A Connoisseur's Guide
to the Books of
Sir Winston Churchill

by Richard M. Langworth

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson
in association with The Churchill Center
foreword by James W. Muller

Brassey's, London & Washington
1998; revised 2000
372 pages

February 2006

A practical guide

Since I am not a Churchill expert, nor scholar nor collector, why would I value a book such as this? A Connoisseur's Guide to the Books of Sir Winston Churchill by Richard M. Langworth is a practical guide to books, to editions of books in some detail of form and content, and designedly not a bibliography or checklist.

What do I look for myself, in terms of editions? For a book to read but especially for a book to save in my bookcase, I prefer to have the author's complete text, including later revisions or corrections if any. I prefer a durable solid-bound copy on non-yellowing paper if there is such an edition. I don't care much about first editions, signed copies, fine bindings, rarities, or dust jackets. In other words, books to read and perhaps to keep, not a "collection".

A Connoisseur's Guide to the Books of Sir Winston Churchill sounds as though aimed at the rich collector, but its appeal and practical usefulness are far broader. Since Winston S. Churchill's active writing life spanned sixty years, running to over five million words of material variously published and rearranged and retitled, finding the right edition of a book sometimes takes some research. Paperbacks and other inexpensive reprints are not categorically scorned in Langworth's Connoisseur's Guide, and foreign translations are included.

I'll give just two examples, personal campaigns in this thicket.

The River War

My introduction to Churchill's early books came via Frontiers and Wars (1962), an anonymously abridged reprint-omnibus of: The Malakand Field Force, The River War, London to Ladysmith, and Ian Hamilton's March (originally published 1897-1900). These began as war-correspondent despatches and cover his military adventures on the Northwest Frontier of India, in the Sudan, and in the Boer War in South Africa. They are fascinating books, so I eventually found inexpensive modern reprint editions with the full texts of three of them.

The first reprint I found was an older one, The River War in a 1933 edition at a bargain-shelf price. This is a fine history, a much longer text than in Frontiers and Wars, with lots more detail and fold-out maps. Excellent; I thoroughly enjoyed reading the longer version. But — I saw no mention within the standalone book that it is itself an abridgement. I learned this years later when browsing Mark Weber's detailed descriptions at his Churchill Book Specialist site. The best and most complete edition is the lovely original from 1899, but these copies are out of my reach. It now appears, though, that James W. Muller's scholarly reprint of that 1899 edition should be available soon.


I first read Churchill's wonderful biography of his great ancestor in Commager's abridged edition: Marlborough (one volume, 1968), which retains military material while omitting much of the politics. Marlborough: His Life and Times was originally issued complete in four volumes, 1933-1938; or in six volumes for the American edition. So can we simply count volumes to find the fullest versions? No, that four equals six. And there are four-volume abridgements (in paperback), and two-volume complete editions. Volume One was reissued with some revisions.

Then there's the question of all those maps — very important for following military operations — and the separate question of the illustrations, which different editions solve in different ways. The 1947 two-volume edition and its descendants seems a reasonable compromise.

All sorts of editions, with commentary

Langworth suffuses his Connoisseur's Guide with black-and-white illustrations, including rare dust jackets and tooled covers. He looks into the several giant collected-works sets to see which earlier editions (first? corrected?) of the individual books were used as source. He provides excerpts from some current reviews and later commentaries on the books, as well as occasionally putting in his own thoughts. For instance:

Frontiers and Wars is the ideal introduction to Churchill the Victorian war historian, and I often recommend it to readers who have never before dipped into this portion of the canon. Most of them soon end up reading the original texts — which is all to the good.

If you own some Churchill book and are curious whether it's rare, or you want to read a Churchill book but are wondering which edition to seek out or buy, Langworth's Connoisseur's Guide is a handy and detailed compendium of information. And meanwhile, in this print-and-binding overview of this unique literary career, you may find yourself browsing through many odd and entertaining facts.


© 2006 Robert Wilfred Franson

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