Churchill's World Crisis
Finest Hour|Fall 2018
Today, whenever major political leaders come to the end of their careers, we have learned to expect an announcement at no distant point that a contract has been signed for the publication of their memoirs, with large advances mentioned.
Peter Clarke

A hundred years ago, there was no such expectation. Indeed the Armistice can be seen as triggering the inception of a golden century in the modern memoirs industry, signing up authors with the usual motives of political vindication and— not least—financial reward. In this respect, as in many others, Winston Churchill was a pioneer. Moreover, the five volumes that he published under the title The World Crisis (1923–29)—there was later a sixth on the Eastern Front—were not the work of a retired politician. They were begun when he was still in his late forties, written in the midst of an active career. His cabinet colleague Arthur Balfour, a generation older, called it an autobiography disguised as a history of the universe.

That Churchill felt in need of money at this time will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with his incorrigible spending habits. He was a cabinet minister in Lloyd George’s postwar government (1918–22) with a salary of £5000 a year, which would be worth over two hundred thousand pounds today. But this was not enough, in his eyes, to provide for the education of his four children nor to fulfil his ambition to purchase a country house of his own. Politics was indeed his vocation but, as I see it, writing was his profession, in the sense that his highly professional commitment as an author always provided an indispensable source of income.1

Before the First World War, quite apart from publishing volumes of his political speeches, Churchill had himself written half a dozen books that brought in substantial earnings. The most serious of these, in every sense, was his biography of his father Lord Randolph Churchill (1906), for which he got an advance of £8000, say half a million pounds in today’s money. In 1920 he built on his prior reputation as an author, as well as upon his current notoriety as a politician, in asking for more; and he got it. The deal that his agents put together offered advances of no less than £27,000, and although the pound was now worth less than pre-war, this would be at least three-quarters of a million pounds at today’s values.

Big History

Little wonder that, although a busy cabinet minis-ter, Churchill pressed on with his literary commit-ment. Previously his books had been drafted in his fluent longhand; but the exercise of government responsibility had brought with it a panoply of administrative and clerical support that he learned to use and indeed to rely upon. Henceforth his books were all to be dictated, taken down in shorthand and then typed up by his secretaries in drafts, and even set up in proofs, all of which he would subject to extensive revision. In this sense, the volumes of The World Crisis provide the template for all of Churchill’s subsequent published books, as well as an increasing flow of well-paid articles. “I lived in fact from mouth to hand,” as he liked to say.2 This undoubtedly affected his literary style: not only in tempting him to rely upon extensive quotation from documents but also in licensing sonorous passages that often lacked the spare rigour that had previously disciplined his handwritten composition.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM FINEST HOURView All

Perfect Preparation: What Churchill Learned from the First World War

Winston Churchill famously wrote about his feelings on becoming prime minister in May 1940, “I felt as if I were walking with Destiny and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.”1 It was true, and no part of his life had been a better preparation than 1914–18.

10+ mins read
Finest Hour
Fall 2018

War Lord in Training: Churchill And The Royal Navy During The First World War

Churchill’s contribution to naval affairs in the First World War is a polarizing topic. It divided people at the time and it remains a matter of sharply delineated opinions even now. The reasons for this are not difficult to spot. Although no decisive sea engagement was fought while Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty, the opening ten months of the war were nevertheless eventful, and the operations that took place at that time appeared to highlight the worst aspects of Churchill’s character as a civilian naval leader. The reality is—inevitably—more complex, but a quick check of what went visibly wrong and what appeared to go right will illustrate the point.

10+ mins read
Finest Hour
Fall 2018

The World Crisis Breeds New Publishing Relationships For Churchill

This is a behind-the-scenes article. It focuses not on the content of The World Crisis (which former Prime Minister A. J. Balfour described as “Winston’s brilliant Autobiography, disguised as a history of the universe”) but rather on how that multi-volume history of the Great War—Churchill’s twelfth work—came to be published in both the UK and the USA.

9 mins read
Finest Hour
Fall 2018

The Mistaken View of Churchill's First World War “Mistakes”

A common verdict on Churchill’s First World War is that he was the perpetrator of costly disasters, but that he learned from his mistakes. Consider this, from the Imperial War Museum’s website:

10+ mins read
Finest Hour
Fall 2018

THE FULTON REPORT From the National Churchill Museum

High Hopes and Unbounded Confidence? The Aftermath of the Great Wars

3 mins read
Finest Hour
Fall 2018

November 11, 1918: The Hour of Deliverance

In his memoirs of the First World War published as The World Crisis, Winston Churchill vividly recalls the scene he witnessed at the moment the Armistice took effect.

