Himself a hero, he expected others to show themselves heroes also, and was often disappointed. It is little understood how low his popularity fell in 1942, amid an unbroken succession of battlefield defeats. Some of his closest colleagues joined a clamour for him to abandon his role directing the war machine.
Hastings paints a wonderfully vivid image of the Prime Minister in triumph and tragedy. He describes the ‘second Dunkirk’, in 1940, when Churchill’s impulsiveness threatened to lose Britain almost as many troops in north-west France as had been saved from the beaches; his wooing of the Americans, and struggles with the Russians. British wartime unity was increasingly tarnished by workers’ unrest, with many strikes in mines and key industries.
By looking at Churchill from the outside in, through the eyes of British soldiers, civilians and newspapers - and also those of Russians and Americans - Hastings provides new perspectives on the greatest Englishman. He condemns as folly Churchill’s attempt to promote mass uprisings in occupied Europe, and details ‘Unthinkable’ - his amazing 1945 plan for an Allied offensive against the Russians to liberate Poland. Here is an intimate and affectionate portrait of Churchill as Britain’s saviour, but also an unsparing examination of the wartime nation which he led and the performance of its armed forces.
Max Hastings studied at Charterhouse and Oxford and became a foreign correspondent, reporting from more than 60 countries and 11 wars for BBC TV and the London Evening Standard. He has won many awards for his journalism. Among his best-selling books, Bomber Command won the Somerset Maugham Prize, and both Overlord and Battle for the Falklands won the Yorkshire Post Book of the Year Prize. After 10 years as editor and then editor-in-chief of the Daily Telegraph, he became editor of the Evening Standard, in 1996. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, he was knighted in 2002.
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Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By J on 13-11-14
Superbly written and delivered
If you could sum up Finest Years in three words, what would they be?
Thorough, compelling, entertaining
Who was your favorite character and why?
Churchill, with his big heart and indefatigable energy, dominates this book. A flawed leader, maybe, but a giant among his peers. He never went to University and took three attempts to pass the Sandhurst entrance examination and yet he put his well educated colleagues in the shade when it came to vision and strategy. What if Churchill had died during his reckless Boer War escapades or his experimental flights in pre WW1 planes? This book reminds us of the debt we owe to WSC.
Have you listened to any of Barnaby Edwards’s other performances? How does this one compare?
This is my first Barnaby Edwards performance and the narration is absolutely superb. His impersonations of the various characters are perfect and, for a moment, you think you are listening to Churchill himself.
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
In a world gone mad with hatred, oppression and disregard for human life, Churchill stood out as a man of compassion. His heart for his enemies was remarkable.
Any additional comments?
This book is superbly written and expertly narrated. Production of the narration is as good as I've heard and Barnaby Edwards' theatrical ability makes the book a compelling read. Profoundly disappointed to have finished it - must look now for another Hastings / Edwards combination.
9 of 9 people found this review helpful
By Alistair on 08-11-15
A Fine Biography Of The Finest Years
What made the experience of listening to Finest Years the most enjoyable?
Winston Churchill is certainly a man of whom several biographies have been written but I feel that Finest Years is one of the best I have ever read. The audio version narrated superbly by Baranaby Edwards made it much more enjoyable by allowing the listener to have a much stronger grasp of Max Hastings's points.
This specifically applied to areas where Hastings discussed certain battles or strategic decisions for an extended period of time as it became much easier to follow without being in danger of forgetting what was being discussed.
Regardless if it was elements of The Battle Of Britain, American involvement or Churchill's failure to understand he was being either ignored or played by Stalin I as a listener could follow the book even when it went into extensive depth unlike other books on the topic where I had to listen to certain sections multiple times.
Which character – as performed by Barnaby Edwards – was your favourite?
Edwards is possibly one of the most 'true to life' Churchills I have ever heard. It felt sometimes like they had used the actual recordings themselves as he truly convinced you that Churchill himself was persuading you to invest troops in a particular plan - or during more personal moments - was asking those around him if he was liked as a man.
Churchill was personally a very flawed and old-fashioned figure with his own bias and beliefs that the majority of his public - even those in his own party - knew would not and could not work. Despite this Edwards manages to make you not only sympathize with his position but understand why he believed it. I congratulate Edwards on an excellent narration.
Any additional comments?
This book was one of the best biographies - be it of Churchill or otherwise - I have ever read. Hastings does a maverllous job of explaining each decision in just the right level of depth and enabling the listener to understand the consequences without talking down to them. Because of this book I just recently purchased Hastings's book on World War II spies and espionage and look forward to it greatly. Both the book itself and the perfect narration get a 10 out of 10 from me. You will not regret getting this book.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Jean on 11-09-14
Full of perceptive insight
Max Hasting well known British historian attempt to take a realistic view of Winston Spencer Churchill. The author has written a subtly revisionist account of Winston Churchill during the war. Hasting has taken a different method of looking at Churchill that is by looking at him through the eyes of others at the time. Hasting used diaries, letters and stories then he ties it together with a bits and parts of Winston Churchill speeches. That Hasting is never seduced by Churchill’s effortless apothegms and anecdotes is an indication that this is a fine book rather than simply an addition to the hagiography.
During the period in which Britain fought almost alone—the Dominions being the exceptions—Churchill parsed what amounted to a series of defeats and evacuation as noble encounters. Finally the Russians entered the war and had to deal with 200 axis’s divisions, the British struggled to handle a couple of Afrika corps. I found one comment by Hasting that WSC was so frustrated with the British Army; all they could do is lose battles. Churchill praised the Air Corp and the Navy. Hastings said WSC was intensely frustrated by the caution and lack of imagination of his Army Generals—notably those who won the Victoria Cross in the First World War They were fighting the prior stationary war instead of adjusting to the fast moving current war.
The author wrote a damning indictment of Britain’s culture of war-making, making do with shoddy equipment, corruptions in procurement, appointments and promotions based on mere social statues not merit. These are the same complaints that Lord Wellington made during the Napoleonic war. Napoleon was the first to promote officers on merit. Napoleon once said “ give me my officers and the English soldiers and I could rule the world”. Hasting discussed the Russian Spies in England that kept Stalin abreast of every major development. The author also discussed the Union strikes during the War slowing down vital war materials.
This book may have some valuable lessons not just about leadership but about the relationship between soldiers and civil society. The book is well balanced revealing Churchill’s failings as well as his strengths. Despite his failings he is revealed as one of the greatest wartime leaders. If you are a history buff, a Churchill fan or interested in WWII you will find this an excellent book. Barnaby Edwards did a good job narrating the book.
7 of 8 people found this review helpful
By KRMurr on 01-06-15
Max Hastings "Finest Years" | Winston Churchill
Superb honest account of an extraordinary man who was not a perfect warlord, strategist or politician...but he was a man and a steadfast rock when the world needed one more than ever before or since.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful