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A contemporary cover of A History of the English-Speaking Peoples.

A History of the English-Speaking Peoples is a four-volume history of Britain and its former colonies and possessions throughout the world, written by Winston Churchill, covering the period from Caesar's invasions of Britain (55 BC) to the beginning of the First World War (1914).[1] It started in 1937 and was finally published 1956–58, delayed several times by war and his work on other texts. The volumes have been abridged into a single-volume, concise edition.

Writing and publishing

Churchill, who excelled in history as a child and was himself half-American on his maternal side, had a firm belief in a so-called "special relationship" between the people of Britain with the Commonwealth of Nations united under the Crown (New Zealand, Canada, Australia, South Africa etc.) and the people of the United States who had broken with the Crown and gone their own way. His book thus dealt with the resulting two divisions of the "English-speaking peoples".

At the instance of publisher Newman Flower,[2] Churchill began the history during the 1930s, during the period that his official biographer Martin Gilbert termed the "wilderness years" when he was not in government. Work was interrupted in 1939 when the Second World War broke out and then when Churchill was appointed Prime Minister. After the war finished in 1945, Churchill was busy, first writing his history of that conflict and then as Prime Minister again between 1951 and 1955, and so it was not until the late 1950s, when Churchill was in his early eighties, that he was able to finish the work.

The later volumes were completed when Churchill was over eighty; notably, a full one-third of the last volume was devoted to the military minutiae of the American Civil War. Social history, the agricultural revolution, and the industrial revolution hardly get a mention.[3] Political opponent Clement Attlee suggested the work should have been titled "Things in history that interested me."[4]

Despite these criticisms, the books were bestsellers and reviewed favorably on both sides of the Atlantic. In the Daily Telegraph, J.H. Plumb wrote: "This history will endure; not only because Sir Winston has written it, but also because of its own inherent virtues — its narrative power, its fine judgment of war and politics, of soldiers and statesmen, and even more because it reflects a tradition of what Englishmen in the hey-day of their empire thought and felt about their country's past." [5][3]

The four volumes are:

  • The Birth of Britain
  • The New World
  • The Age of Revolution
  • The Great Democracies

In the early 1970s, the BBC produced a series of twenty-six fifty-minute plays loosely based around Churchill's work and entitled Churchill's People. However, the quality of the productions was judged to be poor and the series received low ratings (see BBC television drama).

A sequel to Churchill's work, A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, by Andrew Roberts, was published in 2006.

References

  1. ^ Barrett, Buckley Barry (2000). Churchill: A Concise Bibliography. Westport CT: Greenwood. p. 32. ISBN 0-313-31450-0.  
  2. ^ The Times obituary of Newman Flower, 13 March 1964, p. 19.
  3. ^ a b Messenger, Robert (October 2006). "Last of the Whigs: Churchill as Historian". New Criterion 25 (2): 16–24.  
  4. ^ Smith, David (2005-02-27). "Churchill sequel provides epic task for author". http://politics.guardian.co.uk/bookshelf/story/0,,1426526,00.html.  
  5. ^ Roberts, Andrew (May 2002). "A history of the English-speaking peoples (review)". History Today (London) 52 (5): 53–56.  

See also

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