Book Recommendation: The Last Lion (Book, William Manchester, Paul Reed, 1983)

The Last Lion

Hello everyone. For today’s post, I will be doing a book recommendation for the The Last Lion, a three-volume biography of Winston Spencer Churchill by William Manchester, and completed after his death by Paul Wells. This trilogy is one of the best biographical works I have ever read. It covers the entirety of Churchill’s life, beginning with his childhood and ending with his death, though naturally the largest sections are dedicated to his time during the World Wars and between them.

The first volume, titled Visions of Glory, covers the period from 1874-1932. This period was a fascinating period in Churchill’s life, as it extends from his early childhood until his quitting of the Tory party over its position on India, therefore covering his service as First Lord of the Admiralty during the First World War and his earlier military service. The second volume, titled Alone, covers his time in “the political wilderness”, extending from the time he quit the Tories until he was invited back as Prime Minister in 1940, therefore taking over the running of the war. The final volume, Defender of the Realm, covers the period of the Second World War until his death in 1965, and serves as an excellent history of the Western European theatre of the war as well as a biography of Churchill.

All three volumes are excellent examples of biographical writing. Manchester’s prose is supreme, and he turns it to good use in these volumes. He succeeds in putting many of the events of Churchill’s life in context, and in reading these volumes it is impossible to emerge without a better understanding of the man. This series also has a connection to one of the other books you have read about on this site; Manchester opens his second book with a dedication “To Bill Shirer who saw it from the other side and saw it first.“; referring, of course, to William L. Shirer, whose work you will have already read about here.

If I was to recommend only one biographical series, this would have to be it; it is certainly long, but it gives an invaluable understanding of a man whose contributions to the history of the world cannot go unrecognized. Furthermore, this and The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich are the two books I would recommend on the Second World War, as they allow it to be seen from both sides; there are certainly some viewpoints, that of the Eastern Front and the Pacific, missing after reading these, but they can be filled in with supplementary reading. I hope you all enjoyed this post, and have a good day.

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How Accurate Is: Ivan Grozny (Film, 1944)

Film cover for Ivan Grozny.
Film cover for Ivan Grozny.

Hello everyone! It has been longer than I hoped, but here is another post, this time on Sergei Eisenstein’s Ivan Grozny, made in the Soviet Union in 1944. The subject of this film is the first Tsar of Russia, Ivan IV, the Terrible (the first Tsar because he was the first Grand Prince of Moscow to formally adopt the title). It should be noted that “Grozny” more accurately translates to “awesome” than Terrible, and so it does not necessarily refer to his legendary cruelty. Eisenstein was a master filmmaker, and his films are widely regarded as among the best surviving examples of the Socialist realist style of filmmaking. Ivan Grozny was produced at the personal request of Stalin, who had always identified with Ivan the Terrible; as a result, the film makes every effort to depict Ivan kindly. There were, in fact, two parts of this film released, but Stalin did not feel Ivan was depicted kindly enough in the second and so the film was banned, only being fully released in 1958. This post is on the first part. Because this is a propaganda film, there is quite a bit to talk about with regards to the historical accuracy, or lack thereof, of the film:

  • Many of Ivan’s verifiable cruelties are simply left out of the film; for example, at the age of 13 he had Prince Andrei Shuisky (a boyar who had partially ruled Moscow during Ivan’s regency, and had by all accounts been very cruel to Ivan) fed to a pack of wild dogs.[1] Furthermore, the later purging of the boyars is presented in charitable terms, to say the least, as in the film the boyars seem to attempt flee to Poland-Lithuania to escape the guilt of their crimes, whereas in real life a significant number were simply murdered, before they could make an effort to flee, and the only crime they had committed was being part of the boyar class.[2]
  • The Chosen Council, a governing body who aided Ivan’s rule during the first half of his reign, does not make an appearance in the film (except perhaps in the form of the scheming priests and boyars frequently shown). In real life, the Council consisted of Metropolitan Macarius, a priest named Sylvester, and a court official named Alexei Adashey, the latter two of whom would be among the first victims of his later purge.[3]
  • The dramatic scene with Ivan on his deathbed (though he confounds expectations, including his own, by surviving) has a rather different ending than it did in history. In the film, he fails to convince any of the boyars except for Shurbsky (a
    Ivan IV.
    Ivan IV.

    nd even then it is only his wife who convinces Shurbsky by telling him Ivan is still alive) to swear fealty to his son; in real life, he did eventually convince them.[4]

  • The poisoning of Ivan’s wife is not necessarily historical. Although there is a chance that she was poisoned, historians often argue that it was illness that killed her, and the poisoning was a figment of Ivan’s paranoia.[5] Whatever the case, it was his overreaction to her death and subsequent murder of many of his former advisors and many of the boyars which provoked the boyar flights, not any wrongdoings on their part (for the most part).[6]

For more, continue past the link.


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