New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1937. First U.S. edition, first printing. Hardcover. This is a jacketed first U.S. edition, first printing, of 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.
Condition is very good in a very good minus dust jacket. The blue cloth binding is square and tight with sharp corners and only light shelf wear to the bottom edges. The contents are clean with no previous ownership marks, no spotting, and only mild age-toning. The red-stained top edges are sunned and mottled. Differential toning to the endpapers corresponding to dust jacket flaps confirms that this copy has spent life jacketed. The dust jacket is noteworthy in two respects – the blue spine retains rich, entirely unfaded blue hue and the jacket's white sections and panels are unusually clean, only lightly soiled. Shelf presentation is quite respectable and the dust jacket is unclipped, retaining the original "$4.00" front flap price. There is shallow loss at the spine ends, upper rear panel, upper rear flap, and flap fold corners, as well as a short closed tear to the upper front face and scuffing to the front joint and front flap fold. The jacket is protected beneath a clear, removable, archival cover.
Neville Chamberlain, perhaps Churchill’s most vexing political opponent at the time Great Contemporaries was published, wrote to Churchill on 4 October 1937: “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.” 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)
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."
While some of the subjects of Churchill's sketches have receded into history, many remain well-known and all remain compellingly drawn. This is as engaging a read today as it was in 1937.
Reference: Cohen A105.2.a, Woods/ICS A43(ab.1), Langworth p.179. Item #007544