Winston Churchill’s political life was a ride on a roller coaster. He began his first dizzying ascent to power when he received a ministerial post in December 1905. From there, despite an occasional folly, he went up and up at unheard of speed. He reached the heights for the first time in August 1914, at the age of thirty-nine: as First Lord of the Admiralty he became a national hero, lionized by the press and the public because he had anticipated the outbreak of war by mobilizing the Fleet. But  he fell even further and faster than he had risen, his ruin accomplished in a mere matter of months by the disastrous Dardanelles expedition the following year, for which he was blamed and, indeed, vilified by critics to whom the frustrated young politician could not reply.

On May 17, 1915, the embattled young First Lord of the Admiralty arrived at the House of Commons to deliver a speech defending his...


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