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Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  2,488 ratings  ·  440 reviews
From #1 New York Times bestselling author Thomas E. Ricks, a dual biography of Winston Churchill and George Orwell, whose farsighted vision and inspired action preserved democracy from the threats of authoritarianism, from the left and right alike.

Both George Orwell and Winston Churchill came close to death in the mid-1930s—Orwell shot in the neck in a trench line in the S
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published May 23rd 2017 by Penguin Press
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Jul 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was one of the best history books I read in 2017. It's a dual biography of Winston Churchill and George Orwell, and when I first heard about this book I thought it was an odd pairing.

But it totally works! Ricks highlights how the careers of these two different men greatly impacted events and attitudes in their lifetime and beyond. (The fact that 1984 became a bestseller after Donald Trump was elected U.S. president shows Orwell's continued influence.)

What pushed this book to the top of my
Jun 24, 2017 rated it did not like it
I'm surprised at the rather uncritical reception of this comparative biography. While the two main characters hold a lot in common (being English, lifespan overlapping historical events, etc.), a sober question to ask would be, do those two historical personages really belong together? What can be gained by hopping from one's trajectory to the others'? The answer is, sadly, very little. The book is a rather "American" celebration of Ricks' brash impressions which weave in and out of historical c ...more
Jul 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
I'm not very well-versed in the genre of biographies but even I could tell that Churchill & Orwell: The Fight for Freedom was an unconventional one. Thomas E. Ricks didn't set out to narrate the whole life story of these two men, instead he looked at certain aspects of their lives to analyze how similar their approaches to the preservation of freedom were.

Furthermore, he didn't shy away from adding his own two cents which, at times, left me hollering like crazy because Ricks was petty af, e.
Jan 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
I have read so many books by or about Churchill that a new book must have a new approach or hook or else I will not be bothered to read it. This one did.

Richs tells of the differences and similarities of the two men as well as several similar events in their lives, such as both men were in disgrace in the 1930s and both came close to death. The author points out that both men thought honesty and language mattered at every level.

The book is well written and meticulously researched. Ricks made som
Michael Perkins
Jun 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
One of the main attributes that these two figures shared was the willingness and courage to speak "unpalatable truths." For Churchill, it was about the aggressive buildup of armaments in Nazi Germany during the 30's. For Orwell, it was to expose the brutal nature of Soviet Communism that he witnessed in Spain during the Civil War.


"Orwell was one of those upon whom nothing was lost. (This included, as Orwell himself said: “the power of facing unpleasant facts”). By declining to lie, even a
Mikey B.
Page 5 (my book)
When so many of their peers gave up on democracy as a failure, neither man ever lost sight of the value of the individual in the world, and all that that means: the right to dissent from the majority, the right even to be persistently wrong, the right to distrust the power of the majority, and the need to assert that high officials might be in error – most especially when those in power believe they are not.

Page 5 George Orwell
“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right
Scott Rhee
“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” ---George Orwell

Who knew that democracy’s undoing in the U.S. would be brought about by football? On the same weekend that thousands of evangelical Christians awaited the Rapture, North Korea’s PSY-look-alike Supreme Leader Kim Jung-Un threatened to possibly retaliate with nuclear weapons due to Trump’s angry tweets, and Puerto Rico suffered the aftermath of a category-5 hurricane, Trump’s main g
Peter Mcloughlin
Fairly good dual biography of Orwell and Churchill near contemporaries who defined the problem of the twentieth century of individual freedom vs. the totalitarian state. Problems delineated by Orwell especially are still very relevant in an age of the NSA and data mining and rising authoritarianism. These men saw the threat early and saw it well.
Jun 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2018, ww1-ww2
I'm not a big fan of biographies but this book sounded interesting, two biographies linking together two very different people, the larger than life Winston Churchill and the quieter, sickly George Orwell. The main attraction here for me was Orwell, I'm a big fan of his books, especially "Down and out..." and I know very little about the chap.

