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Dinner with Churchill: Policy-Making at the Dinner Table

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A friend once said of Churchill He is a man of simple tastes; he is quite easily satisfied with the best of everything.

But dinners for Churchill were about more than good food, excellent champagnes and Havana cigars. Everything included the opportunity to use the dinner table both as a stage on which to display his brilliant conversational talents, and an intimate setting in which to glean gossip and diplomatic insights, and to argue for the many policies he espoused over a long life.

In this riveting, informative and entertaining book, Stelzer draws on previously untapped material, diaries of guests, and a wide variety of other sources to tell of some of the key dinners at which Churchill presided before, during and after World War II including the important conferences at which he used his considerable skills to attempt to persuade his allies, Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin, to fight the war according to his strategic vision.

301 pages, Hardcover

First published May 27, 2014

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About the author

Cita Stelzer

4 books3 followers
A freelance journalist and a Research Associate at the Hudson Institution, Cita Stelzer previously worked for John Lindsay, Mayor of New York, and Governor Hugh Carey.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 73 reviews
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 7 books2,030 followers
March 15, 2017
At the 20% mark, I wasn't thrilled. The blurb says it all well. The first introduction expands on this & is a bit long. The second isn't quite as long, but pretty much reiterates both. The text, so far, seems to just expand on these, but without any binding thread. We're bouncing all around from 1930 through the 1950s without rhyme or reason. There is little in the way of first hand accounts, just factoids scattered about. It's trivia. As another reviewer mentioned, it's like a museum tour. There's nothing from Churchill himself, so it's dessert without dinner or meringue without the rest of the pie.

I gave it some more time & it settled down through the war years. There wasn't enough of the policy making & too much made of the menus. Seriously, menus were read many times. There was enough good stuff that I hung on, but wasn't particularly impressed. There was a lot of repetition & not just due to what was presented.

The last few chapters were the best. They concentrated on his food, cigars, & drink in enough detail to make the point. Unfortunately, they were summations of information we'd already been given, usually several times, in the meandering text before. Then there was an epilogue that summed up & repeated the main points made in throughout, much from the introductions!

Still, I particularly enjoyed hearing about how he dealt with the rationing & his sense of fair play for the common man, so I'm giving this 3 stars, but I might be generous. I wouldn't recommend this as an audio book. It is probably better skimmed as a print book concentrating on the first introduction & the last few chapters.
Profile Image for Kay.
1,005 reviews171 followers
March 29, 2018
The audio version of this book was entertaining, but I can't say it added all that much to my knowledge and appreciation of Winston Churchill. Like good after-dinner conversation, the book bounced around among various topics, time periods, people, and events, all related in a witty, companionable style. It made for good listening, and the theme (food and drink) was a novel way to approach the subject. Kudos for mining what was obviously a rich vein in the Churchillian mines.
77 reviews9 followers
March 27, 2013
Lavish stage settings but no performances.

Enroute through Scotland to Newfoundland for his August, 1941 meeting with Roosevelt, Churchill ordered a grouse hunt outside Perth for the Presidential dinner that would come later aboard HMS Prince of Wales. Is that interesting? Yes it is, along with a hundred other details showing Churchill's extreme care in planning and carrying out dinner parties as instruments of statesmanship.

When Pearl Harbor was attacked four months later, the US public was in a rage against Japan. Contrary to the American mood, Churchill wanted a "Germany first" policy. So he got himself invited to the White House and stayed for three weeks. The President and the Prime Minister dined most nights, with brandy, tobacco, and talk until 2 or 3 am. The policy that emerged was "Germany first."

Author Cita Stelzer whirls us though the great conferences, Casablanca, Adana, Teheran, Yalta, Potsdam, describing the structures, the décor, the place settings, the hors d'oeuvres, entrees, and desserts, the spirits, the wines, and the music, illustrating with photos and reproduced menus. She has found a little-examined corner of the copious historical record, and researched it diligently.

