Continuing this short series of World War II-themed posts, we move on from Len Deighton's 1941-set alternate history, to an account of that period's actual history – albeit a highly personal one – written by a man who had a better vantage point than almost anyone else on those momentous events:
Winston Churchill's The Second World War Volume 1: The Gathering Storm was first published in hardback in the UK by Cassell in 1948. I spotted this first edition/first impression in a Lewes charity shop on Monday, and since this week's posts are largely WWII-focused, it seemed a serendipitous Lewes Book Bargain indeed. Mind you, it's a weighty old tome, clocking in at 640 pages, so Lord knows when I'll get round to reading it.
There's a fascinating critique of The Gathering Storm on the BBC website by Professor John Charmley, which begins with one of Churchill's oft-quoted utterances. "History will judge us kindly," the then-Prime Minister told Roosevelt and Stalin in 1943, "because I shall write the history." And so he did, continuing his mammoth endeavour across a further five volumes, as projected on the dustjacket front flap of the Cassell first of The Gathering Storm, although the eventual number was at that point TBC. "It is planned," runs the blurb, "that the complete memoirs should occupy five or six volumes... though the final total depends on how the work unfolds under Mr. Churchill's hand". Any more than six of these doorstops and Britain's bombed-out homeless could've built houses out of the buggers to "occupy".
Quite apart from the issues of accuracy Professor Charmley raises in his BBC article, it seems even Churchill's deathless prose wasn't immune to those rather more mundane mistakes which bedevil every writer, namely the odd typo – some of them very odd indeed. There's a tipped-in "Author's Note" at the start of the book:
directing readers to the "Errata and Corrigenda" at the back, which corrects various dates, punctuation and what have you. But that page of corrections also has a tipped-in sheet attached with additional errata, and one of those in particular is a real howler:
"Page 56, line 13: For 'poop' read 'prop'." Ouch. Now there's a typo to give copyeditors the heebie-jeebies...
Moving on, and next we travel to 1946, for a Ross Thomas postwar Germany-set tale of unhinged assassination, diminutive espionage and insouciant skullduggery...