“Manchester was dead. If I wasn’t going to do it, it wasn’t going to get done.”
November 10, 2012 10:10 PM   Subscribe

William Manchester was an American author who wrote the celebrated Winston Churchill biographies: The Last Lion: Visions of Glory 1874–1932 and The Last Lion: Alone 1932–1940. After having a stroke in 1998 and suffering from writer’s block, on Oct. 9, 2003, Manchester asked Palm Beach Post writer, Paul Reid, to complete the third volume of Churchill’s biography. In October 2012, after nine years of writing, and 24 years after Alone, Paul Reid completed the third volume and The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm 1940-1965 was published.

Some reviews can be found here and here.
posted by Bokmakierie (14 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Didn't Manchester also write "Arms of Rupp"?
posted by KokuRyu at 10:44 PM on November 10, 2012

I'd read the first two books a long time ago, and they were well done enough for me to look forward to the third-- then nothing for years and years. Manchester certainly had a talent for creating pithy and memorable scenes. I even read his wartime memoir, Goodbye Darkness, equally well written, but man that guy was a real jerk in real life (among other things, I've never trusted any author who so urgently feels the need to share with me what a large penis he has-- and I'm not being metaphorical here) and many of the themes of the book disturbed me greatly since I was a young Marine at the time, and he had so many negative things to say about the Marine Corps. I guess now I can understand more of his disillusionment and anti-authoritarianism and sheer shock at the senseless slaughter of war, but then not so much. But Manchester was such a talented writer, writing about Churchill, whom I had loved since "History of the English Speaking Peoples" that I read for some reason when I was eight (!)-- a combination I couldn't turn down. I gritted my teeth for the many times when Manchester the writer tried to overshadow Churchill the subject, but held on because at the end he was a skilled author and biographer. I knew that he had died, and assumed the final volume would never appear. Now Bokmakierie brings us this good news, and I'm reminded of the days 20 years ago, reading these biographies, and the man I was then, and how much I (and the world) have changed. And I find myself eager to pick up where I left off. Good FPP, bok, thanks for bringing this to our attention.
posted by seasparrow at 10:50 PM on November 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

I haven't read these books, but I will definitely get to them sometime. To leave the bulk of Churchill's WWII career for a third volume seems a hell of a cliffhanger, and it shows a lot of confidence in the books that cover what came before.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 10:56 PM on November 10, 2012

I've got several Manchester books including "Alone." His scorn for the French and the British pre- Churchill is relentless.

"A World Lit Only By Fire" is a good read
posted by wrapper at 11:25 PM on November 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have a sort of odd relationship with Manchester and his works. My mother's family had a quite wide worship-fullness of his writing, various sections of which were foisted upon me by a grandmother, grandfather and mother who saw a girl entering into her early teens and a voracious desire to read, but with little actual attention paid to what I was actually reading. They remembered my interest in museums, and my interest in "true" books, and thus thought I would surely love his works as much as they did. I avoided them, dodged them, and hid from them until I thought I had safely found a way to deflect all attempts to give them to me by being a Philosopher by trade.
And then, as I should have realized, I found myself a Historian by profession much to no ones surprise (not even mine, after the fact). Unfortunately, while I managed to firmly implant in my mother's mind that I was not interested in "modern" history, she could not quite understand that I was not a medieval historian, but rather more interested in that strange transitional period of weirdness from 1500-1750ish. And, lo and behold, here returns my fretful avoidance of Manchester, back into my life. In the four years I have been on this track in life towards this PhD, I've gotten a copy of The World Lit Only By Fire at least once a year, with a record of three copies being given to me by my mother last year.
My revenge this winter is going to be sweet. I have an apartment with a wood burning fireplace. Mine shall be a den lit only by Manchester.
posted by strixus at 11:39 PM on November 10, 2012 [8 favorites]

Sadly, while full of fun papal orgy stories, A World Lit Only By Fire is a terrible pile of crap when it comes to history.
posted by PussKillian at 11:55 PM on November 10, 2012

“The Last Lion” was an unapologetic celebration of a giant, who in addition to resisting the Nazis also happened to be an engaging bundle of talents and eccentricities.

Yeah, really bloody engaging.
posted by vanar sena at 2:08 AM on November 11, 2012

Sadly, while full of fun papal orgy stories, A World Lit Only By Fire is a terrible pile of crap when it comes to history.
posted by PussKillian

On the strength of this comment alone I want to read this book now.
posted by chavenet at 4:38 AM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Death of a President, about the JFK, assassination is stunning. It is so detailed it takes him about 300 pages to cover the ~24 hours between 12.20 friday lunchtime 12.30 sat lunchtime. Highly recommended.

Manchester has been on Mefi previously, an FPP about the completion of the JFK book, but I cannot for the life of me find it.
posted by marienbad at 5:01 AM on November 11, 2012

I first came across Manchester in the halcyon days before book shops, in a family that took Book of the Month club selections. Read this as a callow youth, but sort of had my early teen, WWII obsessed mind blown by his Pacific war memoir "Goodbye, Darkness", which holds up as one of the better in the genre
posted by C.A.S. at 6:16 AM on November 11, 2012

Others read Proust, I read the entire official biography of Churchill by Randolph Churchill, and completed by Gilbert. (18 volumes counting Companion volumes) But the 2 volumes Manchester put together on Churchill is what I tell my friends to read if they don't want to put the investment in that I did. This last volume might be a nice read over the holidays.
posted by Senator at 7:29 AM on November 11, 2012

One of my favorite books is William Manchester's The Glory and the Dream, subtitled A Narrative History of America 1932-72.
posted by marsha56 at 7:54 AM on November 11, 2012

Sadly, while full of fun papal orgy stories, A World Lit Only By Fire is a terrible pile of crap when it comes to history.
posted by PussKillian

On the strength of this comment alone I want to read this book now.

Oh, it's a great book if you only want the juicy stuff with no real context. I had the advantage of having heard all the titillating stuff previously, so there was nothing novel there. I think the book's biggest fault is the perpetuation of the idea that the Middle Ages was a bleak time with no innovation or important thought going on, until the Renaissance dawned to save humanity from the darkness. It was an outdated concept when he wrote the book, and the fact that he wasn't a scholar of the period really showed. I'm only a half-assed art historian with a terrible memory, and if I could spot errors, it's pretty bad.
posted by PussKillian at 10:47 AM on November 11, 2012

In the author’s note, Reid thanks many friends, several of whom lent him money while he was working on the book. The advance barely saw him through the first two years of what became a difficult seven-year period in which he sold his house, gave up his health insurance and emptied his and his wife’s 401(k) and I.R.A. accounts. Nearly as painful, he says, is that after 30 years of never carrying a balance, he eventually had to live off credit cards. He has never totaled up the debt. “I don’t want to see the investment my family has in this,” he says.

Here's hoping the residuals are huge.
posted by BWA at 1:01 PM on November 11, 2012

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