London: Thornton Butterworth Ltd., 1940. First revised and expanded edition, second and final printing. Hardcover. This is the second and final printing of the first revised and expanded edition, scarce thus in the original dust jacket. The revised and expanded edition was issued in 1938 soon after the first edition of 1937, adding four new essays (Fisher, Parnell, Baden-Powell, and - of great interest - Roosevelt).
As is the case with the first edition, first printing, the dust jacket for the 1938 revised edition is both elusive and desirable, and the binding quite prone to sunning and dulling in its absence. This jacketed 1940 issue is particularly scarce and interesting for a number of reasons. First, it was issued in May 1940, the month Churchill became wartime Prime Minister. Second, it was among the last of Churchill's books issued by the publisher, Thornton Butterworth, which went under in 1940. Third, it is almost never seen in the dust jacket, not only because the survival rate of the jackets was poor, but likely because collectors and booksellers re-allocate second printing jackets to first printing copies.
Condition is very good in a good dust jacket. The navy cloth binding is tight and unfaded, with sharp corners, though with light shelf wear to extremities, a mild forward lean, and some irregular dulling of the gilt print. The lower spine shows both a little mottling and a circular spot of toning corresponding to a circular excision of the price from the dust jacket spine. The contents are respectably bright. A previous owner name is inked on the upper front free endpaper recto. Spotting is primarily confined to the fore and top edges of the text block. The dust jacket has a neatly price-clipped lower front flap, circular excision of the spine price, shallow chip losses at the spine ends, and irregular loss to the lower front face to a maximum depth of one inch (2.5 cm). The spine ends and bottom edge of the front face are tape-reinforced and the jacket is modestly soiled and scuffed, now protected beneath a clear, removable, archival cover.
Great Contemporaries is Churchill's much-praised collection of insightful essays about leading personalities of the day - including the likes of Lawrence, Shaw, and, most famously, Hitler. While some of the subjects of Churchill's sketches have receded into history, many remain well-known and all remain compellingly drawn. Great Contemporaries was written with what has been called "penetrating evaluation, humor, and understanding."
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 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.
Bibliographic reference: Cohen A105.3.b, Woods/ICS A43(b.2), Langworth p.182. Item #007665