Book Recommendation - "My Early Life" by Winston Churchill

Most people know Winston Churchill as the old prime minister of the United Kingdom who, through stirring speeches and crafty strategy, saved Europe from Hitler. That is certainly an impressive accomplishment. But after reading, "My Early Life," I realized that defeating Hitler might not be in the top 10 most interesting things that he did in his life. This autobiographical book tells his story from birth up to his mid-twenties and barely touches on his political career at all. But it is better for it. Because by the time he was 27, he had lived a life that makes the Indiana Jones movies seem sleepy and dull.

Here are some on the things he did (in no particular order):

- Was a soldier
- Fought in the Boer War of South Africa
- Saved a military transport train
- Became a prisoner of war
- Escaped from a prisoner of war camp
- Hid out in a mountain cave for week
- Fought in for Spain during the Cuban revolution
- Fought in Egypt against rebels
- Won the Polo championship while injured in India
- Became a best selling author

All of this and so much more by the time he was 27! His life is is truly one of a kind. 

But what makes this book one of the best reads I have ever enjoyed is not just the raw facts and the list of accomplishments. It is the writing. Before reading this book, I had no idea that Winston Churchill was a writer. But he was. Long before he became a politician, he was a best selling author of stories from the wars. And he crafted his writing capabilities to make stories compelling and interesting. Some of the best stories he tells in this book are not about daring or adventurous events but are about commonplace things (like almost drowning with his brother as a child, falling off bridge and almost dying while playing tag, or injuring his shoulder on a boat). He is able to build excitement, include humor, and cap the story with some profound reflection.... over and over. Every page in this book is a joy to read.

For example, he talks a lot about the experiences in school that shaped him. When he failed out of Greek and Latin, he was held back. That would be a boring story for most authors (perhaps not mentioned at all) but for Churchill, he sees how this event shaped his life and delightfully reflects on it.
“[B]y being so long in the lowest form I gained an immense advantage over the cleverer boys. They all went on to learn Latin and Greek and splendid things like that. But I was taught English. We were considered such dunces that we could learn only English. Mr. Somervell -- a most delightful man, to whom my debt is great -- was charged with the duty of teaching the stupidest boys the most disregarded thing -- namely, to write mere English. He knew how to do it. He taught it as no one else has ever taught it. Not only did we learn English parsing thoroughly, but we also practised continually English analysis. . . Thus I got into my bones the essential structure of the ordinary British sentence -- which is a noble thing. And when in after years my schoolfellows who had won prizes and distinction for writing such beautiful Latin poetry and pithy Greek epigrams had to come down again to common English, to earn their living or make their way, I did not feel myself at any disadvantage. Naturally I am biased in favour of boys learning English. I would make them all learn English: and then I would let the clever ones learn Latin as an honour, and Greek as a treat. But the only thing I would whip them for would be not knowing English. I would whip them hard for that.”

This book is a book of adventures. It is a book of wisdom. It is a book of humor. And it is a book that you should read. You will not regret it.


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