Winston Churchill had the temperament of an artist, treating every issue as if it were deeply personal and to be fought over as for dear life. He was capable of the most extraordinary feats, but he lacked that touch of self-knowledge that lets one see—and makes one worry about—how actions are interpreted. He claimed not to care for the opinion of other men, but there’s a difference between not seeking it and seeming to disdain it. Over many decades, his actions struck his contemporaries as disdainful and opportunistic, which gave him the reputation of a man seeking power at any cost.

If decades of scholarship have demonstrated anything, it is Churchill’s utter good faith. He didn’t actively conspire and often let personal friendship get in the way of gain. But he was able to persuade himself that some new proposal was to be backed or attacked as a matter of principle when it was simply a personal preference....

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