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We Shall Not Fail : The Inspiring Leadership of Winston Churchill
By his granddaughter Celia Sandys and Jonathan Littman
New York: Portfolio, 2004.
$14.00, xv-282 pages, ISBN 1591840449 (paperback).*

Antoine Capet
Université de Rouen


That 'Churchill books' have become a thriving industry is in no doubt. This is not meant to be a derogative remark: after all, if 'the greatest Briton of all time' left the publishing industry indifferent, one would not understand. As Curt Zoller’s Bibliography1 shows, 'Churchill books' have now been appearing at a steady pace for over one hundred years. And arguably, the pace is accelerating, not slowing. Inevitably, this considerable output can only be of unequal quality.

Some of the recent academic biographies or monographs have been reviewed in Cercles.2 But these superb scholarly works only represent the visible tip of the iceberg. Many ‘popular’ biographies, usually lavishly illustrated, appear in new editions or as new print runs of old faithful money-spinners. For some years, there has been a new ‘line’: Churchill’s family. A double ‘line,’ in fact, because there have appeared both books on Churchill’s family and family life by outsiders, and memoirs and edited writings of the Great Man by members of his own family. There is nothing really new in this: Randolph, Churchill’s only son (1911-1968) really started the ball rolling by writing the first volumes of his father’s official biography, continued and completed by Sir Martin Gilbert, probably the most prolific author of Churchill books. Lady Soames, née Mary Churchill in 1922, published Clementine Churchill: The Biography of a Marriage, which received critical acclaim, in 1979.3 Besides giving a number of lectures on Churchill, especially in North America, she has also edited Speaking for Themselves: The Personal Correspondence of Winston and Clementine Churchill, published in 1998. She has now established herself as a ‘serious’ Churchill authority, respected by the academic world. Can one say the same of the next generation, that is Churchill’s grandchildren, especially Celia Sandys, the daughter born in 1943 of Diana, Churchill’s eldest child (1909-1963)?

Celia Sandys has already written a number of books exploiting the Churchill gold mine,4 and we now have a new one, co-written by Jonathan Littman, whose share in the text is not clear.5 Still, the remarkable passage on page 69, making much of the parallel between Churchill in Britain in 1940 and a certain Steve Jobs at Apple Computer in 1997, is very unlikely to have been written by Celia Sandys:

Churchill was setting a tone of unity for his administration, getting on with business, telling both his own people and his enemies that henceforth Britain was united. Business leaders must do this all the time with staff, partners, and enemies, even if it does not always come easily. Steve Jobs, for instance, was celebrated more for his vision and temper than his management skills in founding Apple Computer. But when Jobs rejoined the faltering company as president in 1997, he surprised the Apple faithful by launching a strategic alliance with the company’s longtime nemesis, Bill Gates.

Likewise, who wrote the incredible condemnation of President Carter on page 90, when his action over the hostages in Iran is unfavourably contrasted with that of Churchill over the killing of the British naval attaché in Petrograd in 1918: "If only Jimmy Carter had acted with such strength and determination. […] Carter was bullied, and America lost because he did not stand up for the hostages or the nation"? It also seems doubtful that an Englishwoman would have chosen only American examples as equals of Churchill as a charismatic leader: "Inspirational leaders are beacons of hope. They project an aura of confidence and resolve that is quite literally contagious. Churchill had this gift. So did Roosevelt, Truman, Patton, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and more than a few of today’s business leaders. They are charismatic" [174].

The back cover ‘blurbs’ of We Shall Not Fail make the format clear: "An intimate expert on Sir Winston—his own granddaughter—offers today’s business leaders insights on the leadership strategies that made Churchill great" or "Drawing on vivid stories, letters, and speeches, Sandys reveals the lessons we must learn if we are to lead in today’s tough business environment by studying the actions and words of a man who is still regarded as an inspirational colossus." The advertisements in the last few pages of the book make it clear that it is a kind of ‘tie-in’ to Celia Sandys’s Anglo-American venture, Churchill Leadership:

Churchill Leadership was founded by Celia Sandys. The company offers today’s business leaders the opportunity to learn from the greatest leader of the twentieth century. From offices in London and San Francisco, the company delivers leadership training programs worldwide for corporations and individuals looking to enhance their competitive edge through developing their leadership skills.

In type and style which recalls the "Moral of the Work" in Churchill’s volumes on The Second World War, the advertisement sums up ‘the Churchillian Principles of Leadership’:


And in case the reader is tempted to enrol for a course, the website is given: <>. Interestingly, the website itself contains a ‘plug’ for the book. So, by the time one reads the copy on the website, the whole thing has run full circle: it is all evidently a commercial operation, with Celia Sandys cashing in on her grandfather’s fame to make a fast buck. Bearing in mind that the book is avowedly not intended for scholars,6 but for young (?) Blairites or Bushites with drive, what can it bring to the academic community?

