Monday, September 04, 2000

Dead or Alive


I've been somewhat of a Winston Churchill fan ever since high school. My friend Ben was writing a term paper about the Winter War for AP Modern European History. He left a copy of The Gathering Storm over at my house. I started reading it and was fascinated by Churchill's description of the events leading up to World War II. I read the other volumes of his history, his biography, and other things that I could pick up related to him.

People associate Churchill most with his role as the leader of England through most of WWII. But he played a part in many other important events of the 20th century -- he was in charge of the British Navy for part of WWI, and he was involved in Irish independence, the formation of Israel -- he even coined the term "Iron Curtain".

But one of the most interesting episodes in Churchill's life took place in the twilight of the 19th Century. Back then, British military officers got a winter vacation -- so they could go fox-hunting or whatever. Churchill, an ambitious young man from a famous but not wealthy family, had other plans. He headed off for the Boer War as a correspondent. He didn't stay an observer for long. When the train he was on was ambushed by Boers, he took the lead in defending the train. Despite his efforts, which allowed many on the train to escape, he was captured and held prisoner Churchill: Wanted Dead or Alive is his granddaughter's re-telling of these events, in addition to his escape and his eventual flight to freedom.

I read this book on my way back from California. It's certainly an interesting tale. If it had happened to anyone else, I think it would make a great movie. And here it is, with Churchill, an larger-than-life figure for so many other reasons. But some of the things that would make this a great movie make it a less-than-ideal book. It's a nice, simple story. So what does Celia Sandys fill up 215 pages with? Much of it with the story of her researching this book. I'm sure it was interesting for her to meet with the descendants of the people who helped Churchill escape, but the digressions take much out of what should be a fast-paced read. So it was fun for a Churchill fan to skim through, but others should probably just read the relevant section of a good Churchill biography.
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