Churchill

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Sebastian Haffner brought a cultivated and sharp yet scholarly Central European eye to mid-twentiethcentury Britain, whence the high tide of fascist totalitarianism had decanted him in time to savour Winston Churchill's dramatic ascent to political, historical and global immortality. His real name was Raimund Pretzel but, once he took up his anti-Hitler pen in Britain, a cover needed to be invented to protect relatives still living in Germany. His new pseudonym fused the middle name of J S Bach and the Symphony No 35 of Mozart. Haffner is as vivid on Churchill the Edwardian 'New Liberal' and on Churchill the grand old man in his early 1950s twilight premiership - attempting one last heave to ease the Cold War before the dreadful new hydrogen weapons scorched and contaminated the world - as he is on the man of destiny in 1940 around whom geopolitics revolved as Britain made its last throw as a superpower. There is not a dull page or a stale metaphor in the book. The library shelves groan with studies of Churchill. Compared to most, Haffner's book is slim, fast-paced and written with the body barely cold. It can, however, be read with great pleasure, profit and speed without the slightest danger of tiring grey cells or arms. The mind behind it, to adapt a phrase of Bryan Magee's, was provincial neither in time nor in place. Churchill welcomed the victims of the axis powers to the last great European capital to hold out against them. Haffner repaid his personal debt most handsomely within these pages.