If I say “this book was a lot better than I thought it was going to be,” I definitely run the risk of sounding rude, but I was very pleasantly surprised by Churchill & Son. I’m not a politics book type of person, as I tend to find them too dry, but Ireland has written a very engaging and interesting book that deals with a lot of politics in a readable and nuanced way. I was never bored or forcing myself to push through a section to get to something more interesting. It was well-written and I learned a lot about the Churchill family beyond my previously bare-bones understanding.
Churchill & Son is about the titular Winston Churchill and his son Randolph (in that very upper-class British way of only using the same two names for everyone, Randolph is named after his grandfather and then named his own son Winston, a confusing situation that Ireland deals with admirably). The book follows their relationship and its ups and downs. Winston Churchill was extremely neglected by his father and so determined to do the opposite with his son, with uneven results. Randolph hero-worshipped his father but also could never be out of his shadow, and he never lived up to Winston’s expectation that he would start a political dynasty. Randolph had an awful temper and was an alcoholic, and a lot of the book is descriptions of terrible scenes where Randolph and Winston scream at each other before trying to make up later, or Randolph saying awful things to friends and ruining his relationship with them.
My only issue with this book was that the notes section was terrible. It was done by listing the sentence on the page the quote was in and then the source, but a lot of the time the quote I was looking up wasn’t in the notes, so it was useless. For example, one time he quoted Harold Nicolson and I looked it up in the notes, but the quote wasn’t cited. So I cross-referenced into the bibliography, only to be met with three volumes of his diaries and letters. I could figure out which one the quote is likely to be in from the time frame, but I shouldn’t have to do my own research like that. And a lot of the quotes are entirely unattributed, so even working backwards from the bibliography is impossible. I understand that some of the quotes seemed to be from interviews the author did where the person wanted to be anonymous, but it’s good practice to at least put “interview with the author” or something in the notes so I know it’s coming from the author and not some mystery book that just wasn’t cited.
As a psychological study, this book fully succeeds, and it also is successful is getting across the political landscape of Britain. I was honestly very impressed by how smoothly Ireland balanced the two and managed to convey the political information that’s so central to the narrative. The overall story of Randolph’s destruction and Winston’s part in it, as well as his own troubles, is very sad to read. Watching someone with many advantages slowly drink himself to death and alienate everyone around him was tragic. It was a thought-provoking book in terms of the consequences of fame, parenting techniques, societal pressures, class issues, wars, etc, etc. Very well done!
Warnings for: child abuse, alcoholism, WWI and II (people getting shot, burned, killed), terrible screaming fights and horrible things being said to people.