I finished the immense Churchill biography by Andrew Roberts, subtitled "Walking with Destiny," an entertaining read despite its length — 980-plus pages. I don't know that I can sum it up. There was so much to the book, so many details, just as there was so much to Churchill's life.
When you think he was the British home secretary in 1910, then first lord of the admiralty in 1911, about 30 years before he became prime minister and 40 years before he became prime minister for the second time, you get a feeling for the great length and historical importance of his political career. Then when you consider he was responsible for the preparation of the British Navy for World War I and was the Navy's leader (as first lord of the admiralty) for the first year or so of the war, and then was the prime minister, and at the same time, minister of defense, for Britain during World War II, you understand why he is near or at the top of the list of influential world figures of the 20th century.
Churchill is more than his resume. Above all, he was the person who made it possible for England to resist the German military machine and hold it off at a phase of World War II -- before the U.S. had entered the war, before Russia had joined the allies -- when Germany was on the brink of conquering all of Europe.
What makes Roberts' book a great read is what a character Churchill was and how witty he was. About a colleague he found insufferable Churchill said, "There but for the grace of God goes God" and about another colleague's speech he said, "He spoke without a note, and almost without a point."
Even colleagues who expressed very negative opinions about him called him "brilliant." He was something of a prodigy — a chronic troublemaker who read voraciously, had written several books by his mid-20s (and 37 by the time he died) and memorized huge chunks of poetry and Shakespeare. He would regale guests at dinner and cocktail parties with recitations of Shakespeare from memory then veer off into mock Shakespeare, making it up as he went along, fooling and confusing his friends. (This alone should silence the very misguided people who have compared Donald Trump with Winston Churchill).
After the large dose of small type and historical minutiae from Roberts, I needed something purely diverting, so I read one of the first novels John D. MacDonald wrote, "Judge Me Not," published in 1951 as a paperback original. Even then, as he was learning his trade, MacDonald's great ability to bring people to vivid life and keep a reader tense and interested was present.
MacDonald went on to write scores of novels, including the famous Travis McGee series, and to sell about 70 million copies worldwide. In 1958, he wrote "The Executioners," a taut, tense novel, which has been made into a movie — "Cape Fear" — at least twice.