Fiction and Fact This Time

Manchester, Clarke and Graves

Books2die4 is about both fiction and fact or history. This page is on the latter - whereas I discuss other great writers like Archer, King, Grisham et al on another page - click the link at the bottom.

William Manchester

For the sheer and utter pleasure of his prose – meaning his use of the language – grammar, syntax, construction, balance and all the rest of the linguistic folderol – his style is just so good – geez: an American who could teach the English how to speak!

Having said that, his volumes on McCarthur and Churchill are dazzling tour de force books – for the way he writes and how he writes about them. They are exercises in constructive brilliance and balanced opinion. Well that’s what I think anyway

American Caesar

This was a book I long resisted reading despite recommendations. McCarthur wasn’t one of the characters I particularly wanted (needed?) to learn about or had any special interest in. However, I succumbed – and how glad I am that I did. Despite what you may think of McCarthur, this book is worth reading as a demonstration of both masterful writing and balanced assessment.

McCarthur was one of those people who was either loved or hated – with no middle ground.

Yet, Manchester manages to offer a balanced biography that neither bends the knee to McCarthur nor unjustly assaults his memory. McCarthur undoubtedly achieved a lot, yet he was also a man of equal failings in some ways – and Manchester discusses both aspects objectively – no mean feat in itself – leaving it to the reader to make up his own mind.

As he was to do later in Churchill’s biography, in American Caesar, Manchester goes back into family history to set the scene for the principal of his subject matter. Both McCarthur’s grandfather and father were highly decorated military men, as was McCarthur himself to become.

The way Manchester weaves this and other influencing factors into the story of the General is both masterful and brilliant – maintaining our interest always and with his narrative style (voice?) and beautiful prose giving us added pleasure.

There are different editions - hard and paperback covers - also just by clicking any of the links - you can move on to explore the search function is good

The Last Lion (2 volumes)

Unfortunately, Manchester died before he could complete the 3rd volume of this biography – but the two he did finish are simply brilliant. The two volumes completed take us up to WW11. Churchill, of course, was a much more worthy subject and Manchester wisely did not attempt to write a single volume biography.

I searched for ages to obtain the final volume – never getting an answer why it wasn’t available – and recently found out why – and also that the publishers have contracted someone to complete the last volume (Defender of the Realm).

As with American Caesar, Manchester manages to be balanced – neither hiding the blemishes nor disparaging the achievements of his subject….. and, ditto in a format and style that is just so enjoyable to read. I suspect Manchester could have written the phone book and it would have been a pleasure to read such is his command of the language.

Kenneth Clarke


I shouldn’t knock TV as it has given us some wonderful gems over the years… one of which was the series “Civilisation” made in 1969. … and, for the life of me, I can’t remember whether the book came first or as a result of the series success …. and, it doesn’t matter.

Both are worth commending to you – but, like “I Claudius”, I recommend seeing the series first as it is such a visual feast it will make the book more enjoyable.

A book on art you say …… boooooring for beach reading!!!!! Well no. Clarke’s style is very readable without compromising the erudition such a subject requires.

He makes the whole world of art accessible for the ‘ordinary’ person without any pretensions. It is a look at how our western civilisation has grown as evidenced by the great works of art – paintings, sculpture, architecture, music and so on. In other words a history through art.

“Clark's mastery was to make accessible complex and profound subject matter that could then be appreciated by an extremely broad audience”(Wikipedia)

Clark believed in the sublime and noble nature of man, and his quiet, witty and often devastating criticism of environmentalism, the Monarchy, religious authoritarianism and Statism continues to win him praise from a wide range of the political spectrum, most notably from those of a Classical Liberal and Objectivist mind-set. And yet, Clark was also able to see the Church as a repository for the best minds that the West had produced, a place where men of action were necessarily attracted. A highly tolerant man, in discussing those with whom he disagreed, Clark was able in a dignified and respectful manner, to illustrate his differences along with effectively expressing his praise.(Wikipedia again)

Clarke writes in "Civilisation"

What is civilisation? I don't know. I can't define it in abstract terms —yet. But I think I can recognise it when I see it; and I am looking at it now. Ruskin said:

'Great nations write their autobiographies in three manuscripts, the book of their deeds, the book of their words and the book of their art. Not one of these can be understood unless we read the two others, but of the three the only trustworthy one is the last.'

On the whole I think this is true. Writers and politicians may come out with all sorts of edifying sentiments, but they are what is known as declarations of intent. If I had to say which was telling the truth about society, a speech by a Minister of Housing or the actual buildings put up in his time, I should believe the buildings. [Civilisation: Chapter One]

Anyway – I commend it to you. The TV series is available on DVD and the book is cheap at Amazon. For the UK, I imagine HMV or Virgin will have the DVD.

Robert Graves

“I Claudius”

“Claudius the God”

I must admit I read these only after watching the British TV series “I Claudius”.

So good was that production, especially the performance of Sian Phillips as the Empress Livia, that I took to the books armed with some visual images to make it richer as a read. The books do stand alone in their own right of course, but if you like Imperial Rome, then watch the series first – and then read the books – its more fun!

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