4 mins read
Finest Hour
Fall 2018

Churchill's World Crisis

Today, whenever major political leaders come to the end of their careers, we have learned to expect an announcement at no distant point that a contract has been signed for the publication of their memoirs, with large advances mentioned.

9 mins read
Finest Hour
Fall 2018

Churchill's New Audience | # Armistice100

For the past four years, the centenary of the Great War, I have been managing social media content for the National World War I Museum of the United States in Kansas City, Missouri.

1 min read
Finest Hour
Fall 2018

Action This Day

125 Years ago Autumn 1893 • Age 19 “Sandhurst Has Done Wonders for Him”

6 mins read
Finest Hour
Fall 2018

The International Churchill Society's First Fifty Years

This is the 180th issue of Finest Hour. The operating budget for the first year of what became the International Churchill Society was $180. The first issue of the journal was sent out to the founding members—all twelve of them—in the spring of 1968 with a note that the title was only “temporary” until a better suggestion arose. Fifty years on, the current editor has determined that the cut-off date for suggestions has now passed.

8 mins read
Finest Hour
Spring 2018
RELATED STORIES

SPYKE AND MIKE

MOTOFEST MADNESS

3 mins read
Born To Ride Southeast Magazine
August 2021

SPYKE AND MIKE

Whoa, Nellie! If you missed it, you missed a whole lot of beautiful steel horses in one place. If you were there, you know that no words can totally convey what went down the stretch. I’m squawking about the Great American Motofest that ran at the Boss Hogg ranch.

3 mins read
Born To Ride Florida
August, 2021

THE SHARK OF WAR

The life of Harding Waipuke Leaf is like an Indiana Jones tale of bravery, leadership and high jinks, writes LAWRENCE WATT, who has made a documentary about the Northland war hero.

9 mins read
New Zealand Listener
April 23 - 29, 2022

RIGHT of RETURN

If New Zealand continues to call out the human rights abuses of Turkey's increasingly autocratic and paranoid leader, it faces the threat of being banned from staging official Anzac commemorations in Gallipoli.

7 mins read
New Zealand Listener
April 2 - 8, 2022

1942 CHURCHILL'S DARKEST HOUR

If 1940 was the year in which Winston Churchill's reputation was forged, 1942 was the one in which it was almost destroyed. Taylor Downing chronicles a terrible period for the prime minister - both on the battlefield and in the court of public opinion

10+ mins read
BBC History Magazine
April 2022

Zelenskiy

'We will fight until the end, at sea, in the air. We will continue fighting for our land. We will fight in the forest, in the fields, on the shores, in the streets'. Zelenskiy invokes Winston Churchill in speech to MPS urging UK to help Ukraine

3 mins read
The Guardian
March 09, 2022

SHE SHOULD FOREVER BE KNOWN AS THE QUEEN OF QUEENS

At the start of June this year the country will witness one of the most extraordinary milestones in royal history.

3 mins read
WOMAN - UK
March 14, 2022

Cong can join TMC alliance: Didi in Goa

“Khell zatlo.” West Bengal chief minister and TMC boss Mamata Banerjee fumbled while pronouncing the Konkani words for ‘khela hobe’, but she more than made up for it by tossing a football into the boisterous audience, who lapped up all of Banerjee’s theatrics on the stage and cheered.

1 min read
The Times of India Mumbai
December 14, 2021

'Cancelled' Patel critic seeks education minister's support

A Cambridge university academic has called on the universities minister to defend her freedom of speech, after a claim that her invitation to speak to civil servants was cancelled because of a tweet criticising Priti Patel, the home secretary.

1 min read
The Guardian
October 15, 2021

Never in the field of human conflict were so many thoroughly @£!&ed off by so few

THICK-AS-CUSTARD M25 PROTESTERS NOW CLAIM THEY ARE LIKE, AHEM, WINSTON CHURCHILL. WHINY’S NO WINNIE. Eco crusties ‘like Churchill’. Fails debate on M25 stunts.Storms off just like Piers

1 min read
Daily Star
September 23, 2021