New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933. First U.S. edition. Hardcover. This is a superior copy of the U.S. first edition of Churchill's second book in the striking original dust jacket. Originally published in England in 1899, this was one of the few Churchill books that did not see a U.S. first edition concurrent with the British. In 1933 a new edition was issued in both England and, for the first time, in the U.S. with a bibliographically significant new introduction by the author explaining that "A generation has grown up which knows little of why we are in Egypt and the Sudan.” This is one of just 1,040 U.S. first edition copies issued. Per Richard Langworth (p.35), binding was probably done in England, using English sheets and a Scribner's title page cancel, since copies are bound in the identical lilac cloth as the Eyre & Spottiswoode edition of the same year. However, the striking dust jacket is unique to this U.S. first edition, printed in red and black, bearing R. C. Woodville's dramatic illustration of the Charge of the 21st Lancers.
This copy approaches near fine in a near fine dust jacket. Two aspects of condition distinguish this jacket. First is completeness. The jacket is unclipped, retaining the original $2.75 front flap price, with only fractional loss confined to the flap fold corners. Second, the red spine print retains vivid color – quite a rarity among surviving copies of this jacket. These two factors more than compensate for modest overall soiling and minor wear to extremities. The dust jacket is protected beneath a removable, clear, archival cover. The book beneath is equally impressive. The lilac cloth binding is square, clean, and tight, the color suffering no toning or soiling. Shelf wear is negligible, confined to extremities. The contents are immaculately clean with a crisp, unread feel. Testifying that the book is unread, we find uncut signatures throughout. We do not find any previous ownership marks or spotting. Even the page edges are notably clean. The sole defect we find is a horizontal tear to the lower part of the p.79-80 leaf, clearly a result the uncut signature conjoining the bottom edge of the p.77-78 and 79-80 leaves.
The River War recounts Churchill's experiences and perspective on British involvement in the Sudan. The text is arresting, insightful, powerfully descriptive, and of enduring relevance. Mohammed Ahmed was a messianic Islamic leader in central and northern Sudan in the final decades of the 19th century. In 1883 the Mahdists overwhelmed the Egyptian army of British commander William Hicks, and Great Britain ordered the withdrawal of all Egyptian troops and officials from the Sudan. In 1885, General Gordon famously lost his life in a doomed defense of the capitol, Khartoum, where he had been sent to lead evacuation of Egyptian forces. Though the Mahdi died that same year, his theocracy continued until 1898, when General Kitchener reoccupied the Sudan.
With Kitchener was a very young Winston Churchill, who participated in the battle of Omdurman in September 1898, where the Mahdist forces were decisively defeated. In his book about the British campaign in the Sudan, Churchill - a young officer in a colonial British army - was unusually sympathetic to the Mahdist forces and critical of Imperial cynicism and cruelty. This is manifestly evident in the highly critical comment about Kitchener prominently quoted and bordered in red on the front face of the dust jacket – something else unique to this first U.S. edition. Here is a chief figure of the Second World War on horseback on a colonial battlefield, participating in what has been called by some the last "genuine" cavalry charge of the British Army. This work offers us the candid perspective of the future great man of the 20th century from the distinctly 19th century battlefields where Churchill learned to write and earned his early fame.
Reference: Cohen A2.5, Woods/ICS A2(db), Langworth p.35. Item #006024