I can't really see why these two people were picked as their paths never crossed and Churchill barely knew of Orwell, you'd think they could have been pair
James Murphy
Jul 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is in some ways a book which is exasperatingly too modest in scale. Much more in depth lives of Churchill and Orwell have been written. Each of them suffers here for having to share the 270 pages of text. At the same time Ricks too often clutters the slender biographies in condescending unimportant additions and asides which the reader already understands. Essentially it focuses on how they individually experienced the 1930s, the subsequent war, and how those experiences affected their own ...more
Nov 27, 2017 rated it liked it
Fairly good; not terribly demanding. Perfect for audible/driving. Some interesting insights on Churchill, but quite overrates Orwell, imo.

3.5 stars
Jul 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A well-written book interweaving the biographies of 20th century’s two most influential men: Churchill, a conservative, and Orwell, a socialist. Though on the opposite sides of the political spectrum, they shared principles we would do well to be reminded of. Two that left a strong impression on me are importance of individuality and being able to correct course based on facts.

"Stature of man" - a phrase from Churchill’s speech before WWII that established him a voice in Parliament, during the
Feb 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
"Saints should be judged guilty until they are proved innocent, but the tests that have to be applied to them are not, of course, the same in all cases." George Orwell, Reflections on Gandhi

Ricks is not nearly so skeptical in judging the characters and legacies of Churchill and Orwell. I would say he flirts with beatification but stops well short of canonization. Even that much praise would've probably appalled Orwell; Churchill not so much. The test in this case, however, is the same for both m
Samuel Salzer
Jul 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Well written biography with an interesting twist as you learn about how two very different men were able to shape the world so drastically using their strongly held principles.

The book provides a telling reminder of how important it is to look at the facts, see the world for what it is and immediately take action should there be wrongdoing being made.

I admire Churchill and Orwell for standing up against what they thought was wrong when so many choose not to. Both men, but especially Orwell, has
Sep 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: all readers
Recommended to Brent by: this fine author, NPR Fresh Air, and Atlanta-Fulton Public Library
I actually could not stop reading, after hearing Ricks on NPR Fresh Air with Terri Gross. This was a fine brief (c. 275 pages) summary biography/comparison of these two. Ricks cuts through to the core: why both Churchill and Orwell matter, why Orwell grows in importance.
victor harris
Oct 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Nice job showing how they interacted in their own era and the ultimate lasting influence of two of the most compelling figures of the 20th century. Orwell's rise from relative obscurity was more dramatic as he was shunned by many on the Left because he denounced the excesses of Stalinism and would use Soviet totalitarianism as part of the model for one of his most famous works - 1984. Both the evolution of Churchill as a politician and his ultimate political triumphs and demise are a central and ...more
Barbara Biasiotta
Jul 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is an extremely well-written book (as expected from Thomas Ricks) about Winston Churchill and George Orwell, "the most unlikely of allies". Each man, in his own way, fought to "preserve the liberty of the individual". They are aptly described as the architects of their time.

Churchill and Orwell is the best book I've read in a long time! The author explores how, although approached from different perspectives, both men fought against any government with absolute control over the individual.
Jun 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
The heroes of every age are often not seen as heroes during their lives, or if so viewed in their own age they are not so viewed in later ages. And doubtless perceptions of heroes change as one future passes into another. But for us, today, Churchill and Orwell are heroes to many, and whatever else may be true, this alone gives the two men something in common. Thomas Ricks uses this commonality as the springboard and organizing theme for his book, which is a competently written capsule biography ...more
Oct 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Very good dual examination of both men, making a connection where one might not normally have seen it. Orwell, during his lifetime, was at best a peripheral figure dwelling largely in obscurity. Churchill was one of the most well-known and influential statesmen of his time, as well as a Nobel Prize winning writer. But Ricks gives you their worlds, their thought processes and the ideas they fostered during their lifetimes. Churchill's life threatens to overwhelm the narrative, which one would exp ...more
Jan 01, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A 3.5 leaning toward a 4. I haven't read much about Churchill and the compare/contrast with Orwell was an interesting way to get an overview. The parts of the book around World War II were very interesting.

The book did seem to have more detailed material on Churchill than Orwell, but that may be because he was such a popular public figure.

