New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1933. First U.S. edition. Hardcover. This is 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, though sound, shows age, wear, and aesthetic flaws, its chief virtue being survival of its scarce and compelling dust jacket. Condition of the volume is good, the jacket only fair. The cloth binding is square and tight, though dulled overall and with shelf wear to extremities, including minor fraying and short closed tears to the spine ends. The contents are respectably clean, with only a few incidental instances of spotting within, but nonetheless significantly age-toned. Differential toning to the endpapers corresponding to the dust jacket flaps testifies that this copy has spent life jacketed. There is a “Merry Christmas” gift inscription dated “1940” inked on the front free endpaper recto and the illustrated bookplate of “Sterling E. Lanier” affixed to the front pastedown. Sterling Edmund Lanier (1927-2007) was an American editor, science fiction author, and sculptor perhaps best known for championing publication of Frank Herbert’s acclaimed novel Dune.
The dust jacket is unclipped, retaining the original $2.75 front flap price. Loss is confined to uneven, shallow strips at the spine ends and fractional loss at the flap fold extremities. Nonetheless, overall appearance of the jacket is grubby, the spine considerably toned and mottled, the faces and flaps soiled with general light wear to extremities. The jacket is protected beneath a removable, clear, archival cover.
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. 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 #007295