Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill by Candice Millard


26827446Sir Winston Churchill was an accomplished, larger-than-life, somewhat pompous and unlikeable, yet oft-revered historical figure.  He was born a British nobleman, the son of Lord Randolph Churchill, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer and his wife, Jennie Jerome, an American socialite.  As such he was a direct descendant of John Churchill, the 1st Duke of Marlborough and his parents were personal friends of the Prince of Wales, Queen Victoria’s oldest son and heir.  For a member of Churchill’s high social class, the highly bold and unabashed ambition he had was a novelty, if not an outright scandal.  Every move Churchill made from early adulthood was in conquest of glory and the strong belief that he would someday be Britain’s Prime Minister.  Indeed, not only did Churchill serve two separate and very memorable terms as Britain’s Prime Minister, he has also been remembered through time as a brave soldier, a great journalist and a riveting orator.

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Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill concentrates on Churchill at the age of 24.  He had already served in two wars and while working as a journalist he wheedled his way to the frontlines of south of Africa during the Second Boer War.  The Boers were Dutch-speaking settlers, mostly farmers, who had lived in southern Africa for centuries, but rose up to defend their land against annexation by the British in the 19th century.  The Boer Wars had turned out to be more of a challenge than the British expected.  Having lived, fought and learned alongside the fierce Shaka Zulu of the Zulu Nation, the Boers were more accomplished in military tactics than the British understood.  Churchill proves himself to be a man of courage while accompanying a scouting mission on an armored train that is ambushed, but he is subsequently captured by the Boers and interred as a POW.  Churchill, who was absolutely used to being master of his own fate, manages to escape from the prison and cross 300 miles on his own.  When he reaches safety, he wants only one thing, a commission, so that he can go back and wreak revenge on those who held him.  This, despite the fact that he knew the War Office had a rule barring correspondents from being soldiers and soldiers from being correspondents.

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This was my first foray into any kind of bio on Churchill and it was a great place to start.  This particular glimpse into the history of Churchill definitely gives us a deep understanding of who the man was.  Winston Churchill was definitely a man to be remembered and Candice Millard managed to not only gave me a fantastic primer on the man himself, she also broadened my knowledge of South African history and the Boer Wars.  I have to say I really admire her writing style.  She managed to bring the adventure, the tragedy and the terribly inhumane conditions of the experience to life for the readers.  This author paints beautiful scenes and her background research is impeccable.  This is not a bio to be slogged through, it is thoroughly enjoyable.

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I want to thank the publisher (Doubleday Books) for providing me with the ARC through NetGalley for an honest review.

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