Book Review: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill by Sonia Purnell

Posted: February 5, 2017 in Book Reviews
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Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston ChurchillClementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill by Sonia Purnell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fascinating book. As the author pointed out in her introduction to the book, Winston Churchill has gotten all the press and all the attention both during his life and since his death among the historians and biographers, while Clementine, his wife, was either invisible or contained to a single-sentence mention in passing.

Yet Winston Churchill would not have been Winston Churchill without Clementine, for better or for worse.

This book takes a deep and honest look at both of Winston and Clementine, in their political lives together (this was Clementine’s driving passion), their personal lives separately and together, and their lives as parents and grandparents.

Both Winston and Clementine were deeply-damaged and deeply-flawed people. Their childhoods were a mess, due to philandering mothers and emotionally and/or physically absent fathers, and both Clementine and Winston carried those scars, mentally and emotionally, throughout their lives, often with tragic consequences.

Both Clementine and Winston suffered from periodic episodes of depression, but Clementine suffered from severe mental illness, often simply disappearing for long periods of time, abandoning both Winston and their children because she emotionally and mentally just could not handle any or all of what was happening at the time.

Winston was an indulgent father, but was mostly absent as well, and the children grew up in the care of others, struggling as they reached adulthood with feelings of being abandoned, unloved, and resentment toward both of their parents.

Clementine and Winston managed to get their act as parents together finally with their youngest child, Mary, who, as an adult had the only stable life. Mary’s older siblings battled addiction all their adult lives, with one sister committing suicide, and the other sister and her brother dying young from alcoholism.

Clementine’s life is an interesting one, but it is also tragic on so many levels. One comes away from this book with a lingering sadness, more than any other impression of this lady who was very much the power behind Winston Churchill, whom without her, would have never been as powerful or as successful in politics as he became during World War II.

Was Winston Churchill a quintessential leader? The answer, in the end, is no. Was Clementine Churchill a quintessential leader? The answer, based on this book, was no.

Did they do good things? Yes.

But, in the end, that is not enough. It will never be enough. Ever.

Quintessential leadership requires more. Much, much more. There must be unimpeachable integrity. There must be a moral core that is beyond reproach in all things. There must be the commitment to truth, no matter how hard or how much it may cost us personally.

Neither Winston nor Clementine Churchill had that. They compromised with all that quintessential leadership is all their lives.

While they may have seemed to succeed in the moment, ultimately they failed in the long game of quintessential leadership.

These lessons, these lives, these mistakes are teachers for us. You and me, as we strive to become quintessential leaders.

The road of compromise is always the easy road that lies before us. It is so enticing to take the low road, to take the seemingly immediate gains that sing the siren song of success, that promise the destruction of those we perceive – and who may not be – our enemies.

But the road of compromise with the values and principles and way of being that quintessential leadership entails never delivers all that it seems to offer. 

We – you and I – suffer when we take anything, accept anything, and embrace anything less than the road that quintessential leadership, not only offers, but fulfills in its promise of what we become at the end of it.

How are we doing?

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