Finest Hours, By Max Hastings

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The Independent Culture

Churchill during the war must be the most thoroughly ploughed field in British biography, but the incomparable Max has achieved a near-miracle. His account of the great warlord is excitingly told and, as Andrew Roberts has pointed out, endowed with "fresh stories".

It is a portrait in the round of a man who "thrilled to the cannon's roar", yet was deeply moved by the cost. With forensic skill, Hastings exposes Churchill's defects: "dictatorial, eloquent and muddle-headed," according to Leo Amery.

We learn of the "second Dunkirk" in 1940 when Churchill would have condemned 200,000 men of the British Expeditionary Force to "death or captivity" were it not for Alan Brooke's insistence on retreat. Yet Churchill took the right decision. This is a terrific portrait of a flawed giant.