The Second World War (book series)

Last updated

The Second World War
Churchill History WWII 6vols.JPG
First edition in 6 volumes
Author Winston Churchill and assistants
CountryUnited Kingdom [1]
Subject Second World War
Publisher HoughtonMifflin
Publication date

The Second World War is a history of the period from the end of the First World War to July 1945, written by Winston Churchill. Churchill labelled the "moral of the work" as follows: "In War: Resolution, In Defeat: Defiance, In Victory: Magnanimity, In Peace: Goodwill". [2]


Churchill wrote the book, with a team of assistants, using both his own notes and privileged access to official documents while still working as a politician; the text was vetted by the Cabinet Secretary. Churchill was largely fair in his treatment, but wrote the history from his personal point of view. He was unable to reveal all the facts, as some, such as the use of Ultra electronic intelligence, had to remain secret. From a historical point of view the book is therefore an incomplete memoir by a leading participant in the direction of the war.

The book was a major commercial success in Britain and the United States. The first edition appeared in six volumes; later editions appeared in twelve and four volumes, and there is also a single-volume abridged version.


Churchill during the Second World War Churchill HU 90973.jpg
Churchill during the Second World War

When Churchill assumed office in 1940, he intended to write a history of the war then beginning. He said several times: "I will leave judgements on this matter to history—but I will be one of the historians." To circumvent the rules against the use of official documents, he took the precaution throughout the war of having a weekly summary of correspondence, minutes, memoranda and other documents printed in galleys and headed "Prime Minister's personal minutes". These were then stored at his home and Churchill wrote or dictated letters and memoranda with the intention of placing his views on the record, for later use as a historian. The arrangements became a source of controversy when The Second World War began appearing in 1948. Churchill was a politician not an academic historian and was Leader of the Opposition, intending to return to office, so Churchill's access to Cabinet, military and diplomatic records denied to other historians was questioned. [3]

It was not known at the time that Churchill had done a deal with Clement Attlee and the Labour government which came to office in 1945. Attlee agreed to allow Churchill's research assistants access to all documents, provided that no official secrets were revealed, the documents were not used for party political purposes and the typescript was vetted by the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Norman Brook. Brook took a close interest in the books and rewrote some sections to ensure that British interests were not harmed or the government embarrassed. [4] Churchill's privileged access to documents and his knowledge gave him an advantage over other historians of the Second World War for many years. The books had enormous sales in both Britain and the United States and made Churchill a rich man for the first time. [5] [6] The gathered documents were placed in chronologies by his advisers, and this store of material was further supplemented by dictated recollections of key episodes, together with queries about chronology, location an personalities for his team to resolve. [7] Churchill also wrote to many fellow actors requesting documents and comments. [7] Once all was collected and collated, Churchill began writing in earnest, dictating almost all of the work, with the notable exception of several long passages in Volume I. [7]

As various archives have been opened, several deficiencies of the work have become apparent. Some of these are inherent in the position Churchill occupied as a former Prime Minister and a serving politician. He could not reveal ongoing military secrets, such as the work of the code breakers at Bletchley Park, or the planning of the atomic bomb. [8] As stated in the author's introduction, the book concentrates on the British war effort. [2] Other theatres of war are described largely as a background. The descriptions of the fighting on the Eastern Front and to a lesser extent, of the Pacific War are sketchy.[ citation needed ] Although he is usually fair, some personal vendettas are aired, for example against Sir Stafford Cripps,[ citation needed ] at one time considered by some the "only possible alternative wartime Prime Minister" to Churchill. [9] He modified a number of passages when he learnt that General Eisenhower was to run for the Presidency, removing any remarks which might harm the "special relationship" which he intended to establish (or re-establish) with the new President. [4]


1960s paperback edition in 12 volumes shared some titles with the first edition but for different portions of the work. Churchill History WWII 12vols.JPG
1960s paperback edition in 12 volumes shared some titles with the first edition but for different portions of the work.

The Second World War can be read with profit by students of the period as a memoir by a leading participant rather than a comprehensive history by a professional and detached historian. The Second World War, particularly the period from 1940 to 1942 when Britain fought with the support of the Empire and a few Allies, was the climax of Churchill's career and his inside story of those days is unique and invaluable.

American historian Raymond Callahan, reviewing In Command of History by David Reynolds about Churchill's The Second World War, wrote:

The outlines of the story have long been known—Churchill wrote to put his own spin on the history of the war and give himself and his family financial security, and he wrote with a great deal of assistance.