I was surprised that the author brought up multiple times how bad he thought Orwell's earlier novels were. I've actually found those to be readable, fun, and a
Kayra Guven
Sep 16, 2017 rated it liked it
I was reading "Politics and the English Language" by George Orwell earlier on this week and my history teacher lended me his copy of this book, saying I might find it interesting. I have to say, he was absolutely right. I started the book this morning and could not put it down.
This book was pretty informative and fun. I learned quite a bit about both Churchill and Orwell. Also, I hadn't noticed Orwell's descriptions were heavily based on smells. All in all, I'm really glad to have read thi
Renay Russell
Jan 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
I quite liked this dual biography. While I’m certainly aware of both, having read Orwell and studied Churchill in school, I didn’t really know that much about them so it was an interesting read and to understand their experiences through the war and the impact that it had on them.
Jul 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
An interesting study of two great men who changed the way we think about the world. Notably, they both were willing to be unpopular, and to change their opinion. They both contributed to the freedom of the West.
Larry Hostetler
May 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017, first-reads
An interesting concept, comparing Churchill and Orwell, the conservative prime minister and the socialist author. Showing how Churchill's conservatism and Orwell's socialism softened as they learned and grew is an interesting subject. How each subject's words affected history during their lifetime and beyond is instructive. The book was well-written, well-researched, and good reading.

Unfortunately, I felt that there wasn't a consistent theme. What started out as a comparison of their viewpoints
Denise Cotton
Jun 20, 2017 rated it liked it
Listened on the road - would be much better if edited down to half its length.
Dan Radovich
May 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
I admit to not reading much non-fiction, the subject has to grab me or the author's reputation win me over. Ricks is a Pulitzer winner and these two men he writes of are noteworthy for huge reasons. The focus is on their lives during the 1930s and 1940s, a time when the world was battling fascism and communism. Each man excelled in his own way to push the fight to preserve human freedom, Churchill spoke eloquently and Orwell crafted wonderful prose. Concentrating on one integral portion of their ...more
Justin Tapp
May 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a review. Review and opinions within are my own.

I had previously read Ricks' Fiasco and The Generals, both of these dealt largely with specific failings of the US military and its bureaucracy. This venture is quite a departure; apparently Ricks got interested in both Churchill and Orwell while studying the Spanish Civil War, where Orwell had volunteered, and Ricks found that both men had been war correspondents like himself.

Jun 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
“Dedicated to all those who seek to preserve our freedoms.”

Churchill and Orwell maintained the wisdom and courage to campaign against totalitarianism when that form of rule made its biggest and most threatening play on the world stage. Through the achievements of these two back then, we can wonder today who among us will stand up most vigorously to the current demagoguery.

Orwell and Churchill were kindred spirits, although they never met. Each responded to mid-century threats with their words,
Silas Busch
Jul 29, 2017 rated it liked it
I got this book through a Goodreads giveaway. I was excited to learn more about these two very important figures in history, about fundamental components of modern, Western ideas of freedom, and about how those ideas embolden resistance to oppression. Many individual parts of the book addressed those topics well, and I am glad to have read them. It brings to the fore the personal background of both men, focuses on their personalities, and how that shaped their characteristic approaches to the wo ...more
Darcy Moore
Jun 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
“The Struggle to see things as they are is perhaps the fundamental driver of Western civilisation. There is a long direct line from Aristotle and Archimedes to Locke, Hume, Mill, and Darwin, and there through Orwell and Churchill…It is the agreement that objective reality exists, that people of goodwill can perceive it, and other people will change their views when presented with the facts of the matter.” Thomas E. Ricks

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Thomas Edwin "Tom" Ricks (born September 25, 1955) is an American journalist who writes on defense topics. He is a Pulitzer Prize-winning former reporter for the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. He writes a blog at and is a member of the Center for a New American Security, a defense policy think tank.

He lectures widely to the military and is a member of Harvard University
“As Orwell once wrote, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear”—most especially, for him, facts that they did not want to acknowledge.” 1 likes
“If there is anything we can take away from them, it is the wisdom of employing this two-step process, especially in times of mind-bending crisis: Work diligently to discern the facts of the matter, and then use your principles to respond.” 1 likes
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