London: Thornton Butterworth Limited, 1938. First Revised and Expanded Edition, first printing. Hardcover. This is the British first revised and expanded edition, first printing, in dust jacket. This edition, published in 1938 soon after the first edition of 1937, added four new essays (Fisher, Parnell, Baden-Powell, and - of great interest - Roosevelt). As is the case with the first edition, first printing, the dust jacket for the 1938 revised edition is both elusive and desirable, and the binding quite prone to sunning and dulling in its absence.
This is a very good plus copy in a very good minus dust jacket. The blue cloth binding is clean and square with sharp corners, and almost no appreciable wear. While the spine gilt is modestly dulled, the blue spine cloth is unfaded, with no discernible color shift between the covers and spine. The contents are clean and tight with no previous ownership marks. Differential toning to the endpapers confirms that this copy has always been jacketed. A trivial hint of light spotting is confined to the page edges. This edition's attractive dust jacket bears a photograph of Churchill on a large blue panel. The dust jacket is unclipped and has good spine presentation, with only small losses to the spine ends. Nonetheless, the jacket shows wear. There are closed tears and some attendant wrinkling to a depth of 1.25 inches, two chips at the upper edge of the rear face of .25 x .75 and 1.25 x .5 inches, and a one-inch circular hole at the lower right corner of the front face above the price. Despite these flaws this is a respectable example of a scarce dust jacket. The dust jacket is protected beneath a removable, archival quality clear cover.
Great Contemporaries is Churchill's much-praised collection of insightful essays about leading personalities of the day - including the likes of Lawrence, Shaw, and, most famously, Hitler. 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. Neville Chamberlain, perhaps Churchill’s most vexing political opponent at the time, wrote to Churchill on 4 October 1937 to say: “How you can go on throwing off these sparkling sketches with such apparent ease & such sustained brilliance… is a constant source of wonder to me. But the result is to give great pleasure and entertainment…” 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 favorably contrast with many of today's more polemic writers.
In the course of sketching the character of his contemporaries Churchill necessarily reveals much 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 A105.3.a, Woods/ICS A43(b.1), Langworth p.182. Item #005115