Callahan concluded that notwithstanding any changes to historians' understanding of the book, now that what Churchill wrote has been compared in detail to the released archives, Churchill "remains the arresting figure he has always been—dynamic, often wrong, but the indispensable leader" who led Britain to "its last, terribly costly, imperial victory." In Callahan's view, Churchill was guilty of "carefully reconstructing the story" to suit his postwar political goals. [10]

John Keegan wrote in the 1985 introduction to the series that some deficiencies in the account stem from the secrecy of Ultra intelligence. Keegan held that Churchill's account was unique, since none of the other leaders (Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Benito Mussolini, Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Hideki Tojo) wrote a firsthand account of the war. Churchill's books were written collaboratively, as he solicited others involved in the war for their papers and remembrances. [8]


The Second World War has been issued in editions of six, twelve and four volumes, as well as a single-volume abridgment. Some volumes in these editions share names, such as Triumph and Tragedy but the contents of the volumes differ, covering varying portions of the book.

The country of first publication was the United States, preceding publication in the United Kingdom by six months. This was a consequence of the many last minute changes which Churchill insisted be made to the London Cassell edition, which he considered to be definitive. [1]

See also


Related Research Articles

Clement Attlee Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1945 to 1951

Clement Richard Attlee, 1st Earl Attlee, was a British politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1945 to 1951 and Leader of the Labour Party from 1935 to 1955. He was thrice Leader of the Opposition.

Winston Churchill Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1940–1945; 1951–1955)

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was a British politician, army officer, and writer. He was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945, when he led Great Britain to victory in the Second World War, and again from 1951 to 1955. Churchill represented five constituencies during his career as a Member of Parliament (MP). Ideologically an economic liberal and imperialist, he was for most of his career a member of the Conservative Party, which he led from 1940 to 1955, but from 1904 to 1924 he was a member of the Liberal Party.

<i>A History of the English-Speaking Peoples</i> book

A History of the English-Speaking Peoples is a four-volume history of Britain and its former colonies and possessions throughout the world, written by Winston Churchill, covering the period from Caesar's invasions of Britain to the end of the Second Boer War (1902). It was started in 1937 and finally published 1956–58, delayed several times by war and his work on other texts. The volumes have been abridged into a single-volume, concise edition.

Sir John Desmond Patrick Keegan was an English military historian, lecturer, writer and journalist. He wrote many published works on the nature of combat between prehistory and the 21st century, covering land, air, maritime, intelligence warfare and the psychology of battle.

Winston Churchill (novelist) American novelist

Winston Churchill was an American best-selling novelist of the early 20th century.

Andrew Roberts (historian) English historian and journalist

Andrew Roberts is a British historian and journalist. He is a Visiting Professor at the Department of War Studies, King's College London, a Roger and Martha Mertz Visiting Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University and a Lehrman Institute Distinguished Lecturer at the New York Historical Society. Roberts was educated at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he earned a first-class degree in Modern History.

Martin Gilbert English historian

Sir Martin John Gilbert was a British historian and honorary Fellow of Merton College, University of Oxford. He was the author of eighty-eight books, including works on Winston Churchill, the 20th century, and Jewish history including the Holocaust. He was a member of the Chilcot Inquiry into the UK's role in the Iraq War.

Sir John Wheeler Wheeler-Bennett was a conservative English historian of German and diplomatic history, and the official biographer of King George VI. He was well known in his lifetime, and his interpretation of the role of the German Army influenced a number of British historians.

Sir Arthur Wynne Morgan Bryant, was an English historian, columnist for The Illustrated London News and man of affairs. His books included studies of Samuel Pepys, accounts of English eighteenth- and nineteenth-century history, and a life of George V. Whilst his scholarly reputation has declined somewhat since his death, he continues to be read and to be the subject of detailed historical studies. He moved in high government circles, where his works were influential, being the favourite historian of three prime ministers: Winston Churchill, Clement Attlee, and Harold Wilson.

The Second Moscow Conference (Codename:BRACELET) between the major Allies of World War II took place from August 12, 1942 to August 17, 1942.

Paul Addison was a British historian known for his research on the political history of Britain during the Second World War and the post-war period. Addison was part of the first generation of academic historians to study the conflict and is most notable for The Road to 1945 (1975) which traced the origins of the post-war consensus into the wartime period.

