Clementine : The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill

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"Sonia Purnell has at long last given Clementine Churchill the biography she deserves. Sensitive yet clear-eyed, Clementine tells the fascinating story of a complex woman struggling to maintain her own identity while serving as the conscience and principal adviser to one of the most important figures in history." Lynn Olson, bestselling author of Citizens of London
Shortlisted for the 2016 Plutarch Award
A long-overdue tribute to the extraordinary woman behind Winston Churchill.
By Winston Churchill s own admission, victory in the Second World War would have been impossible without her. Until now, however, the only existing biography of Churchill s wife, Clementine, was written by her daughter. Sonia Purnell finally gives Clementine her due with a deeply researched account that tells her life story, revealing how she was instrumental in softening FDR s initial dislike of her husband and paving the way for Britain s close relationship with America. It also provides a surprising account of her relationship with Eleanor Roosevelt and their differing approaches to the war effort.
Born into impecunious aristocracy, the young Clementine was the target of cruel snobbery. Many wondered why Winston married her, but their marriage proved to be an exceptional partnership. Beautiful and intelligent, but driven by her own insecurities, she made his career her mission. Any real consideration of Winston Churchill is incomplete without an understanding of their relationship, and Clementine is both the first real biography of this remarkable woman and a fascinating look inside their private world."
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Product details

  • Hardback | 436 pages
  • 160 x 234 x 36mm | 680g
  • English
  • Illustrations, unspecified
  • 0525429778
  • 9780525429777
  • 1,178,143

Review quote

Engrossing. . . . Purnell s book is the first formal biography of a woman who has heretofore been relegated to the sidelines.
The New York Times

"Winston Churchill kept nothing from Clementine. "You know,"he informed FDR, "I tell Clemmie everything." Purnell has delivered an astute, pacey account of a woman who hardly ever emerged from the shadows. It is a sharp analysis of what it meant to be a politician's wife. . . [and] shows how much we can learn about Winston Churchill from his wife and marriage."
The Wall Street Journal
Thorough and engaging. . . Purnell s extensive and insightful biography offers a much welcome portrait of Clementine Churchill, a woman whose remarkable life has long been overshadowed by her famous husband.
Washington Post
"Until this biography, Clementine s influence had been completely overlooked and undervalued by Winston's biographers. Clementine was a complicated, mercurial figure, and Purnell does a wonderful job painting a full picture of a woman who was an excellent wife, a mediocre at best mother, and privy to some of the most profound moments of the modern era.
Jessica Grose, in Lena Dunham'sLenny Letter
Fascinating [Purnell's] book may leave you thinking Clementine is one of the most underrated, complex women in British history.
The Daily Beast
Sonia Purnell s fine biography. . . brings outof the shadows this formidable woman who was much more than strictly a spouse.

A fascinating and well-written account of a woman who played a key role in many pivotal moments of early-20th-century British and world politics.
Minneapolis Star-Tribune
A sharply drawn, absorbing portrait of Churchill s elegant, strong-willed wife, who was also his adviser, supporter, protector, and manager. . . Purnell argues persuasively for Clementine's importance to history: she functioned as her husband's astute political strategist; insisted that he consider her feminist views; vetted his speeches; and campaigned for his successes. . . A riveting, illuminating life of a remarkable woman.
Kirkus Reviews(Starred Review)
[A] probing, well-researched and wise biography.
Washington Times
This exemplary biography illustrates how Clementine s intelligence, hard work, and perseverance in often difficult circumstances made her every bit a match for her remarkable, intimidating husband, and a fascinating figure in her own right.
Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
The extensive research shines a deserved spotlight on Britain s first lady through wartime and beyond."
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Purnell does a remarkable job of proving that Clementine had a large impact on Winston s life. . . He seems to have known immediately upon meeting her that she would be the one who could support his great ambitions and moderate his mood swings and gambling. . . She edited his writing, advised him on political decisions, and volunteered in many ways throughout both world wars. Her significance, in many way, can be compared to that of Eleanor Roosevelt.
--Library Journal
Sonia Purnell has restoredClementineChurchill to her rightful place in history. Behind every great man there is a great woman and this was especially true of Winston Churchill.Clementineis a fascinating portrait of a highly complex woman who only ever showed a brave and elegant face to the world. At last, thanks to Sonia Purnell s excellent book, we see her true nature.
Amanda Foreman, author ofA World on Fire
At last Sonia Purnell has given us the first political biography of Clementine Churchill, a woman of power and progressive vision. Although she was her husband's best guide and most astute advisor during the worst of times, her essential role is generally unacknowledged. Boldly written and illuminating, this is agenerative restoration of a fascinating woman who transcended family grief and marital agonies to lead her husband and the nation with grace, commitment and persistence.
Blanche Wiesen Cook, author of Eleanor Roosevelt
An acute and sympathetic biography which brings Clementine Churchill out of the shade into which her illustrious and domineering husband has cast her and shows how key she was to his success. Sonia Purnell makes us ask how Clementine endured life with Winston, and provides the answers.
Margaret MacMillan, author ofParis 1919andThe War that Ended Peace
"In this wonderful book Sonia Purnell has at long last given Clementine Churchill the biography she deserves. Sensitive yet clear-eyed, Clementine tells the fascinating story of a complex woman struggling to maintain her own identity while serving as the conscience and principal adviser to one of the most important figures in history. Purnell succeeds brilliantly at an almost impossible task: providing fresh and thought-provoking insights into Winston Churchill in the course of examining his complicated marriage. I was enthralled all the way through."
Lynn Olson, bestselling author ofCitizens of LondonandThose Angry Days
An excellent book Both scrupulous and fair-minded, Sonia Purnell has done her subject proud in this eye-opening and engrossing account of the strong-willed and ambitious woman without whom Winston Churchill s political career would have been a washout.
Miranda Seymour, The Telegraph
It seems extraordinary that no one has given this remarkable woman proper biographical treatment before. . . She sacrificed her children and her health in the greater service of her husband, but she also kept him buoyant. This book is a salutary reminder that the Churchills were always a team.
The Times (UK)

Compellingly readable. . . Sonia Purnell s biography of Winston s wife Clementine brings her out from behind the shadow cast by the Great Man. She became her husband s wise counselor, discreetly offering sound advice, re-writing his speeches, toning down his foolish or angry letters, preventing him from making certain terrible political mistakes. . . Her wheeling and dealing was done behind a veil of gracious femininity.
The Independent (UK)
Eye-opening. . . Abold biography of a bold woman; at last Purnell has put Clementine Churchill at the center of her own extraordinary story, rather than in the shadow of her husband s.
Mail on Sunday (UK)

In our own era of sturdy individualism, it is remarkable to read of Clementine s resolve to subordinate her own desires and her children s happiness to her husband s cause. . . An intriguing study of a character both deeply flawed and, in her way, magnificent.
The Evening Standard (UK)
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About Sonia Purnell

Sonia Purnell is a biographer and journalist who has worked at The Economist, The Telegraph, and Sunday Times. Her first book, Just Boris, a candid portrait of London mayor and Brexit champion Boris Johnson, was longlisted for the Orwell prize. Clementine, published as First Lady: The Life and Wars of Clementine Churchill in the UK, was chosen as a Book of the Year by The Telegraph and Independent and was shortlisted for the Plutarch Award.Residence: London, UK Social: Twitter: SoniaPurnell"
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Rating details

7,348 ratings
3.81 out of 5 stars
5 31% (2,311)
4 37% (2,705)
3 19% (1,368)
2 7% (549)
1 6% (415)
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