Beating out the likes of Princess Diana, John Lennon, and even William Shakespeare, Winston Churchill was named the Greatest Briton in a 2002 BBC poll. Churchill’s legacy has not suffered since. With Gary Oldman portraying him in the 2017 film “Darkest Hour” and John Lithgow doing the same in the acclaimed Netflix show “The Crown,” Churchill has proved himself a captivating figure for U.S. and British audiences alike. British author and journalist Giles Milton has added to the mix of Churchill storytellers with a book entitled “Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat.”
“[Churchill is] such a colorful character,” explained Milton in an interview with The Daily Princetonian. “He’s contradictory, and I think that fascinates people…. He’s almost like a Shakespearean character.”
Milton discussed his book at a March 2 talk hosted by the Princeton Public Library. While the talk was presented as a history lecture, with Milton speaking behind a podium accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation, the author’s delivery and the subject at hand engaged and informed audience members present.
The talk’s energy and expressiveness very much reflected Milton’s writing style, defined by its ability to maintain a truthful historical account as it captures the reader’s attention.
“I want to open a window onto a much bigger historical event or period,” Milton said, explaining that the topics he selects are chosen to illuminate specific episodes of history that appeal to general audiences.
“My books are not intended for an academic audience,” he added.
Much of the talk focused on highlighting the characters in his book and their contributions to the war effort.
“An academic book might not talk much about the characters and backgrounds of these people, but for me that’s really important,” Milton explained. “Who they are is part of the story.”
The book itself tells the tale of the highly secretive special operations forces tasked with bringing down the Nazis through guerrilla warfare, a tactic that was relatively new at the time.
“This had never been done before, it really was a completely new era of fighting a war,” Milton said.
According to Milton, in Britain there was a substantial amount of resistance to fighting a war in this fashion. Therefore, the country needed a secret group of men and women to conduct this “ungentlemanly” war, as Churchill put it.
“The establishment in Britain thought that war was a bit like a game of cricket. There were rules, you fought by the rules, and you didn’t hit a man when he was down,” explained Milton. “And my little band of men said, ‘Hold on a minute … the rulebook has been torn up — let’s just go for it.’”
Milton is the author of several narrative nonfiction books, including the popular “Nathaniel’s Nutmeg,” published in 1999. “Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” was a nominee for the 2017 Goodreads Choice Award for Best History & Biography book. Milton also hosts the podcast “Unknown History.”
The talk was held in the Princeton Public Library on Friday, March 2, at 6 p.m.