Never Give In: The Extraordinary Character of Winston Churchill. Stephen Mansfield. Elkton, MD: Highland Books, 1995, 225 pp.
Reviewed by Thomas Ascol
This is the first volume of the Leaders in Action series which has George Grant for General Editor. The series intends to produce a collection of “short biographical profiles of notable leaders” with a goal of highlighting the leadership qualities which characterized the subject. Mansfield accomplishes that goal.
Churchill’s life is the stuff of modern legends. It would be easy to slip into hagiography when writing about him. The author avoids this by casting his subjects incredible accomplishments in the light of his very real shortcomings. The result is a book that inspires as well as entertains.
From his strained, detached relationship with his father, to his less than stellar performance in school, the difficulties of Churchill’s life make his accomplishments all the more interesting and exemplary.
Mansfield is convinced that Churchill was an orthodox Christian, having been instilled with these views by his nanny, Mrs. Everest. His life was filled with remarkable providences, of which he was fully aware. When he escaped from a Boer prison camp during the South African War, he randomly sought refuge in what turned out to be the only British house for twenty miles, thus avoiding being returned to his captors. Yet, the author does not fully prove his case with the isolated statements about God and Christianity which he cites from Churchill.
The book is divided into three sections. The first gives a sweeping overview of Churchill’s life. The second identifies “pillars of leadership” which he exemplified. The third analyzes his life’s legacy and lessons, ending with twenty-six aphorisms on leadership which would be fitting for popular motivational posters (“A man cannot lead his generation if he cannot lead his children” ).
That Churchill was driven by a sense of duty and devotion to that which is right and good is beyond doubt. When as a young member of Parliament he became convince that he could no longer serve his country well in his Conservative Party, he simply and decisively “crossed the floor” to the Liberal Party in 1903.
Mansfield organizes his book around the defining characteristics of Churchill’s inner life. Chapter titles include, “Courage,” “Action,” “Duty,” “Realism,” “Loyalty,” “Humor,” and “Compassion.” The book is written with the conviction that “the chief lesson of Churchill’s leadership is that greatness is a product of character, of matters like loyalty, sacrifice, endurance, and courage” (224). Such qualities, examined through the prism of such a useful and colorful life, make for very profitable reading.
This is a book which could be easily read by serious young people, and it ought to be. Much has been written and said about our sad “age without heroes.” This book (and the series which it inaugurates) can helpfully direct our attention toward those giants of other generations whose lives have the power to inspire a renewed vision for principled leadership.