Geoffrey Wheatcroft takes a literary spray can to the iconic World War II leader, attempting metaphorically at least to recast the many memorials and books devoted to Sir Winston over the years. Churchill, in this telling, was not just a racist but a hypocrite, a dissembler, a narcissist, an opportunist, an imperialist, a drunk, a strategic bungler, a tax dodger, a neglectful father, a credit-hogging author, a terrible judge of character and, most of all, a masterful mythmaker ... Few have argued the case as powerfully as Wheatcroft ... Other than the one bright spot in 1940, it is a withering assessment of Churchill’s life, his efforts to airbrush his legacy and the so-called Churchill cult ... Wheatcroft is a skilled prosecutor with a rapier pen. Churchill is not his only target. He has acerbic asides for all manner of people ... If it feels as though Wheatcroft gives short shrift to the profound importance of Churchill’s courageous stand against Hitler, perhaps that is because he has written his book almost as an explicit rejoinder to Andrew Roberts, who celebrated that stand so expertly ... Roberts’s book was described in these pages as the best single-volume biography of Churchill yet written. Wheatcroft’s could be the best single-volume indictment of Churchill yet written ... With statues, it is hard to see the complexity. Which is why we have competing books like these to help shape the debate as we edit the past.
This book is never mean-spirited, and never degenerates into a demolition job. He’s often infuriated and sometimes appalled by Churchill; yet somehow he always finds him fascinating, even loveable ... The question is whether we need another Churchill book. Nothing Wheatcroft says is new; even his revisionism is familiar. As for his underlying argument — that Britain suffers from a dangerous case of 'Churchillism', which prevents us from 'coming to terms' with our place in the world, whatever that means — I find it utterly unconvincing ... Yet although I don’t buy Wheatcroft’s argument, I enjoyed disagreeing with it. Even readers sick of Churchill will find much to enjoy, partly because Wheatcroft is such a fluent and entertaining writer, but also because he has so many interesting and provocative things to say.
In the book’s second part...there is very little on the credit side of the ledger ... The litany of blunders and worse inspired by this Churchill obsession is a long one for Mr. Wheatcroft ...The tone is often begrudgingly dark ... Mr. Wheatcroft denigrates Mr. Roberts, the 'pre-eminent Churchillian,' and other historians throughout his own analysis. That’s a shame, not least because Mr. Roberts’s is a much better book—deeply researched in the archives and the product of decades of Churchill study ... Few admirers of Churchill escape Mr. Wheatcroft’s ire ... Churchill’s Shadow works best, then, if thought of as a kind of generational lament.