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-by Phillip Johnson

Genius and Plod

In Search of Churchill:

A Historian's Journey

By Martin Gilbert


338 pp.; $30

Everyman Revived:

The Common Sense

of Michael Polanyi

By Drusilla Scott


215 pp.; $19, paper

During the Boer War in 1899, the 25-year-old Winston Churchill made a spectacular escape from captivity. A British officer, writing to congratulate him, predicted that Churchill would someday be prime minister. "You possess the two necessary qualifications; genius and plod. Combined I believe nothing can keep them back." It's a great summary of what gave Churchill the power to survive reversals and accomplish great deeds. He had the creative instinct to know what had to be done in a tough situation, and the dogged determination to do (or oversee) the detailed work required to put his grand ideas into practice.

That letter is one of many gems to be found in Martin Gilbert's In Search of Churchill. Gilbert is the author of the standard eight-volume biography of Churchill, and this additional memoir is the story of how he tracked down the truth about the great man. The account of how a biography was researched might ordinarily make dull reading, but not when the biography is of Churchill and not when the biographer is as good as Martin Gilbert. Here is a taste of the fascinating questions Gilbert investigated: Was Churchill to blame for the Dardanelles fiasco in 1915 (which resulted in more than 200,000 casualties and gained absolutely nothing), or was he made the scapegoat for political reasons? What were his work habits, and how much did he really drink? Who gave him the secret information that he used to such devastating effect against the Baldwin and Chamberlain governments during the Appeasement period? Each of these questions led Gilbert to fascinating documents and still more fascinating people.

To whet your interest, here are some answers. The Dardanelles operation was a brilliant naval concept that might have shortened the useless slaughter on the Western Front if Churchill had been supported ...

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