Monday, September 19, 2016

Hero of the Empire

Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape and the Making of Winston Churchill- Candice Millard
Release Date: September 20, 2016

Rating (out of 5):

Synopsis: At age twenty-four, Winston Churchill was utterly convinced it was his destiny to become prime minister of England one day, despite the fact he had just lost his first election campaign for Parliament.  He believed that to achieve his goal he must do something spectacular on the battlefield.  Despite deliberately putting himself in extreme danger as a British Army officer in colonial wars in India and Sudan, and as a journalist covering a Cuban uprising against the Spanish, glory and fame had eluded him.
Churchill arrived in South Africa in 1899, valet and crates of vintage wine in tow, there to cover the brutal colonial war the British were fighting with Boer rebels. But just two weeks after his arrival, the soldiers he was accompanying on an armored train were ambushed, and Churchill was taken prisoner.  Remarkably, he pulled off a daring escape--but then had to traverse hundreds of miles of enemy territory, alone, with nothing but a crumpled wad of cash, four slabs of chocolate, and his wits to guide him.
The story of his escape is incredible enough, but then Churchill enlisted, returned to South Africa, fought in several battles, and ultimately liberated the men with whom he had been imprisoned.


I have always been interested in Winston Churchill- his life, adventures, and dry wit have appealed to me since reading My Early Life for a first year college history class.  While in many ways a man of the Victorian Era in his thoughts on colonialism, foreigners, and war, he was also often ahead of his time, and certainly never suffered from lack of self-confidence against all odds.  While most people know him as a politician and leader, he was also a great writer, and threw himself into life and every adventure he could find.

Hero of the Empire focuses on one of Churchill's youthful adventures: His time as a war correspondent during the Boer War, his captivity, and his daring escape. Millard gives us background not only on Churchill, but also the British Empire and the Boers, providing excellent context for the war itself.  While the story centers on Churchill and his experiences, some of the main burghers in government and leading the Boer army are equally on stage.  We come to understand how it was that the British Empire and its soldiers, feared as the best troops in the world, were so devastated against this 'uncivilized' colonial uprising.  The circumstances and strategies of both sides were explained in a way I have never read before, helping me to understand the war and the Empire at the turn of the century in a way I hadn't yet managed through other books.

Even people not normally interested in history will find Hero of the Empire a dramatic read, often more adventure story that the 'dry and boring' biography they might expect.   Intensely researched, written in gripping detail, Millard brings to life the heat of battles, the conditions in South Africa, Winston's enthusiasm and frenzy to make his mark on the world, and his fear during his escape.

This exciting, wonderfully written, book is a must read for Churchill fans, British history enthusiasts, and anyone looking for a gripping true-story of luck, bravery, and adventure.

I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley for an honest review.

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