<i>My Early Life</i> literary work

My Early Life, also known in the USA as A Roving Commission: My Early Life, is a 1930 book by Winston Churchill. It is an autobiography from his birth in 1874 to around 1902.

Winston Churchill as historian

The British statesman Winston Churchill was a prolific writer throughout his life, and many of his works were historical. His better-known historical works include: Marlborough: His Life and Times, The World Crisis, The Second World War, and A History of the English-Speaking Peoples. Churchill was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953 for "his mastery of historical and biographical description".

Churchill caretaker ministry Government of the United Kingdom

In 1945, the Churchill caretaker ministry was a short-term United Kingdom (UK) government during the latter stages of the Second World War from 23 May to 26 July. The Prime Minister was Winston Churchill, leader of the Conservative Party. The caretaker ministry succeeded the national coalition which Churchill had formed after he was first appointed Prime Minister on 10 May 1940. On 23 May 1945, the Labour and Liberal members of the coalition resigned in order to prepare for the forthcoming general election, the first held in the UK since 1935.

Historical rankings of prime ministers of the United Kingdom

Various polls and surveys of experts and the British public have attempted to rank prime ministers of the United Kingdom on a historical basis. Most have included only a subset of prime ministers, typically those of the 20th century or after the Second World War.

Winston Churchill as writer

Winston Churchill, in addition to his careers of soldier and politician, was a prolific writer under the pen name 'Winston S. Churchill'. After being commissioned into the 4th Queen's Own Hussars in 1895, Churchill gained permission to observe the Cuban War of Independence, and sent war reports to The Daily Graphic. He continued his war journalism in British India, at the Siege of Malakand, then in the Sudan during the Mahdist War and in southern Africa during the Second Boer War.

After the end of World War II, Winston Churchill's Conservative Party lost the 1945 election, forcing him to step down as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. For six years he served as the Leader of the Opposition. During these years Churchill continued to influence world affairs. In 1946 he gave his Iron Curtain speech which spoke of the expansionist policies of the USSR and the creation of the Eastern Bloc; Churchill also argued strongly for British independence from the European Coal and Steel Community; he saw this as a Franco-German project and Britain still had an empire. In the General Election of 1951 Labour was defeated.

<i>Bodyguard of Lies</i> book by Anthony Cave Brown

Bodyguard of Lies is a 1975 non-fiction book written by Anthony Cave Brown, his first major historical work. Named for a wartime quote of Winston Churchill, it is a narrative account of Allied military deception operations during the Second World War. The British and American governments resisted Brown's attempts to research the book. Many of the topics were still classified and he was denied access to British war records. The material in the book is predominantly based on oral testimony as well as some American records, declassified toward the end of Brown's research.

<i>The World Crisis</i> book by Winston Churchill

The World Crisis is Winston Churchill's account of the First World War, published in six volumes. Published between 1923 and 1931: in many respects it prefigures his better-known multivolume The Second World War. The World Crisis is analytical and, in some parts, a justification by Churchill of his role in the war. Churchill is reputed to have said about this work that it was "not history, but a contribution to history".

Peter L. N. Padfield is a British author, biographer, historian, and journalist who specializes in naval history and in the Second World War period. His early journalism appeared under the name P. L. N. Padfield. As well as his non-fiction work, he has also published four novels.


  1. 1 2 "The Books of Sir Winston Churchill". Retrieved 27 May 2017.
  2. 1 2 Churchill, Winston (1948). The Gathering Storm . Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN   0-395-41055-X.
  3. Best, 2002. p. 270
  4. 1 2 Reynolds, 2004. pp. 86–89
  5. Gilbert, 1992. p. 879
  6. Wheatcroft, Geoffrey (18 July 2012). "Winston Churchill, the author of victory". Review of 'Mr Churchill's Profession' by Peter Clarke, Bloomsbury, 2012. Times Literary Supplement (TLS). Retrieved 29 November 2012.
  7. 1 2 3 John Keegan (1985). Introduction. The Second World War. VI Triumph and tragedy. p. ix.
  8. 1 2 Keegan, John. Introduction to The Second World War, Volume 1, The Gathering Storm. Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1985.
  9. Harold Nicolson (1967), The War Years, 1939–1945, Vol. II of Diaries and Letters, Atheneum, New York, p. 205 (diary entry dated 14 January 1942).
  10. Callahan, Raymond (April 2006). "In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War (review)". The Journal of Military History. 70 (2): 551–552. doi:10.1353/jmh.2006.0082.
  11. Liner notes for BBC Audiobook