London: Thornton Butterworth Ltd., 1937. First edition, first printing. Hardcover. This is the British first edition, first printing, increasingly elusive thus in the first printing dust jacket. Great Contemporaries is Churchill's much-praised collection of insightful essays about 21 leading personalities of the day - including the likes of Lawrence, Shaw, and, most famously, Hitler. This copy is very good in a very good dust jacket and housed in a full navy Morocco goatskin Solander case.
The blue cloth binding remains square, clean, and tight with sharp corners and bright gilt, marred only by minor surface delamination of the buckram, possibly due to brief moisture exposure, mostly confined to the bottom of the rear cover with smaller spots on the front cover at the bottom edge and just below and to the left of the author’s name. The contents are bright and clean with no previous ownership marks. Minor spotting is almost entirely confined to the otherwise clean fore and bottom edges. The blue stained top edge is only mildly sunned, retaining respectable color.
There were six printings of the first edition between October and December of 1937, but from the second printing on there are differences to the dust jackets, rendering the first printing dust jacket unique. This is the first printing dust jacket, which retains its striking orange color with no sunning to the spine. The jacket is unclipped, retaining the original lower front flap price, and substantially complete. We note light overall soiling and short closed tears and minor loss to the spine ends and flap fold corners, as well as a tiny hole along the lower rear hinge. Nonetheless, this is a bright and nearly complete example of an increasingly elusive 1930s dust jacket. The dust jacket is protected beneath a removable, clear, archival cover.
The full navy morocco goatskin clamshell case features a rounded and hubbed spine with gilt decorated and gilt-rule framed raised spine bands, gilt spine print, and gilt-ruled borders on the covers. Condition of the case is immaculately fine.
The character sketches herein offer remarkable portraits of both their subjects and the author. Churchill's piece about Hitler can be a shock to the modern ear, as it underscores his ability to write a balanced appraisal of his subject while expressing his earnest desire to avoid the war that he would fight with such ferocious resolve only a few years later. There is a reason this book is still in print today. It was written with what has been called "penetrating evaluation, humor, and understanding." Churchill's balanced and nuanced perspectives provide salutary contrast to many of today's more polemic writers. And naturally, in the course of sketching the character of his contemporaries Churchill necessarily reveals some of his own character and perspective.
Churchill's portrait of T.E. Lawrence, published here just a few years before the Second World War, might well have been written about the author rather than by him: "The impression of the personality of Lawrence remains living and vivid upon the minds of his friends, and the sense of his loss is in no way dimmed among his countrymen. All feel the poorer that he has gone from us. In these days dangers and difficulties gather upon Britain and her Empire, and we are also conscious of a lack of outstanding figures with which to overcome them. Here was a man in whom there existed not only an immense capacity for service, but that touch of genius which everyone recognizes and no one can define." (Great Contemporaries, p.164) While some of the subjects of Churchill's sketches have receded into history, many remain well-known and all remain compellingly drawn.
Reference: Cohen A105.1.a, Woods/ICS A43(a.1), Langworth p.178. Item #005912