Monday, October 13, 2008

The Churchill Series – Oct. 13, 2008

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

If you read Series posts often, you know Sir Martin Gilbert is Churchill’s official biographer whose eight-volume life of the great man other historians have termed “magisterial.” Gilbert’s also written acclaimed histories of the Holocaust, both WW I and II, and Israel.

Gilbert’s a very decent person skilled in the art of clear, but sensitive, correction.

You'll see that as you read excerpts from a review of Gilbert’s one-volume Churchill: A Life, followed by Gilbert’s corrections of the review.

From Noel Taylor’s review first published in the Ottawa Review and hosted now at the Churchill Centre's Web site here - - -

In the expanded attic room of Martin Gilbert’s Victorian house in London there is a desk, 30 feet long and U-shaped, which has held in its working career much of the life of Winston Churchill.

Gilbert, a cheerful academic on a sabbatical from his Oxford college which started 20 years ago and has never finished, rides round the desk’s rim on an office chair with wheels, sifting the evidence, saving what he conservatively estimates at 10 per cent for future reference.

The desk is spread at different times with archives, official and personal, and some of the 5,000 letters which Winston wrote to his beloved wife, Clementine. …

Gilbert himself did not have an official assistant for years — "I couldn’t afford one" — until enough money was sprung loose for a graduate researcher on a three months’ trial. He married her.

"We both read all the documents (most of which are photo-copied because of the risk of loss). I write my next chapter and [Suzie] reads it and points out anything I may have left out. Sometimes she suggests re-writing." The eighth volume is dedicated to her; the new book, to his two children. …

Gilbert muses on what Churchill would have made of such technology. "He was infatuated by everything technological" — and that included the work of the Wright Brothers and the introduction of the tank in the First World War." …

Now Gilbert’s comments - - -

"While it would be churlish to cavil at such a nice review, may I point out that (1) the room is on my first floor (USA 2nd floor), not in my attic; (2) my chair is firmly rooted to the floor; (3) Suzie was my third, but obviously my best, research assistant; (4) our three children, Natalie, David and Joshua, will be happy to know that the new book is dedicated to all of them; (5) I think it would be more correct to say that Churchill was ‘fascinated’ rather than "infatuated" with technology. None of which takes away from Mr. Taylor’s many kind remarks."