Head of Zeus, £25
Winston Churchill saved Europe from Hitler, saved it again with warnings about Soviet communism and then created the European Convention on Human Rights, one of the most eloquent expressions of human freedoms ever written.
But Churchill was plagued by one question: Who would keep him in the style to which he had become accustomed? Churchill made a fortune in his twenties after his father died. He gambled this and his grandmother’s inheritance away by investing badly and pursuing an extravagant lifestyle. His beloved country house at Chartwell was always in need of expensive repairs. So money-making through writing had priority.
He relied at times on financial help from rich family and friends to make ends meet but mainly earned lots from journalism and books, which he had to work on continuously to repay debts. While he was Chancellor of the Exchequer between 1924-29, he accepted book and article commissions worth thousands of pounds from publishers.
One wonders whether had he focused more on the day job, Churchill would ever have allowed himself to be persuaded by Treasury orthodoxy to let Britain rejoin the gold standard in 1925, which he later acknowledged was his biggest mistake.
This excellent and entertaining work is worth reading for the lists of more than 1,000 bottles of champagne and 250 bottles of brandy that Churchill got through in 1949 alone. The title is taken from a note he left his wife Clementine in 1926 when he felt particularly pressed for cash and ordered that: “a. No more champagne is to be bought. Unless special directions are given… Cigars must be reduced to four a day.” It is doubtful either order was kept for long.