London: Thornton Butterworth Limited, 1937. First edition, first printing. Hardcover. This is the British first edition, first printing of Great Contemporaries, 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 a particularly clean unjacketed example, in better than very good plus condition. The blue cloth binding proved quite susceptible to sunning. Hence most unjacketed copies have pronounced spine fade. This copy’s blue cloth binding is not only notably square, tight, and clean, but also notably bright, with only a barely discernible hint of the customary spine toning. Shelf presentation is excellent and the binding retains sharp corners with only hints of trivial shelf wear confined to extremities. The contents explain the exceptionally clean state of the binding; differential toning to the endpapers corresponding to dust jacket flaps indicates that this copy was long protected by its dust jacket, now absent. The contents are clean, with no previous ownership marks. Light spotting is primarily confined to the fore and bottom edges. The blue topstain retains strong, uniform color.
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 has seen many subsequent editions in the intervening years. 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 #007051