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What About the Book?

As, you know, a book.

Jun 30, 2014, Vol. 19, No. 40 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
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Churchill, of course, was no disinterested party. He had played an important part in the events of which he wrote. His fingerprints were all over some of the war’s most controversial episodes, not least among them the Gallipoli campaign. The reader is aware of this, and the writer does not flinch from it. At the end of the long section of the book that deals with Gallipoli, I found myself more or less in sympathy with Churchill, who was obliged to resign as first lord of the Admiralty when the project failed. I felt that way chiefly because I sensed Churchill was playing straight with his readers. That, as Orwell, no admirer of Churchill’s larger politics, once wrote: “In general, Churchill’s writings are more like those of a human being than of a public figure.”

Then there is the matter of style. Churchill worked on his books, and they deliver, over and over, in passages like this one, concluding the section on Gallipoli:

There was nothing left on land now but the war of exhaustion​—​not only of armies but of nations. No more strategy, very little tactics; only the dull wearing down of the weaker combinations by exchanging lives; only the multiplying of machinery on both sides to exchange them quicker.

Passages like that occur over and over in Churchill’s book, and they do what good writing does—they take over the reader’s consciousness. The distance between reader and subject matter vanishes. But those passages don’t appear on the page because some “book team” (Clinton’s phrase) has engineered them. They come straight from the writer, working hard at his craft. Like this one, in which Churchill writes of the awful Passchendaele battle:

The disappointing captures of ground were relieved by tales of prodigious German slaughter. The losses and anxieties of the enemy must not be underrated. .  .  . But the German losses were always on a far smaller scale. They always had far fewer troops in the cauldron. They always took nearly two lives for one and sold every inch of ground with extortion.

If it is unfair to compare Hillary Clinton with Winston Churchill, then it is also unfair of her and her “book team” to inflict on readers something like Hard Choices. They could have used the money, and their time, on something that would not have been such a waste of ours. Readers deserve better.

Geoffrey Norman, a writer in Vermont, is a frequent contributor to The Weekly Standard.

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