Ricks wisely skims lightly over the early years of his subjects and, with Churchill, his ineffectual later years, as well, focusing instead on the 'fulcrum point,' the 1930s and 1940s, when both men were frequently lonely voices in the wilderness ... Churchill & Orwell is an eminently readable, frankly inspirational and exceptionally timely tribute to the two men Simon Schama called 'the architects of their time.' It is to be hoped that their counterparts in intellectual clarity and moral courage are among us today.
...[a] page turner written with great brio ... For Ricks, the relationship is essentially about freethinking. He doesn’t always force connections or contradictions for readers; for example, the link between Winston Smith’s job rewriting history, much as the former prime minister was doing in his own memoirs, goes undeveloped. But what comes across strongly in this highly enjoyable book is the fierce commitment of both Orwell and Churchill to critical thought.
[Ricks] compares the two, highlighting not just their skills and strengths, but the tumultuous times that demanded the highest exercise of their talents ... Ricks doesn’t try to make connections where none exist — the men lived parallel but separate lives. However, the last article Orwell published before his death in 1950 was a review of the second volume of Churchill’s war memoirs. His main character in 1984, a man whose abiding desire was to live free, was named Winston ... Readers of this book will realize, if they needed reminding, that the struggle to preserve and tell the truth is a very long game.
More than half of Churchill and Orwell is devoted to a detailed recounting of Churchill’s life, much of which is familiar material and has little or no relevance to Ricks’s main topic. The book would have benefited from a deeper exploration of the wartime conflict between Orwell and Churchill’s government over the complexities of truth and its suppression — an issue that has obvious significance today. Nonetheless, for all of Churchill’s shortcomings in this particular regard, there’s no question that, overall, both he and Orwell demonstrated moral courage and a fierce dedication to the importance of democracy and individual freedom — increasingly rare qualities today that Ricks rightly celebrates.
Ricks tracks his subjects without falling into the usual traps. He is neither sanctimonious about Orwell, nor overly reverential when discussing Churchill ... Ricks sometimes awkwardly transitions from Churchill, at the height of his influence in the early years of the war, to Orwell, in ill health and working for the BBC from 1941 to 1943. The writer was a marginal figure at this point — his fame was mostly posthumous ... Ricks, a Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent, brings a keen understanding of military affairs to Churchill’s wartime conduct.
In vivid prose, Ricks entwines the biographies of two figures who fought in strikingly different ways to achieve similar goals. What is new in this portrayal is their juxtaposition between a single book’s covers, though it’s unclear on what grounds Ricks chooses to do so. Other politicians roused their people; other writers warned of the Nazi and Soviet menaces. However, even if Ricks isn’t convincing in his pairing of the two men, he superbly illustrates that Churchill and Orwell made enduring cases for the necessity of moral and political fortitude in the face of authoritarianism. This is a bracing work for our times.
...given the author’s abundant skills, readers will thoroughly enjoy the result. Since Churchill and Orwell never met, Ricks writes separate biographies and then works hard to deliver a common theme. He succeeds because these two men made cases for individual freedom better than anyone in their century ... A superb account of two men who set standards for defending liberal democracy that remain disturbingly out of reach.
Ricks recounts the fight of two 20th century giants against the enemies of freedom. His book does not provide new information or fresh interpretations about his subjects, but it’s an elegantly written celebration of two men who faced an existential crisis to their way of life with moral courage — and demonstrated that an individual can make a difference … He is also right to remind us in his fine book that in their words and actions, Churchill and Orwell demonstrated that liberty ‘is not the product of military action. Rather it is something alive that grows or diminishes every day, in how we think and communicate, how we treat each other in our public discourse, in what we value and reward as a society.’
...in Ricks’s book, Churchill’s narrative is inevitably more compelling. However, this doesn’t substantively undermine Ricks’s book or his premise. In fact, readers should know that Ricks’s gift for storytelling makes this book virtually impossible at times to set down ... Ricks concludes his extraordinarily interesting book by showing how Orwell’s popularity has increased as his prescient writing warns against each new Big Brother. He asserts that 'In recent years, [Orwell] may even have passed Churchill, not in terms of historical significance but of current influence.'”