As a boy, he was a poor student, suffering a speech impediment, hardly an attribute for someone who would become an orator compared to Pericles and Abraham Lincoln. His wealthy and prominent parents did not pay much attention to him. When he was sent off to boarding school at the age of 8, he begged them to visit, but they didn't. His father couldn't remember the date of his birthday. He had to take the entrance exam for Sandhurst, the royal military college, three times before he was admitted.
"Success is not final, failure is not fatal," Churchill said later. "It is the courage to continue that counts."
For those seeking an appetizer to his feast of e-books, there's an online site with his most famous quotations. Churchill would approve. "It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations," he said. From them come descriptions of pith and lasting profundity, such as: "A politician needs the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month and next year. And to have the ability afterward to explain why it didn't happen."
I'm still addicted to paper and ink, so I reached for a copy of "The Gathering Storm," his prelude to World War II, to test the challenge of the professor who once told me to open the book to any page and see whether I could put it down.
There was a passage that Churchill called a "digression," about a meeting he had in a Munich hotel in 1932 with an intermediary who said Hitler was eager to meet him and sought an appointment.
"Why is your chief so violent about the Jews?" Churchill asked. "What is the sense of being against a man simply because of his birth?"
When the questions were repeated to Hitler, the request was withdrawn. The two men never met. "Later on, when he was all powerful, I was to receive several invitations from him," Churchill writes, and adds with British understatement, "but by that time a lot had happened, and I excused myself."
Coinciding with the publication of the e-books, there's an exhibition at the Morgan Library in New York called "Churchill: The Power of Words." In an opening lecture for the exhibition, Churchill's granddaughter offered a reason why Churchill's language demands imitation today: "You can listen to my grandfather's words without ever wondering, 'What on earth did he mean by that?'"
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