A New Edition of “Thoughts and Adventures”

A New Edition of “Thoughts and Adventures”

a039isiThoughts and Adven­tures, by Win­ston S. Churchill, edit­ed with a new intro­duc­tion by James W. Muller. ISI Books, 380 pages, illus., soft­bound, $22.

If Churchill’s 1932 vol­ume of essays on pol­i­tics, car­toons, elec­tions, hob­bies and adven­tures dur­ing the Great War is real­ly an undis­cov­ered clas­sic” (as the pub­lish­ers state on the back cov­er of this new edi­tion) it will be news to gen­er­a­tions of read­ers. Thoughts and Adven­tures (first pub­lished in Amer­i­ca at as Amid These Storms) has seen twelve or more edi­tions in Eng­lish; trans­la­tions into Dan­ish, French, Ger­man, Kore­an, Span­ish and Swedish; and even a com­bined edi­tion with Great Con­tem­po­raries. Four of its essays are the sub­ject of the 2009 Churchill Conference.

But what makes the new vol­ume so valu­able, aside from its easy­go­ing paper­back price—is an out­stand­ing new intro­duc­tion by Churchill Cen­tre chair­man of aca­d­e­m­ic advis­ers James W. Muller, pro­fes­sor of polit­i­cal sci­ence at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Alas­ka Anchor­age. In a 28-page essay, Muller plumbs the depths of Churchill’s intel­lect, the rai­son d’etre of a book which is far more than a hap­haz­ard col­lec­tion of “pot­boil­ers” (as WSC him­self some­times referred to his articles):

As a book, the essays in Thoughts and Adven­tures are meant to con­vey his prac­ti­cal wis­dom about pol­i­tics. In every essay, even the most unas­sum­ing ones or those a sophis­ti­cat­ed would find most unpromis­ing, Churchill explores the topog­ra­phy of life in a mod­ern lib­er­al democ­ra­cy. He treats sim­ple sub­jects that appeal to a prac­ti­cal man, but his essays take up ques­tions that would puz­zle a philosopher.

Armed with Muller’s intro­duc­tion, the read­er com­pre­hends how deeply Churchill, a politi­cian with­out a for­mal edu­ca­tion, thought about tran­scen­den­tal mat­ters, and why Churchill Stud­ies remain pop­u­lar and ever­green. Here are his “big four” futur­ist essays—”Shall We All Com­mit Sui­cide?,” “Fifty Years Hence,” “Con­sis­ten­cy in Pol­i­tics” and “Mass Effects in Mod­ern Life”—subjects of the upcom­ing con­fer­ence. Here are “My Spy Sto­ry” and “The Bat­tle of Sid­ney Street,” which treat in every­day expe­ri­ences issues of civ­il lib­er­ty and civil­ian con­trol of the mil­i­tary and police.

We wit­ness Churchill’s col­le­gial pol­i­tics in his tol­er­ant appre­ci­a­tion of oppo­nents in “Elec­tion Mem­o­ries” and “Car­toons and Car­toon­ists,” and meet those who influ­enced him in “Per­son­al Con­tacts.” We see war as Churchill saw it in “With the Grenadiers,” “‘Plugstreet,’” “The U-Boat War” and “The Dover Bar­rage.” We watch his­to­ry made over his burly shoul­der in “The Irish Treaty.” We find two of his heroes from the oppo­site ends of his­to­ry in “Clemenceau” and “Moses.” We even learn how to relax, with “Hob­bies” and “Paint­ing as a Pas­time.” All the while our wise edi­tor is there with a mod­ern inter­pre­ta­tion of what Churchill tells us, and why it still matters.

Nor is the fas­tid­i­ous Pro­fes­sor Muller con­tent with a fore­word. He pro­vides a host of new foot­notes, large­ly pro­vid­ed by Finest Hour senior edi­tor Paul Courte­nay, which aid the mod­ern read­er by describ­ing events, peo­ple and places no longer famil­iar. Then, in the back of the book, he appends a thick set of notes, investigating—with Ronald Cohen’s epic Bib­li­og­ra­phy of the Writ­ings of Sir Win­ston Churchill at hand—the ori­gin of each essay, its tit­u­lar and tex­tu­al vari­a­tions, and in many cas­es how it came to be written.

We learn for exam­ple that Churchill’s own fore­word was not writ­ten by WSC (who was “in a nurs­ing home recu­per­at­ing from a relapse of paraty­phoid in ear­ly Octo­ber 1932”). It was penned for him by his long­time friend and sec­re­tary Eddie Marsh, who emu­lat­ed the boss’s style so per­fect­ly that Churchill wrote on his copy, “Rather good pastiche.”

Muller’s notes record every alter­ation in each essay, as Churchill, an inde­fati­ga­ble revis­er, tweaked and mold­ed his work to suit the pub­li­ca­tion or audi­ence. In “My Spy Sto­ry,” for exam­ple, Muller pro­duces five lengthy para­graphs from the orig­i­nal appear­ance in Cos­mopoli­tan which Churchill omit­ted from the book, describ­ing a “much trust­ed” Ger­man spy in Britain, whose reports were stud­ied in Berlin and Wil­helmshaven. And, just to be sure you know, Muller adds that Wil­helmshaven, “named after Kaiser Wil­helm I in 1869,” was the “head­quar­ters of Germany’s High Seas Fleet in World War I.”

Tru­ly this is as emi­nent an edi­tion of a great work as we could hope to have—a trib­ute to the edi­tor as to the author. In keep­ing with ISI’s prac­tice, it will be in print a long time, to edu­cate and inform future gen­er­a­tions of Churchill’s polit­i­cal instinct, judg­ment, fore­sight and magnanimity.

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