Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Candice Millard takes us back to the Boer War, a time during which one of the most famous historical figures emerged: Winston Churchill. While his exploits during that more or less forgotten time didn’t make it into most history books, Millard pushes them into the spotlight in her tremendous biographical work, Hero of the Empire. While most of us will always remember Churchill for his demeanour and leadership during the Second World War, we would do well to remember that just like any great figure in our history, he was forged through deadly trials that pushed him to greatness, and they certainly deserve a book of their own.
Table of contents
Candice Millard’s Take on the Winston Churchill Origin Story
The vast majority of us know Winston Churchill as a strong leader who guided Britain through the Second World War with the help of his wits, disappointed scowl and seemingly everlasting cigar. Most people have only been given a peripheral knowledge of the man, detailing only the most important actions he’s taken and the most impactful events he’s been through.However, as you might have guessed, Churchill wasn’t born bald and overweight at the age of 60… like every one of us, he had a childhood and early experiences that shaped him into the man he would eventually become.
In the case of some notable figures, these early steps towards greatness are nothing really worth writing about, but in Churchill‘s case it’s the exact contrary: it would be a crime to remain deprived from the stories carried from the days of his youth. Candice Millard is one of the few people who took interest into the figure beyond his exploits in WWII, and as a result she penned the highly-educative and eye-opening book titled Hero of the Empire .
As you might surmise from all that’s been said so far, the book focuses on Winston‘s youth and the many travails he was forced to go through much earlier in his life. More precisely, she explores his efforts as a war journalist, his capture and unimaginably daring escape, his re-enlistment and heroic exploits on the battlefield during the Boer war. She seeks to paint a complete picture of the man so that we, the readers, might understand how Churchill‘s mind was shaped, why he thought the way he did and how his decisions were affected by it all.
A History Book Made Interesting
Sometimes we just have to call things how they are, and the truth is that for most people, history books are pretty boring most of the time. Most of them are written solely for the purpose of passing on accurate information, which is how it should be, but as a result the authors seldom take into account how to captivate the reader’s interest.
Basically, if you’re trying to learn from textbooks about historical topics you aren’t acquainted with or interested by already, then chances are you simply won’t get very far. The good news is that Candice Millard has taken an approach quickly gaining a considerable momentum in the realm of literature: she wrote it more as a narration rather than a data set.
To explain it basically, Churchill is our protagonist and we follow him through his life chronologically as he undergoes the many events that molded him. Naturally, Millard has to fill in some blanks here and there as little details have been lost to history for evermore, but rest assured that they are ultimately unimportant and only add to the entertainment factor without taking away from the book’s veracity. These additions also aren’t taken out of thin air but rather logically extrapolated from what is already known. In other words, rest assured that the accuracy of the information in Hero of the Empire doesn’t suffer in the slightest from the author’s decision to turn into a narration.
I’d go as far as saying that from an educative perspective, this book can be used as an excellent source for anyone who wants to really get behind the scenes of Churchill‘s life and try to understand how such a unique and influential person came to be (though if you are writing an essay perhaps you ought to stick with academic sources). The amount of details is quite vast and many of them stick with you for they are generally presented in some kind of memorable context.
Thrills and Chills Aplenty
As much as Millard seeks to educate us, she never forgets the importance of keeping us on our toes and making the adventure as thrilling as possible. I’ve given a wide glimpse above of the things Winston went through in his life, and all of them are recounted in a vivid and descriptive style that doesn’t leave much to the imagination, which is perfect for a work in this genre.
We feel his shock and fear when the unit he follows gets captured, we experience the gut-wrenching horror of a deadly escape, the sharp and murderous isolation of being stuck hundreds of miles deep in enemy territory, the terrifying adrenaline that commands men during combat… and that’s just to give you a taste.
Along the way we also get to meet a rather curious cast of characters mostly composed of historical figures, including some pretty notable names such as Rudyard Kipling and Gandhi for instance. While the focus on them certainly isn’t as strong as on Winston, their presence helps to inject a bit of variety here and there, not to mention that it keeps you guessing as to who else you’ll encounter down the line. We certainly don’t get into their minds or anything, and at times they feel like nothing more than props for the development of the protagonist… nevertheless, since Hero of the Empire isn’t about them, that’s all quite forgivable.
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The Final Verdict
Candice Millard certainly seems to have outdone herself on this one, with Hero of the Empire being, in my opinion, one of the best books on Winston Churchill published in recent years. It chooses to place its focus on rather important events and experiences which shaped the historical figure, things most other books simply gloss over. It’s a real treasure trove of information, and what’s more it’s all brought to us with great style and gusto, a surprisingly true life told as a gripping adventure story. If Churchill is a figure you would like to learn more about all while being entertained by the education, then I strongly recommend you check this book out.
Candice Millard is an American author and journalist who used to work as a writer and editor for National Geographic. Her books The River of Doubt and Destiny of the Republic both earned their place amongst the New York Times Bestsellers, with the former even being a Quill Awards finalist. In 2012 she was awarded the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime Book for the latter of the two books. She also received the 2017 BIO Award for her biographies of Roosevelt, Garfield and Churchill.