All this is fairly interesting, sort of like a museum tour, but has the nourishment content of a soufflé rather than a roast. There are repeated quotes about Churchill's wit, charm, and persuasiveness, but scarcely a word out of his mouth. We are given the stage settings, but none of the performance.

This is a "fill out the details" book. Seasoned Churchillians will be fascinated; novices will be lost.

Stelzer devotes a chapter to the much-discussed issue of Churchill's drinking. She judiciously examines the evidence for his supposed alcohol abuse, and concludes that the charge is not proved. He consumed prodigious amounts but had a prodigious capacity and did not lack restraint. The myth was partly propagated by the man himself ("Winston, you're drunk." "Yes, Bessie, but you're ugly and tomorrow I'll be sober") and partly by rivals and enemies such as Hitler (one of the curiosities of World War II is that the three Allies were led by hard-drinking heavy-smoking meat-eaters, while Germany was led by a teetotaling non-smoking vegetarian; but we will be cautious in generalizing from that).

His favorite drink was Champagne. He also loved brandy after dinner. He had Sherry with breakfast. His day-long staple was highly diluted Scotch. He hated mixed cocktails.

Churchill was the most gracious of hosts, and a considerate guest. He preferred plain food (which, to an upper-class Englishman of the period, meant lots of game, fish, and beef), but in food as in all things, had his strong likes and dislikes. "No gentleman eats ham sandwiches without mustard."
Profile Image for Nick.
706 reviews92 followers
May 19, 2017
3 1/2 stars really. I liked the idea and the many stories sprinkled throughout, but I agree with some of the other reviews that this book is all over the place. Good material in need of a stronger editor.

The most important element of this book for me was Stelzer's debunking Churchill as a drunk. According to her research, Churchill didn't drink nearly as much as he liked to put on, and apparently no one ever saw him "drunk" or impaired. He watered down his whiskey to the point that it was practically mouth wash.
Profile Image for Caitlin.
701 reviews71 followers
February 17, 2013
I think most readers have had exposure to World War II history. Most of us have at least cursory knowledge of the big players - FDR, Churchill, Stalin. I was attracted to Dinner with Churchill because of its subject matter - Churchill's use of the dinner table to forward his policies. We're talking food here - and cocktails, and conversation!

Churchill is an iconic figure. His size, his cigars, his whiskey, his indomitable spirit. He has always been a symbol of Britain's steadfast resistance to the powers of fascism throughout the devastating affects of the War. Churchill was, simply, a leader - a canny man with a broad grasp of history and an almost preternatural ability to predict possible futures based on a range of choices in any given situation. He was a man of great consequence who used his personal charisma to keep his country free of Hitler's aggression. He loved food and company and used his charisma in a very effective way - through dinner parties, luncheons, breakfasts, picnics - all opportunities for him to develop personal relationships with important figures on his staff, but also throughout the world. His stamina was epic and the stories of these encounters with Churchill and food provide fascinating insight into his policy making strategies.

Dinner with Churchill is a journey through the major events of WWII from the perspective of the binding nature of shared meals. If you love food, are interested in food history, in Churchill, in WWII or all or none of the above - this is a great and entertaining read. It'll also make you really hungry - plover's eggs, anyone?
Profile Image for Jean.
1,710 reviews742 followers
December 28, 2013
The author’s purports to show the importance of Churchill’s dinners to his diplomacy, but is somewhat weak in developing this part of the book. On the other hand the book does reveal Churchill’s gastronomic taste. Eating, drinking and smoking habits were part of Churchill’s persona in his later years. The book covers these areas in great detail. Stelzer keeps pointing out that WSC followed the 19th century manner of formal dining with fancy china and cutlery and multiple courses. All dinners were working dinners, they had a purpose. Stelzer discuss how meticulous WSC was in planning his dinners from menu to sitting placement. He also worked and planned the conversation for the meal almost as much as he did his speeches. The author also emphases Churchill’s wit and humor along with his impeccable manners. She also states she was surprise to learn that Churchill loved picnics. Stelzer states that WSC liked roast beef, Johnny Walker Red or Black Label whiskey, Pol Rogers champagne, Havana cigars and consommé soups. He liked most foods except he disliked creamed soups. Little new is revealed about Churchill, however, it is well written and lots of entertaining trivia is provided. The book is easy to read and is very enjoyable. Oh, how I would have loved to have been a guest at one of his dinners. I read this as an e-book on my Kindle app for my iPad.
Profile Image for Elise .
138 reviews12 followers
April 12, 2020
Winston Churchill is one of my favourite historical figures. His time as Prime Minister in Britain, particularly during WWII is really interesting, and he is a memorable historical figure - not least for his sense of humour, moving speeches and his resilience in the face of setbacks.

