Friday, September 28, 2007

The Churchill Series – Sept. 28, 2007

(One of a series of weekday posts on the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

Readers Note: There were three comments in response to yesterday’s series post: One from a frequent commenter and good friend of this series, Corwin, and two from Sir Martin Gilbert. I added a fourth. I encourage you to take a look at them here.

This is the second post of a two-part series focused on the work of a great historian and Churchill’s official biographer, Sir Martin Gilbert.

Yesterday’s post included Gilbert’s account of how, as a young researcher, he became involved with the work on Churchill’s biography whose author then was Churchill’s son, Randolph. When Randolph died, having completed just the first two volumes of what became an eight-volume work, Gilbert was selected to complete the biography which he did twenty years later with the publication in 1988 of Never Despair.

I also included in yesterday’s post this link to Gilbert’s net site and a wonderful post in which he wove events in his life into brief descriptions of the 72 works he’d then completed. Gilbert's post links to further information about each of the works.

Gilbert’s post is a great service to me and all of you. It spares me having to summarize his works and it spares your having to read my summaries.

“Thank God for the Internet,” you’re all saying. “And wrap this up, John, so we can get to Gilbert’s net site.”

OK, folks, I’ll just briefly note two aspects of Gilbert’s writing that keep drawing me back to his work.

1) Gilbert lets facts speak for themselves. When writing about the Holocaust, for example, he avoids the long, repetitious paragraphs many Holocaust historians use telling us the Holocaust was horrible.

Instead, Gilbert provides details of how, for example, a particular “researcher” convinced Nazi authorities in his city to turn Jewish children over to him for medical experiments. Gilbert names countless individual Holocaust victims. He describes their lives before they fell under the Nazi evil. He details how most were put to slave labor, tortured and murdered; and how some few of them endured, survived and went on to live lives that testify to the best that’s within humanity.

2) Many historians fall into one of two categories: There are the ones who embrace what’s sometimes called “the great man” approach. They write about kings, courts, congresses and the like. And there are those historians who’ll tell you individuals hardly matter. History’s all about groups, forces, and the like.

Gilbert falls into neither category. He understands why Hitler, Churchill, Roosevelt, and de Gaulle mattered, just as he understands the importance and power of social, psychological and political forces.

Gilbert can thus tell us how Hitler fused such forces as anti-Semitism, social despair and nationalism into Nazism, and how outstanding leaders and tens of millions of people acted with intelligence and courage to counter Nazism and nurture another force – freedom.

I've said enough. Now visit with Gilbert and have a nice weekend.

I hope you’re all back Monday.