Bloomsbury, £25

Mr Churchill's Profession: Statesman, Orator, Writer, By Peter Clarke

Adventures of a hack author who composed his nation's destiny

Shortly after the end of the Second World War, "Tommy" Lascelles, private secretary to King George VI, persuaded Winston Churchill to accept the Order of Merit. Churchill, with a characteristic mixture of vanity and impish humour, asked whether he owed the award to his achievements in the political or the literary world. Lascelles replied that he would let people work that out for themselves.

Of course, Churchill's literary achievements would never have earned him the Order of Merit, let alone the Nobel Prize for literature, if he had not also been Britain's greatest wartime prime minister. All the same, writing – journalism, history, autobiography – mattered to Churchill. For a start, it paid the bills. His constant scramble for money was often undignified. As a young cavalry officer, he resorted to Indian money lenders: "most agreeable, very fat, very urbane, quite honest and mercilessly rapacious". On a lecture tour of America, he performed in private houses "like a conjurer". The purchase of a large country house at Chartwell in Kent 1924 was crucial to his literary career in two senses. It provided a place in which research assistants could gather to staff "the word factory", but the need to pay for the house also forced him to keep writing at a frenetic pace. In the late 1930s, Churchill's earnings from his pen were 30 times greater than his parliamentary salary.

Like many compulsive writers, Churchill had a compulsive need to be noticed. His father, a meteor who flashed across the late-Victorian political world, once remarked that politicians were now advertising themselves like "Holloway's pills or Coleman's mustard". The young Winston grew up knowing that he needed to turn himself into a brand name but also desperate to attract attention. After having pointlessly exposed himself to enemy fire when a war reporter, he wrote: "given an audience there is no act too daring or too noble".

Clarke is particularly interested in Churchill's History of the English-Speaking Peoples: published in the 1950s, but on Churchill's mind for 20 years. The idea of the Anglophone world always mattered to Churchill and he was one of the speakers at the foundation of the English-Speaking Union in 1918. Unlike many men of his age and class, he could not really express himself in any language except English. Lord Curzon was capable of giving an impromptu speech in Latin.

Perhaps it was also because of the need – perceived during the First World War – to knit Britain, its settler dominions and the US together. This was an alliance in which "English-speaking" sometimes sounded suspiciously like a synonym for "white". Clarke insists that Churchill was "never an Anglo-Saxon racialist in the genetic sense". In one sense, this is true. His life revolved around alliance with the French. All the same, race played a large role in his thinking. Even before the First World War, he talked in terms of "Russian power, the yellow races, the Teutonic alliance and the English-speaking peoples". The choice of words is interesting, as are the quite substantial sections of humanity excluded. Anyone reading his Iron Curtain speech – with its reference to the "strong parent races of Europe" – should remember that it was delivered in Missouri, a place where racial segregation was ruthless enforced.

This book has many virtues. It ranges widely, draws on great erudition and is often written with panache. However, it also a rather ramshackle work: neither a clear synthesis nor an original piece of research. I got the sense of a book knocked off rather quickly with an eye on the appeal that the Churchill name has in the American market, and that Clarke was relying too much on his reputation. His book is, in short, rather like many of Winston Churchill's.

Richard Vinen's most recent book is 'Thatcher's Britain' (Pocket Books)

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect