Wednesday, June 02, 2004

The Last Lion Lives On: The story of William Manchester is a sad one. The author of a slew of biographies and histories, Manchester's writing career culminated in a projected three-volume biography of Winston Churchill called The Last Lion. The first two volumes were completed by 1989, but the death of Manchester's wife and a subsequent stroke left him physically and mentally unable to finish the third. He was something of a perfectionist, and not falsely modest about his own talent; thus, a search for a collaborator proved fruitless. And then, this week, Manchester dies at the age of 82. A dark cloud for those of us who deeply enjoyed those two books on Churchill. But a cloud with a silver lining.

The L.A. Times notes, in this obituary, that Manchester had finally found a collaborator, and that he had spent his remaining days passing on his vision for the third volume, Defender of the Realm, to journalist Paul Reid, who is expected to complete the final installment of the trilogy.

I've read some criticism of Manchester's Churchill, mainly that he was too credulous of Churchill apocrypha, or that he was too ready to buy into a "great man" scheme of history, or that he was writing "popular" history. I just don't know. I enjoy his books, though; and I'm currently enjoying American Caesar his biography of Douglas MacArthur (some of whose Pacific theater exploits Manchester saw close up in the 29th Marine regiment). Considering the cut of his jib, maybe those criticisms reflect the worldview of revisionists:

In a 2001 interview with Reid for the Palm Beach Post, a stroke-weakened Manchester talked about . . . the danger of political correctness, which he called "a poisoner of language" that "makes for bad history, bad thinking."
Hard to argue with that.

So, farewell to a great writer who seems to have found a way to get his final volume to us after all.

Link via Mrs. Enobarbus.

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