However, this book was average, boring and redundant. It focuses on how Churchill used dinner parties as opportunities to win over people and discuss important political and military strategies, including the President of the United States.

The subject matter could have formed the basis of an interesting essay, but it was so unnecessary to stretch out to fill a 200 page book.

Also I found so many spelling errors that it was really distracting and frankly unprofessional. Including on the last page. Who edited this?! They should probably look for another job!

Profile Image for Graham.
214 reviews23 followers
September 20, 2013
Really, this deserves 3.5 stars. Dinner with Churchill is a fairly delightful look at the banquets and dinners and eating and drinking habits of the King's First Minister, before, after, and mostly during the Second World War.

If there's anything holding the book back, perhaps, it's the rather sweeping claims about Churchill's dining representing so much of his character. I know the normal school of thought when it comes to history requires a thesis, but this one may have been a bit...stretched (skillfull use of ration coupons for group dinners = concern for the common Briton, that sort of thing). On the other hand, the use of - and ability to find - a surprising array of primary sources on Churchill's meal tabs and cigar orders is quite impressive.

Perhaps the best parts of the book are the final three chapters, which examine at some length Churchill's food, alcohol, and cigar preferences. They were certainly inspirational in their own way, and just plain fun. So while the book isn't a masterpiece, it's a relatively quick read, and therefore well worth your time.
Profile Image for Sevim Tezel Aydın.
528 reviews33 followers
February 7, 2021
Dinner with Churchill is informative, engaging and entertaining account on some dinners, lunches, breakfasts and picnics in the years surrounding World War II. Cita Stelzer focuses on Winston Churchill’s dinner diplomacy with interesting detail such as historical background, famous diners, communication strategies, menus, table settings, cooking tips…
I enjoyed the book, it was interesting to read how Churchill turned “mealtimes into information-exchange seminars, international summits, intelligence-gathering operations, gossip-fests, speech-practice sessions and even semi-theatrical performances” …
Profile Image for David.
652 reviews238 followers
May 25, 2020
Available for download as a 5+-hour unabridged audio book, well-read and ideal for sheltering in place. A knowledge of the general outline of C.'s life is helpful, but not required.

Also, an excellent companion while cooking for (and washing up after) self and family during pandemic, since the book is a nearly-ceaseless record of people (usually Churchill, but also others) eating interesting food, lovingly described, while behaving with grace and style during difficult times.

In my sight, the author spent too much time disputing the accusation that Churchill was an alcoholic. Given that Churchill's voluminous intake of spirits is one of best-documented gustatory habits of the 20th, or indeed any, century, it seems like – if you wish to mount a defense – you will have to fall back on defining the problem out of existence. By this I mean, you must define an alcoholic NOT as someone whose fondness for drink is driven by an addiction, but instead define an alcoholic as someone whose fondness for drink interferes or limits their ability to leave a full, successful, and happy life. Since Churchill's life combines elements of success, achievement, and adventure only dreamed of in the life of most of us poor sober slobs, it seems like its a pretty easy assignment to find Churchill innocent by the latter standard.

I guess that, somewhere in the vast forest of Churchill scholarship, there exists some grumpy left-wing know-it-all who labored mightily to show that Churchill's daily bottle of champagne, etc., impaired his judgment sufficiently to bring the lives of entire armies and countries into unnecessary danger. A book with that thesis must exist somewhere. Cita Stelzer may have felt an unstoppable urge to respond to this charge.

