While we await game day tomorrow, let me refresh everyone’s memory about book news. Back in May I brought Power Line readers’ attention to the forthcoming final volume of William Manchester’s multi-volume Churchill biography, The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965. The official pub date is tomorrow, but Amazon is shipping it already and you can have your copy tomorrow if you want to distract from election day rumors and hubbub.
The final volume was completed by Paul Reid, who, as the New York Times Magazine explained yesterday in a terrific feature about the long-awaited project, came to know Manchester late in life. I’ve still never met Reid, but he called me up out of the blue about five years ago after reading something I’d written on Churchill to inquire about a source, and we had four or five subsequent long conversations over the phone about the trials and tribulations of long-form narrative writing, whose difficulties were compounded in his case by inheriting a highly idiosyncratic franchise. Much as I enjoy Manchester’s prose style at times, his approach to most topics is problematic in many important ways. I didn’t know until the Times story yesterday that Manchester had developed writer’s block (though I suspect age and the difficulty of the Churchill story after 1940 got the better of him), or that he apparently began drinking rather heavily.
I’ll have more to say in a full review of the book in a few weeks, but for now, the Times story is worth a look for the rare inside story of a literary phenomenon with few equals. One sample:
About the last nine years of his life, Reid is direct. “It was very simple,” he says. “Manchester was dead. If I wasn’t going to do it, it wasn’t going to get done.” But when asked if, in hindsight, he would accept the job all over again, Reid shakes his head. “There was a lot that I didn’t know,” he says. “I could never have imagined that it would be so difficult, take so long or have the impact that it had on me and my family.”