Few Churchill scholars can claim to master the full canon. As the authors remind us, he wrote "forty-four books, some eight hundred full-scale articles, many other smaller pieces […], with eighteen volumes of published speeches" [44]. So, the many Churchill quotations in the book are most welcome—but the reference is never given. One can immediately locate the passage given on page 142 ending with "we shall never surrender," like the "excerpts from Churchill’s 'Never in the Field of Human Conflict' speech" given on page 56, but one is frustrated not to have the exact reference of the magnificent words attacking Protection on the facing page, "dear food for the million, cheap labour for the millionaire." All we can deduce from the accompanying text is that they come from a 1904 speech. There are also irritating passages when one is left to guess the exact source since only fragmentary information is given, e.g. "Churchill created his own intelligence network, what Professor G. Nicholas7of Oxford has called 'a private information center, the information of which was often superior to that of the Government' " [86]. Or "Bill Deakin, an Oxford Don, recalled8 that Churchill’s most productive nights often followed a social lunch, strolls with guests through the gardens at Chartwell, and a warm bath at seven" [234].

Curiously, the book ‘improves’—from the point of the view of the reader irritated by the authors’ adoption of the American Right’s language—as it goes. Up to Chapter 11, all the hagiographic references to Churchill are immediately followed, in the same paragraphs, by the lessons which the ‘business leader’ should draw from them. But Chapters 12 (Find your Clementine) and 13 (Follow your Canvas) are free of this, with only a summary of the ‘Churchillian principles’ which should be remembered after reading the chapters—though Chapter 14 (Winning the War) resumes the edifying Churchill/businessman pattern. Needless to say, Chapters 12 and 13 (about 25 pages altogether) are the most interesting in the book: not much, one is bound to conclude.

Obviously, then, the interest of the book lies elsewhere. That is, it should not be read in the first degree (which businessman would really take his professional guidance from a maverick like Churchill, anyway? The more so as he lost his money when he invested in company shares in the 1920s, as the book reminds us on page 221). In the second degree, it is a fascinating collection of all the clichés and preconceptions on ‘leadership’ which American or American-inspired businessmen are supposed to believe in. And in the third degree, it shows what type of pap some authors and publishers think will appeal to these businessmen. The book properly belongs with "American Studies—Psychology of 'Business Publications'," not with "British Studies"—still less with "British History," whatever Celia Sandys may say in her Acknowledgements about her research at Churchill College, Cambridge.


* A hardcover edition appeared in 2003. ISBN 1591840155.
1. Zoller, Curt. Annotated Bibliography of Works about Sir Winston S. Churchill. Published in Association with the Churchill Centre. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2004. See Cercles review on: back
2. Cf. Larres, Klaus. Churchill’s Cold War: The Politics of Personal Diplomacy. New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2002. See Cercles review on:
Ramsden, John. Man of the Century: Winston Churchill and his Legend since 1945. London: Harper Collins, 2002. See Cercles review on:
Wrigley, Chris. Winston Churchill : A Biographical Companion. Oxford: ABC-Clio, 2002. See Cercles review on: back
3. Revised and updated edition. London: Doubleday, 2002. back
4. From Winston with Love and Kisses: The young Churchill. London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1994. Churchill Wanted Dead or Alive. London: HarperCollins, 1999. Churchill. London: Contender Books, 2003 (a pictorial album). Chasing Churchill: The Travels of Winston Churchill by his Granddaughter. London: HarperCollins, 2003. back
5. Jonathan Littman’s books in the COPAC database include: The fugitive Game: Online with Kevin Mitnick – The inside Story of the Great Cyberchase. Boston: Little, Brown, 1996 (on computer hackers); and, with Tom Kelley, The art of Innovation : Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm. New York: Currency/Doubleday, 2001. Celia Sandys ends her Acknowledgements with a cryptic sentence: "Finally I wish to thank my co-author, Jonathan Littman, for all the splendid work that he has done to make this book a reality." back
6. See the open anti-academic demagoguery of sentences like "What makes Churchill’s legacy all the more pertinent for leaders today is that he was largely self-taught. In other words you do not have to graduate from Harvard or Oxford to become proficient on the podium or with the pen" [44]. back
7. Zoller has no "G. Nicholas" in his Index of Authors. He has only one "Nicholas," "H.G. Nicholas," with two publications which do not seem relevant here, The British General Election of 1950 and an article on "Roosevelt and Churchill." back
8. The reference might be : Deakin, (Sir) Frederick W.D. Churchill the Historian. Third Winston Churchill Memorial Lecture, given in the University of Basel, 10 January 1969. Bâle : Fondation suisse Winston Churchill, Université de Bâle, 1970. back


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