London: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1900. First edition, second printing. Hardcover. This is the first edition, second printing of Churchill's second published work, an unrestored, fully intact set in the striking, original bindings. This second printing is readily distinguished from the first printing only by the words "Second Impression" on the title page and a 1900 date replacing 1899.
Condition approaches very good. The dark blue cloth bindings are intact and unfaded, with quite respectable shelf presentation, the spines notably unfaded. We note modest wear to extremities, including wrinkling to the spine ends and some overall spine creasing, including some concavity to the upper Volume II spine – a typical toll of the massive text blocks. The illustrated cloth bindings are substantially clean, showing only minor blemishes. The contents are complete - all of the extensive Illustrations, Maps, and Plans are present, as are the frontispiece portraits and tissue guards. A noteworthy oddity is that the Vol. II frontispiece was mis-bound by one leaf, preceding the half-title, rather than opposite the title page. The original black endpapers are likewise present; partial cosmetic splits to the gutters do not affect binding integrity, the mull beneath intact. Spotting, endemic to the edition, is present intermittently throughout, but generally light. The sole previous ownership mark in each volume is a vintage personal library bookplate affixed to each front pastedown – that of “Edward Alan Reed” with the Latin motto “Solus Cum Illis Nunquam” – a lovely inscription for a library translating roughly as “alone with them never”. Each lower rear pastedown features the same silver New York City bookshop sticker.
Published in two massive volumes, this edition is compelling in every respect. The text is arresting, insightful, powerfully descriptive, and enduringly relevant. Mohammed Ahmed, the Mahdi, was a messianic Islamic leader in central and northern Sudan in the final decades of the 19th century. In 1883 Mahdists overwhelmed the Egyptian army of British commander William Hicks and Great Britain ordered withdrawal of Egyptian troops and officials from the Sudan. In 1885, General Gordon famously lost his life in a doomed defense of the capitol, Khartoum. Though Ahmed died that same year, his theocracy continued until 1898, when General Kitchener reoccupied the Sudan.
With Kitchener was a young Winston Churchill, who participated in decisive defeat of the Mahdist forces and the last "genuine" cavalry charge of the British army during the battle of Omdurman in September 1898. In this book, Churchill - a young officer in a colonial British army - is unusually sympathetic to the Mahdist forces and critical of Imperial cynicism and cruelty. This work offers the young Churchill’s candid perspective from the distinctly 19th century battlefields where he learned to write and earned his early fame long before he became a 20th century icon.
This first edition is not only compellingly written, but also beautiful and bibliographically important. The two large, lavish volumes are decorated with gilt representations of the Mahdi's tomb on the spines and a gunboat on the front covers. Each volume is printed on heavy paper with a profusion of illustrations, maps, and plans. This is one of the few Churchill books for which there was no concurrent U.S. first edition. And the first edition is scarce. There were just three printings of the first edition (2,646 copies total). All three printings are virtually identical, issued respectively in November 1899, February 1900 (503 copies), and June 1900 (140 copies). Bibliographically it is notable that the first edition was the only unabridged edition for well over a century. In 1902 Churchill (then a new Member of Parliament) revised and abridged his text, excising much of his criticism of Kitchener for political reasons. All subsequent editions of The River War, until 2020, were based on this 1902 abridged and revised text.
Reference: Cohen A2.1.c, Woods/ICS A2(a.2), Langworth p.29. Item #007326