Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom [Thomas E Ricks]

Start Date: 2019-06-09

Finish Date: 2019-06-16

Source: Singapore National Library Board

Goodreads link.


  • I learned about this book from the EconTalk podcast episode about it.
  • Honestly, the podcast episode is far better than the book. It explains and defends the theme more clearly than the book does, in my opinion
  • The theme – that Churchill and Orwell are both defenders of freedom – is… kind of nuts on the face of it. Churchill the stalwart of the British Empire and Orwell the guy who got his curmudgeonly start in life by hating how absurd imperialism in Burma was? But it kind of makes sense when you see that Churchill stepped up at a crisis point against Nazism; and for all his imperialism, the world would be even worse had he not been there.
  • But since I worry about this a lot – I again feel that this may just be survivorship bias writ large. Churchill may not have been that great a leader, or that much of a devotee of freedom, and just happened to be stubborn in the one universe where it led to him and the Allied Powers winning. And after the fact we credit him with being a defender of freedom.
  • As an aside, I find the current Indian demonisation of Churchill kind of exasperating. He said that Indians were uncivilised and beastly, and looking at the news from the last few years, was he really that wrong? So why single him out in particular from all the other British prime ministers who were around for the duration of the British Raj?
  • I think the In Our Time episode on Animal Farm is possibly my favourite discussion of Orwell (though I may be confusing it with something else) – it gave an impression of Orwell as joining something, and immediately becoming aghast at how awful it was, and leaving it in a huff and a brilliant essay.
  • I’m not sure if I knew this and had forgotten, or if I came across this for the first time, but Edward VIII’s Nazi sympathies hit me out of the blue. The fact that Churchill had ironically argued fiercely against his abdication prior to the war, was definitely new to me. I should share that particular factoid with my father in law.
  • I think the one thing which this book does well is portray (and cast in very poor light) just how widespread the desire to appease Hitler was in the United Kingdom.


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