“Very seldom have great statesmen and warriors also been great writers. One thinks of Julius Caesar, Marcus Aurelius, and even Napoleon, whose letters to Josephine during the first Italian campaign certainly have passion and splendor.” So began the presentation speech awarding the 1953 Nobel Prize in Literature to Winston Churchill. Churchill was the great leader of the twentieth century—but was he a great writer? It is not as generally accepted as winning the Nobel—writing’s biggest prize—might indicate. The presenter’s penultimate line, “A literary prize is intended to cast luster over the author, but here it is the author who gives luster to the prize,” implies that Churchill was awarded the prize not for his literary achievement but because he led the West out of darkness in 1940 and happened to write a large number of history books. As with Dr. Johnson’s women preachers, the interest is not in...


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