Winston’s War: A Novel of Deception

Written by Michael Dobbs
Review by Ken Kreckel

Following upon the success of Never Surrender, this is another of Michael Dobbs’s previously published novels centering on pivotal moments in the public life of Winston Churchill. Less than a year before the outbreak of the war, we find Winston in the political wilderness, banished under Chamberlain’s seemingly brilliant and wildly popular policy of appeasement with Hitler. The Prime Minister attempts to cement his advantage by hatching political intrigues designed to keep him there. The full fury of the mid-20th century version of spin doctors and political tricks is employed, hence the subtitle. However, Adolph Hitler, interpreting appeasement as weakness, has his own ideas, and Chamberlain’s politically expedient guarantee to Poland collapses in the horror predicted by Winston all along.

Michael Dobbs produces compelling historical novels, breathing life into what seems a familiar history. Instead of the slightly rumpled, wing-collared, hopelessly outdated Neville Chamberlain of the newsreels, we have a fiercely competitive Prime Minister, one who doesn’t hesitate to use all the power at his disposal to defeat his rival Churchill. Dobbs presents his political characters as real human beings, with all the frailties and vices that infect our modern politicians. The reader will not soon forget the womanizing Joseph Kennedy showing off portraits of his actress conquests to an appalled Brendan Bracken, who himself is trying to seduce the diplomat’s niece. But it is in the politics itself than Dobbs shines. The notion that many of the events leading up to the war were born more out of political expediency than any strategic plan speaks volumes on how the tragedy of World War II came about. Dobbs gives us a sober reminder that pettiness and self-interest have a far larger role in the formation of world events than we would like to think.

Then, at least, there was a Winston Churchill to make it right.