Her defense of Churchill's intake of alcohol sometimes does not put Stelzer in the best light. In audiobook chapter five, she basically accuses a White House butler, an African-American named Alonzo Fields, of lying about Churchill's drinking in a “chatty memoir” because of a “desire to add spice to his book and sell tickets to the subsequent dramatization which toured in the United States”. Stelzer hedges her accusation of Fields with some weasel words: “probably untrue”, “fallible memory”, “may not be the most reliable of reporters”.

The specific accusation is that, while staying at the White House during a visit with Roosevelt during World War II, Churchill requested sherry for breakfast, and then made a winking request that Fields tell anyone who might ask about it that he (Churchill) was a teetotaler. In defense of Churchill, and presumably a demonstration of Fields' fallible memory, Stelzer says that Alonzo's list of the solid food that Churchill had for breakfast (in addition to sherry) in late 1941 differed greatly from the list remembered by François Rysavy, “White House chef during Churchill's visit to FDR” (according to Stelzer), although Rysavy also said Churchill had sherry for breakfast.

One problem: Rysavy was not the chief White House chef in 1941. He was executive chef at the White House from 1954 to 1957. This last fact is from Wikipedia, so it could be wrong, but it is footnoted with references to both a Washington Post article from 1961 and a journal article from 2001 – neither of which, unfortunately, are available online.

That Stelzer gets this fact wrong is especially puzzling because, elsewhere in the book, she takes some time to thoroughly trash the dubious culinary skills of actual chief cook at the White House at that time, Henrietta Nesbitt. You'd think she would have been able to hold onto that fact throughout the whole writing of the book, or at least have it on an easily-accessible index card. (In fairness to Stelzer, Nesbitt's cooking was legendarily bad, a fault that Stelzer and others lay at the feet of Eleanor Roosevelt.)

But wait – there's more. Stelzer: “Then there is what, in my view, is the more reliable report from Lady Williams”, that is, someone is white, British, and not a servant. Williams worked as Churchill's secretary from 1949 to 1955. Williams memory of Churchill's standard breakfast does not include sherry, or any other alcoholic drink, but you may note that Williams' tenure in Churchill's employ is long after World War II is finished.

The strange thing about Stelzer's attempted defense is that it is not only possible, it is even plausible, that Churchill allowed himself a morning sherry during the time of greatest danger for the country he was leading, and then decided, as the war was long over and he was well into his seventies, that breakfast sherry was an indulgence that could be done away with.

Even without the whole unpleasant race/class overtones of this disputed story, it is still unwise, I think, to cast aspersions on eyewitnesses in favor of those who were not present at the moment. Of course, compared to the indignities Alonso Fields undoubtedly endured in his lifetime (US Senators from the south routinely addressed him as “boy”), this is just another drop in the ocean.

More importantly, Churchill doesn't really need this sort of defending. He was a great man, drunk or sober, and always a pleasant companion during pandemic-era home cooking.
56 reviews15 followers
April 2, 2013
I have been reading Manchester's "The Last Lion," and this was nice change of pace. Excellent but not-too-intense overview of Churchill's dinner diplomacy. It would probably not be interesting for those who aren't acquainted with Churchill's life -- but it is fascinating for a Churchill enthusiast. And I think that the appendix of "Diners" is the real treasure. It contains brief biographical sketches of significant guests -- who just happen to be major figures in UK and US politics.
Profile Image for Jim Zubricky.
Author 1 book3 followers
June 24, 2013
I consider myself a pretty good bibliophile on Churchill (although I'm working my way through the three-volume biography). This book is a very nice, easy, light reading on the subject of food, liquor, cigars: the things that Churchill loved. More importantly: how did Churchill use dinner parties to work his "magic" and win people to see his point of view. If you're interesting in Churchill, or hosting parties, or looking for a quick read, check this book out.

