[EconTalk] Andrew Roberts on Churchill and the Craft of Biography

Andrew Roberts on Churchill and the Craft of Biography

26/08/2019 by EconTalk: Russ Roberts

Web player: https://podplayer.net/?id=79431924
Episode: http://files.libertyfund.org/econtalk/y2019/RobertsAChurchill.mp3

Historian Andrew Roberts talks about the life of Winston Churchill and the art of biography with EconTalk host Russ Roberts. How did Churchill deal with the mistakes he inevitably made in a long career? Was he prescient or just the right man in the right place at the right time? Was he an alcoholic? Did he suffer from depression? Drawing on his recent biography of Churchill, Andrew Roberts answers these and other questions in this wide-ranging conversation that includes a discussion of the mechanics of writing a 1000 page book on a man who has had over 1000 biographies written about him already.

Listen Date: early November


  • I thought that this episode was much more solid, for lack of a better word, than the other Econ Talk episode (Churchill and Orwell) from the last couple of years, as learning about Churchill goes.
  • The 5000 words / day pace is awesome and makes me feel inadequate.
  • It was interesting that Andrew Roberts dismissed the idea that Churchill was depressed, and said ‘black dog comes up only once in Churchill’s long life and history of correspondence’
  • I highly appreciated the debunking of the ‘Churchill brought about the Bengal famine’ outrage
  • But the Brexit-joy later in the episode was cringeworthy. And the ‘Europe is protectionist’ was particularly ‘citation needed’.
  • It now strikes me that India and China have some level of expectation that the person at the top deserves and indeed must be seen to have some luxury, to bring up the prestige of everybody under them; which stands in contrast to the bit about Churchill and the WW2 era aristocracy considering it bad form to have luxury while everyone else was going through rationing and wartime scarcity. India does have some bellyaching about politicians’ perks, but also a very high desire that the leader have prestige.
  • I rolled my eyes a bit that Andrew Roberts took the survey results of people thinking that Churchill was fictional as proof that youth are / education is degenerate; rather than proof that the survey was badly designed.


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