More myths, legends, and scandals surround the life, character, and career of Winston Churchill than most other important historical figures. These range from major controversies to minor oddities. Many of the myths are remarkably persistent and repeated as commonly accepted facts in new books on Churchill or appear in the media and newspapers as shocking new revelations, such as the relatively recent stories that Churchill supposedly considered converting to Islam as a young man. Richard Langworth in his new book Winston Churchill, Myth and Reality: What He Actually Did and Said considers 37 such Churchill myths. Langworth, who edited the Finest Hour for 35 years and is currently a Senior Fellow at Hillsdale College, is the author of Churchill by Himself : The Definitive Collection of Quotations.
The myths Langworth surveys range from the parentage of Churchill’s brother Jack and the cause of Lord Randolph Churchill’s death to Churchill’s opposition to the Second Front and the bombing of Coventry. Each myth is covered in a separate chapter in which the author describes the charge made against Churchill, provides the background and context, and either refutes the charge or seeks to explain Churchill’s actions. In the case of the myth about Churchill’s poor performance as a schoolboy, Langworth correctly points out the myth originated with Churchill himself, while the author astutely calls the Sidney Street siege as “a typical piece of Churchillian chutzpah.” An appendix considers some of the “minor myths” associated with the British statesman.
With so many myths and controversies surrounding Churchill there are ones which are not covered in the volume, including the accusations that Churchill acted dishonourably in his escape from the Boer prisoner of war camp or that he manipulated the press communiques after the Battle of Jutland. Likewise there is the more obscure myth put forward by United States Senator William Langton in 1949 that Churchill fought with Spain against the United States during the Spanish-American War of 1898.
In Winston Churchill, Myth and Reality: What He Actually Did and Said Langworth provides a staunch defense of Churchill as he dismisses or puts into perspective the various myths. The book is an interesting, entertaining, and enjoyable effort that will be of interest to all Churchill readers.