19 reviews1 follower
September 10, 2015
A light, but still an entertaining, review of Churchill's use of social settings to achieve substantive political and personal goals. The stories about his interactions with FDR and Stalin are particularly enjoyable.
44 reviews
August 24, 2022
I was inspired to read this after visiting the Churchill War Rooms. This book describes Churchill's humanity & how meals served as a vehicle for difficult conversations with world leaders.
Profile Image for Cole Kephart.
5 reviews
January 23, 2017
Cita Stelzer (author of Dinner with Churchill) is most certainly a genius. Her grandeur attempt at describing the raw culinary power of Sir Churchill was not only a requiem for a political mastermind, but a love letter to Churchill enthusiasts such as myself. In Dinner with Churchill, Stelzer not only paints a picture of what Churchill was like in a diplomatic setting, but what it was like to dine with him. Mrs. Stelzer made it possible to know Sir Churchill, as if we were having tea together. The author did a lovely job of combining my two most ardent passions (British History and the culinary arts), that I’m prepared to say it was one of the best Churchill biographies I have had the utter honor of reading. I’ve read many books on Churchill, numbering in the dozens, not a single one has contained such luscious literary detail. Not even the university class I’m taking has reached this level of description.

Stelzer goes on to introduce things I didn’t even know, aspects of Sir Churchill’s life that I wasn’t yet introduced to. To introduce a piece of history that I did not know is a gift, it is truly exciting.
Unfortunately due to Stelzer’s sporadic writing style, one cannot effectively summarize the author’s work. But I can say that she featured a mixture of actual documents and eloquent fact to introduce aspects of Churchill’s life in an innovative and interesting style. Mrs. Cita Stelzer has a lovely style of writing, in quality, one could compare it to the writing of Sir Martin Gilbert (official Churchill biographer).
In conclusion, I highly recommend Dinner with Churchill.
Profile Image for Matt Conger.
124 reviews
December 17, 2022
Delightful, short book whose thesis is that Churchill's dinner table conduct was an underrated asset for a statesman.

Diplomacy has always been done over food. But this book makes you see how calculating Churchill was. Imagine a modern state visit having its seating arrangements being exclusively handled by the hosting head of state.

The book was so entertaining that it made me want to know more:
- How did his upbringing affect his dinner party repartee? There's only a few generic references to the fact his mom was a socialite.
- What role did his wife and kids play? How did the incessant socializing affect their family dynamic?
- The author adds a whole chapter on wartime food rationing. This was a missed opportunity to address (or even acknowledge) one of the more controversial aspects of Churchill: his role in the Bengal starvation.

You know the question about "if you could have dinner with someone, alive or dead, who would it be?". This book makes the strong case that Churchill would be a phenomenal companion (provided he had something to gain from the meal!). You'll get a sense from this book about not just the topics and tone of the conversation, but even the menu.
Profile Image for Mary.
3 reviews
August 3, 2021
Excellent book with a new theory and concept regarding Churchill's "tabletop" diplomacy". How he used all of his considerable personal attributes combined, making him a charming, even enthralling mealtime host. Stelzer introduces us to a whole new field of study, namely the ways Winston S. Churchill used meals as a medium to be employed in diplomacy and to win the Second World War! I am also very happy to say that Ms. Stelzer has totally proved that WS Churchill was NOT an alcoholic by any stretch, he was a man of his era that thoroughly enjoyed food, drink, cigars and conversation. He was never known by his familiars to be drunk or inebriated. Churchill had an iron constitution that could take a lot without any noticeable sign of impairment, whether from drink or indulgence in food or cigars. He was truly remarkable in every way, but he was certainly not a drunk! A fascinating approach to a wide selection of reads on Winton, but this book will be very interesting to both Churchill scholars and general readers alike. Highly recommend this book to anyone. On any level, this is a fun read.
Profile Image for Alec Rogers.
74 reviews7 followers
January 4, 2022
Cita Stelzer's Dinner with Churchill offers an insightful, highly enjoyable portrait of Churchill as a raconteur and epicure. By delving into several of his most important dinner parties, she offers allows us to see how Churchill used his love of good food and fine wine as a political tool to aid in his diplomacy. Descriptions of the fare and wine are provided in great detail. Chapters on his love of cigars and alcohol are enjoyable for those who like the little details of a man about whom it was said had "simple tastes" because he was "always satisfied with the best." A chapter on how he managed war time rationing is particularly useful as it illustrated his ability to navigate his own needs as a head of state while still largely following the guidelines ordinary Britons were to follow, making the WW2 rationing a workable process.

