Great Contemporaries was a little late arriving to the Churchill canon. But it was worth the wait. We peruse it next. And why not. You got something better to do?

Great Contemporaries. He viewed it as a quick and easy packaging of the personality pieces he’d been writing for magazines and newspapers profiling the era’s political and literary luminaries. Churchill, however, opted to first publish a collection of journalistic writings that were not celebrity driven, which he titled Thoughts and Adventures. His four-volume Marlborough biography then intervened.

As a result, Churchill continued to write more profiles over the ensuing years for his network of media outlets, including one about Germany’s new Führer, Adolph Hitler, for The Strand Magazine in 1935. When, at last, Great Contemporaries was published in September 1937 it proved to be a very compelling book — twenty-one penetrating character studies that ran the gamut from Hitler to Trotsky to Lawrence of Arabia. An utter delight to read — beautifully written, brutally opinionated (Hitler came off just a bit better than George Bernard Shaw) — Great Contemporaries garnered a great many admirers, including, oddly enough, Britain’s new Conservative Prime Minister, who, while refusing Winston Churchill any place in his government, nevertheless wrote to him admiringly from Downing Street: “How you can go on throwing off these sparkling sketches with such apparent ease & such sustained brilliance, in the midst of all your other occupations is a constant source of wonder to me. But the result is to give great pleasure and entertainment to your numerous admirers, of whom not the least sincere is, yours very gratefully, Neville Chamberlain.”

A year later, Churchill added four additional profiles for a revised edition of Great Contemporaries. Chief among the new subjects was the American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, whom Churchill was particularly anxious to flatter and know better as the cloud of Nazism descended over Europe.

We desperately wish you especially good health and safety as we steadfastly weather our own Fascist cloud.