This week’s Churchill installment is a special edition, celebrating the publication—literally just Wednesday of this week from the printer—of a new edition of Great Contemporaries, the book that might otherwise be called “Churchill’s Brief Lives” like the namesake Aubrey.
This new edition is not just any old reprinting, and even if you already have a copy of Great Contemporaries, you’ll want to buy this one anyway for a very important reason: it’s a James Muller-produced version, published by our friends at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI). Jim is a professor at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, and unquestionably ranks among the three or four most knowledgeable people about Churchill in the United States and perhaps the globe. (In fact, I’d say he’s almost savant-like: ask him any Churchill question, and he can discourse off the top of his head for a half hour.) Jim doesn’t just clean up typos and slap on new cover art when he revises a Churchill book. He fully annotates the text, giving loads of extra information about obscure details in an essay, and even includes in appendices how Churchill often revised the essays that went into the book from the original that first appeared in newspapers or magazines mostly in the middle years of the 1930s. (His changes to his famous essay on Hitler in Great Contemporaries, made at the behest of the Foreign Office in 1937, are fascinating and revealing.) And as a final bonus, in addition to the frequently recalled sketches of political figures such as FDR, Roseberry, Hitler, and Kaiser Wilhelm, Muller has included five Churchill biographical essays that did not appear in previous editions, including sketches of Charlie Chaplin and Kipling. Think of it as a “director’s cut” of Churchill.
The only question is not where to start with a sampling, but where and how to stop. There’s only one thing to do. Buy yourself a copy of this edition, and enjoy. Meanwhile, here’s the magnificent opening paragraph of Churchill’s essay on Trotsky:
When the usurper and tyrant is reduced to literary controversy, when the Communist instead of bombs produces effusions for the capitalist Press, when the refugee War Lord fights his battles over again, and the discharged executioner becomes chatty and garrulous at his fireside, we may rejoice in the signs that better days are come. I have before me an article that Leon Trotsky alias Bronstein has recently contributed to John o’ London’s Weekly in which he deals with my descriptions of Lenin, with the Allied intervention in Russia, with Lord Birkenhead and other suggestive topics. He has written this aricle from his exile in Turkey while supplicating England, France, and Germany to admit him to the civilizations it has been—and still is—the object of his life to destroy. Russia—his own Red Russia—the Russia he had framed and fashioned to his heart’s desire regardless of suffering to others or hazard to himself—has cast him out. All his scheming, all his daring, all his writing, all his harangues, all his atrocities, all his achievements, have led only to this—that another ‘comrade,’ his subordinate in revolutionary rank, his inferior in wit, though not perhaps in crime, rules in his stead, while he, the once triumphant Trotsky whose frown meted death to thousands, sits disconsolate—a skin of malice stranded for a time on the shores of the Black Sea and now washed up in the Gulf of Mexico.
I especially like the phrase “a skin of malice.”
I should add that Jim has also produced one of his supercharged ISI editions of Churchill’s essay collection Thoughts and Adventures, which you should buy for the same reason.