Profile Image for Lonni.
413 reviews
June 15, 2017
The first third of the book is very interesting - includes menus and conversations from Churchill's dinner with FDR and Stalin, as well as others. Churchill believed that food and conversation were the way to solve problems. He didn't like it when the US or USSR hosted and had music during dinner! The second third of the book is about rationing, and certainly made it easy to understand what made Churchill popular with the British people. He made sure everyone suffered from rationing to the point of having"lower class" restaurants where workers could have meals not requiring ration coupons! And he made sure they were called restaurants rather than "feeding centers"! The last third is a list of characters with their backgrounds etc.
Profile Image for Doug.
319 reviews11 followers
July 6, 2020
There is no doubt, Churchill was a great man. You have to be over the top interested in Churchill to be looking for a book about what he ate, drank, and smoked. I did go looking but rather stumbled upon this at a used bookstore.

The book is filled with amusing morsels but it is hard to argue that it offers much serious analysis. By virtue of Churchill's position on the world stage most of the dinners described included one or more figures of similar stature.

The author never really convinced me that dinner was ever really an historical tipping point. This is a failure as that seems to have been the author's purpose for writing the book. Other authors not 100% focused on dinner succeeded.
Profile Image for Andy Dollahite.
396 reviews6 followers
September 7, 2018
2.5 stars. My major complaint is the book fails to cogently outline Churchill’s policy/diplomacy at the dinner table. It reviews, in frequently alluring detail the meals and delicacies he imbibed and devoured. And it outlines the political players assembled for such events. But it failed to connect all of it under a coherent thesis. In terms of a providing a cheat sheet for Churchill’s culinary preferences and some of his work lobbying the Americans and the Soviets, it’s decent. I’d really only recommend it to diehard fans.
Profile Image for Bas.
59 reviews3 followers
October 1, 2020
Fascinating deep dive into Churchil's 'dinner table diplomacy' and the importance of it during conferences at Teheran, Yalta and Potsdam during and after the war. The book also sheds an interesting light on de interaction between 'The Great Three' during such occasions with moving anecdotes.

Structure of the book is somewhat random and at times all over the place. An example here is how the chapter on rationing schemes seems like a stand-alone addition rather than following the common thread of the story.
Profile Image for Kimberly.
117 reviews1 follower
July 13, 2022
I have read several books about former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and so was familiar with his penchant for good food and alcohol. One of my favorite practices of Churchill was his "dinner-table diplomacy"--his belief that face-to-face engagement with people, difficult or not, could change policy opinions and practices and lead to more understanding. Of course, it didn't always work, but it didn't hurt. I had a free copy from Audible with the divine Divina Porter narrating. While I enjoyed hearing about the food, etc., there were times it was a bit redundant.
Profile Image for Mary Pat.
331 reviews6 followers
February 26, 2018
A re-hashing of so many anecdotes that are better told elsewhere, with wonky copyediting where you have inset boxes thrown on the page haphazardly, breaking up one's reading. I can only imagine how this looked in e-book version.

It really didn't take all that long to read when I actually sat down to read it. It was just so boring, I kept setting it aside for more interesting books. I'm donating it to my library sale .. maybe someone needs help going to sleep.
6 reviews
September 25, 2019
Dining as policy and brand infrastructure

Its what’s sensed that counts and Churchill’s use of controlled, managed, or simply exploited events involving multiples of sensory inputs was masterful and a net plus for WWII allies. Well written, informative sans burden.
January 2, 2018
Good for Thought

An unconventional view of history. Easy read but informative especially for the casual reader. There are quite a few quotables.
535 reviews3 followers
January 19, 2018
A really good book; a history book that reads like a novel, with bios at the end of the book on 120 people who dined with Mr. Churchill.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 73 reviews

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