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First Lady: The Life and Wars of Clementine Churchill

Chelcey Berryhill - Tuesday October 27, 2015 11:14
Clementine and Winston Laughing

Clementine and Winston sharing a laugh

Royal Oak lecturer Sonia Purnell’s new book, “First Lady: the Life and Wars of Clementine Churchill,” is out to rave reviews. Examining Clementine’s role in some of the critical events of the 20th century, Purnell retells a history that has largely marginalized Sir Winston’s wife. Purnell’s thoroughly researched book casts a ferocious Clementine front-and-center, and asserts the “first lady” as the catalyst behind her husband’s ascent to the “Man of the Half-Century

We’ve collected some of the triumphant reviews below – read what the critics have to say about Purnell’s work, and then hear the author herself at our upcoming lectures!

New York, NY: October 28
Chicago, IL: October 30
Philadelphia, PA: November 2

Sonia Purnell's latest book is out to glowing reviews

Sonia Purnell’s latest book is out to glowing reviews

“Sonia Purnell has done her subject proud in this eye-opening and engrossing account of the strong-willed and ambitious woman without whom – so Purnell argues with authority – Winston Churchill’s political career would have been a washout…Purnell’s excellent book makes us fully realise what a mercy it was that Churchill, so indisputably dependent upon his wife’s support, was the first of the two to go. “50 per cent genius; 50 per cent bloody fool,” was Clement Attlee’s crisp analysis, and it is clear from this admirable account that Churchill would never have risen to greatness without Clementine.”

-The Telegraph‘s 5-star Review

“[Winston] Churchill’s own tribute to his marriage seems to reveal what was missing. ‘For what,’ he wrote, ‘can be more glorious than to be united with a being incapable of an ignoble thought?’ It is a credit to Ms. Purnell’s fine book that Clementine escapes from Winston’s anodyne portrait, emerging as a canny and mightily determined figure, capable of a great many ignoble thoughts. Asked after the war how her husband managed to do so much, she responded that he “never did anything he didn’t want to do, and left someone else to clear up the mess.” That was the great man’s burden that Clementine bore through six decades of marriage, all the while troubled by nervous ailments. They would all disappear when she became a widow.”

-The Wall Street Journal

“Purnell shows empathy for her subject, but she doesn’t spare criticism, particularly in portraying her as a distant, somewhat neglectful mother of the couple’s five children—all of whom led troubled lives, except their youngest daughter, Mary. This exemplary biography illustrates how Clementine’s intelligence, hard work, and perseverance in often difficult circumstances made her every bit a match for her remarkable, intimidating husband, and a fascinating figure in her own right.”

-Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review

Clementine Churchill

Clementine Churchill

“A sharply drawn, absorbing portrait of Churchill’s elegant, strong-willed wife, who was also his adviser, supporter, protector, and manager. . . Purnell argues persuasively for Clementine’s importance to history: she functioned as her husband’s astute political strategist; insisted that he consider her feminist views; vetted his speeches; and campaigned for his successes. . . A riveting, illuminating life of a remarkable woman.”

-Kirkus Reviews

“Clementine Churchill, nee Hozier, notoriously private and reserved, with no intimate friends, presents a challenge for a biographer. Purnell accordingly employs novelistic techniques. Her introduction opens with a dramatic reconstruction of the night before the D-Day landings, when Clementine entered the Downing Street Map Room: ‘she cast her eyes over the long central table, from which the phones never stopped ringing, to the far corner, where, as she expected, she spotted Winston, shoulders hunched, jowly face cast in agonized brooding. She went to him as she knew she must, for no one else, no aide, no general, no friend however loyal, could help him now.'”

-The Independent