Churchill, by Professor J. Rufus Fears
As yet another great courses class I have taken in history , one quickly gets used to the particular format and it is a comforting matter. The cds are in a case and often a smaller container within, along with a guidebook that gives an outline of the lectures and the scope of their material, a bibliography for future reading and research if the listener is interested in it, and some thoughtful questions for reflection. There are introductions to the lectures, plenty of well-deserved clapping, and every cd is either 45 minutes or an hour, which is long enough to cover materials in some depth and short enough that the material is not forgotten between the times someone happens to be in the car. All in all, the Great Courses are a great idea and I have not listened to any that I have not wholeheartedly enjoyed so far. Given that I am fond of the writing and career of Winston Churchill, this one was an easy one to enjoy as well , and there was plenty of material to appreciate.
This particular course is divided into six cds with two lectures apiece, each of them thirty minutes in length. About ten of the lecture are devoted to the life of Churchill itself–bookended by lectures about the heritage of Winston Churchill and his family background at the beginning and the legacy of his loyal and successful service, including some rather harsh comments towards revisionist historians who have viewed Churchill negatively. Let it not be assumed that this is an impartial account, the professor is a partisan for Churchill, something that is easy to be. After a discussion of Churchill’s family history the author gives lectures about Churchill’s troublesome youth, his service as an officer on the Empire’s frontiers in India along with detached service elsewhere, his political beginnings after a dramatic escape from captivity during the Boer War, the controversies that involved Churchill during his time in the cabinet during World War I, the challenges Churchill faced in the postwar period serving an irresponsible Prime Minister in Stanley Baldwin and an electorate that didn’t want to prepare for war or keep Britain strong, Churchill’s lonely years in the political wilderness, the efforts he made to prepare Great Britain for the Nazi menace in the late 1930’s, two lectures on his leadership during World War II, and a lecture on his postwar service as a champion of freedom around the world.
Although some listeners might not appreciate the professor’s open partisanship for Churchill and his passionate defense of absolute truths and eternal values worth fighting for, and if necessary, dying for, those listeners who share the worldview of Churchill and the professor will likely find this an immensely enjoyable course. The only part of the lecture series that I found less than excellent, although I am a far from unbiased reviewer myself, was the fact that at times the author’s voice dropped and he seemed to mumble a bit, which made parts of the lecture difficult to listen to without turning the audio up to alarmingly high levels. This is a minor quibble, though, as the quality of this course is enough that anyone who is fond of Winston Churchill as a statesman, as a historian, or even as an artist will find a great deal of material here of interest. The professor does a good job at pointing out Churchill’s shortcomings in being a bit impetuous and charging in where angels feared to tread and also his chronic lack of political antennae, as well as an alarming tendency to be slandered and to have those slanders linger despite being proven in error. Even in celebrating great men (and women), we find much to reflect upon in the patterns of our own lives.
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