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Ministers at War

Ministers at War

Winston Churchill and His War Cabinet

In May 1940, with France on the verge of defeat, Britain alone stood in the path of the Nazi military juggernaut. Survival seemed to hinge on the leadership of Winston Churchill, whom the King reluctantly appointed Prime Minister as Germany invaded France. Churchill's reputation as one of the great twentieth-century leaders would be forged during the coming months and years, as he worked tirelessly first to rally his country and then to defeat Hitler. But Churchill—regarded as the savior of his nation, and of the entire continent—could not have done it alone.

As prize-winning historian Jonathan Schneer reveals in Ministers at War, Churchill depended on a team of powerful ministers to manage the war effort as he rallied a beleaguered nation. Selecting men from across the political spectrum—from fellow Conservative Anthony Eden to leader of the opposing socialist Labor Party Clement Attlee—Churchill assembled a War Cabinet that balanced competing interests and bolstered support for his national coalition government. The group possessed a potent blend of talent, ambition, and egotism. Led and encouraged by Churchill, the ministers largely set aside their differences, at least at first. As the war progressed, discord began to grow. It reached a peak in 1945: with victory seemingly assured, Churchill was forced by his Minsters at War to dissolve the Government and call a General Election, which, in a shocking upset, he lost to his rival Attlee.

Authoritatively recasting our understanding of British high politics during World War II, Schneer shows that Churchill managed the war effort by managing his team of supremely able yet contentious cabinet members. The outcome of the war lay not only in Churchill's individual brilliance but also in his skill as an executive, and in the collective ability of men who muted their personal interests to save the world from barbarism.
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Genre: Nonfiction / History / Military / World War Ii

On Sale: April 14th 2015

Price: $29.99 / $37.5 (CAD)

Page Count: 352

ISBN-13: 9780465027910

What's Inside

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Reader Reviews


Lee Pollock, Executive Director of The Churchill Centre
“Jonathan Schneer's Ministers at War provides a fascinating and lively account of the “team of rivals” that led Britain to victory during the Second World War. His insightful research and vivid writing bring to life an intriguing array of personalities whose role in Winston Churchill's coalition government was crucial to the nation's war effort. Ministers at War skillfully draws back the curtain on the complex politics of the five most eventful years in Britain's history.”
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Foreign Affairs
“A lively and readable book. The basic story—of how the United Kingdom's coalition government formed in 1940 and how it held together until the Allies defeated Germany—is familiar. But Schneer's telling makes the tale fresh, owing to his compelling portraits of Churchill's cabinet members and his emphasis on the importance of postwar planning.”

New York Review of Books
“Many Americans, both at the time and since, have viewed Britain's wartime governance through a Churchillian prism. It is certainly true that the prime minister dominated his nation's affairs more than did Roosevelt those of the United States. But Jonathan Schneer's book, Ministers at War, provides a corrective, emphasizing the important parts played by the War Cabinet, a supporting cast of five to eight members, to whom Churchill had the good sense to delegate many matters in which he was uninterested, and which he knew himself unqualified to arbitrate.”
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Washington Free Beacon
“A lively account of Churchill's grand coalition and the challenges he faced dealing with the endless scheming of powerful men and provides a fine description of the complex politics of one of the most important governments in British history.”

Library Journal, starred review
“A smoothly written and insightful examination of the men who aided Churchill during the years fraught with danger from the Nazi war machine. For most readers, this will be a book that cannot be put down until the last page is reached. An exceptional history on an extremely important topic, which should be acquired by all libraries.”

Kirkus, starred review
“A striking look inside the British government during a time when some of the most interesting characters of a challenging era were fighting for both the nation's salvation and their own ambitions. Churchill's role as a wartime leader is well-known from a myriad of histories, but this is one of the best recent treatments of his role as a head of government. Clear, thoroughly entertaining and full of lively detail.”
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Military Review
“Schneer takes a fresh perspective on Churchill… Ministers at War makes a valuable contribution to the pantheon of work on Winston Churchill. Eminently readable and making extensive use of diaries and personal papers, the book represents a fresh perspective on this venerable yet unendingly fascinating subject."

Winnipeg Free Press (CAN)
“A compellingly readable account of an often-overlooked aspect of his wartime leadership.”

Open Letters Monthly
“Brisk and very entertaining.... Schneer is genuinely talented at the kind of character-gallery dramatics that far too few working historians today can muster.”

BBC History Magazine
“It's always refreshing to read a book that covers familiar terrain yet brings a different eye and perspective to bear on it. Here, Jonathan Schneer has succeeded with considerable aplomb. Highly readable.”

Armchair General
“Schneer's superb book reveals how this fractious team pulled together when it counted in order to win the war. Especially enlightening to American readers is Schneer's examination of why Churchill, who was still extremely popular as the leader who had guided Britain to victory, was swept from power in the July 1945 general election when his Conservative Party was overwhelmingly defeated by the Labour Party.”
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Weekly Standard
“In this tale of Winston Churchill and his war cabinet, the answer to the perennial question—Do we really need another book about Churchill?—is a definite Yes. Here is a riveting account of how Churchill contended with strong-minded men from different parties and backgrounds, with differing ambitions, and competing against each other, both at cabinet meetings and in Parliament. This is Churchill as domestic politician, the man we seldom see.”

“Schneer elucidates how Churchill succeeded Chamberlain as prime minister in May 1939 over more likely candidates and remarkably assembled and managed a war cabinet of levelheaded, experienced men who examined issues from all angles.”

Spectator (UK)
“In this scholarly, yet grippingly readable study of the wartime coalition, Jonathan Schneer, reveals how much of a myth the popular legend of a political class and nation united behind their belligerent war leader truly was.”

Literary Review (UK)
“A lucid and compelling narrative.... Schneer is both scholarly and entertaining, punctuating the story with vivid sketches of the leading personalities.”

Washington Times
“Mr. Schneer's account of the political maneuvering that led to Churchill's ascension should fascinate even readers who care naught for British politics.”
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James Cronin, author of Global Rules: America, Britain and a Disordered World
“Jonathan Schneer has written a fascinating and original book on Winston Churchill and the politics of the Second World War. While Churchill's most notable contribution was to rally his embattled country behind the war effort, Schneer highlights yet another major achievement: the putting together and managing of the domestic coalition that allowed Britain to mobilize all of its resources for war. The team he put together was extremely talented, but they were also ambitious, self-confident, and opinionated. Harnessing their efforts, dealing with their incessant scheming and jostling with one another and with Churchill himself, took much time and great skill. And yet Churchill pulled off this feat as well. Schneer tells us much that we did not know, or know in detail, and allows us to see the war and Churchill's achievement in a new light. An impressive book and a pleasure to read.”

Peter Clarke, author of Mr. Churchill's Profession
“Like Abraham Lincoln before him, Winston Churchill proved himself a great war leader, as everyone knows. But Jonathan Schneer's achievement is to show us how Churchill too had to work with ‘a team of rivals' in his own war cabinet. It is a story told with great assurance and studded with vivid personal detail.”
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