distant from both parents, but especially his politician father. Independent and rebellious from the beginning, Winston preferred playing outside to studying with his governess, and grew particularly close to his long-time nanny. As an adult, he called her his dearest and most intimate friend for his first twenty years. When he moved to school in England, he remained undistinguished, never quite seeming to find a reason to obtain grades above barely passing.

Seeking adventure, Winston joined the cavalry (the infantry required higher marks), first as a soldier, and soon after also as a war correspondent. He delivers stimulating accounts of battle in Cuba, India, the Sudan, and South Africa. When he was taken prisoner in the Boer War, he makes a solo escape, solidifying his war reputation and setting the stage for a political career that now lives in infamy. Although more than any man’s fair share of action and hard times lay ahead of him, I am impressed how much the young Winston lived enough for almost an entire lifetime, and still came out of his initial war service eager and interested in the world. My attention did wane during some of the less action-y war bits, but I was easily re-engaged.

Recommended for Anglo-philes, those interested in the end of the Victorian era, battle stories, and of course, the man himself, Winston S. Churchill.

“Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realise that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.”