The best books about prime ministers

11 authors have picked their favorite books about prime ministers and why they recommend each book.

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Churchill

By Andrew Roberts,

Book cover of Churchill: Walking with Destiny

When approaching Churchill, it is often very difficult to know quite where to start. That dilemma is solved by Roberts’ scholarly study. He is extremely balanced and nuanced in his approach to the country’s most famous prime minister and wartime leader. His depth of research is breath-taking and Roberts’ work will rightly remain a standard text for years to come.

Churchill

By Andrew Roberts,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Churchill as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

One of The Wall Street Journal's Ten Best Books of 2018
One of The Economist's Best Books of 2018
One of The New York Times's Notable Books of 2018

"Unarguably the best single-volume biography of Churchill . . . A brilliant feat of storytelling, monumental in scope, yet put together with tenderness for a man who had always believed that he would be Britain's savior." -Wall Street Journal

In this landmark biography of Winston Churchill based on extensive new material, the true genius of the man, statesman and leader can finally be fully seen and understood--by…

Who am I?

Anthony Tucker-Jones, a former intelligence officer, is an author, commentator, and writer who specializes in military history, with well over 60 books to his name. His work has also been published in an array of magazines and online. He regularly appears on television and radio commenting on current and historical military matters.


I wrote...

Churchill, Master and Commander: Winston Churchill at War 1895-1945

By Anthony Tucker-Jones,

Book cover of Churchill, Master and Commander: Winston Churchill at War 1895-1945

What is my book about?

This book assesses what in his formative years shaped Winston Churchill as a military commander, and then examines how in high office he got it both right and wrong. From his earliest days, he was an extreme risk-taker and he carried this into adulthood. Today Churchill is widely hailed as Britain’s greatest wartime leader and politician. Deep down though, he was foremost a warlord. Just like his ally Stalin, and his arch enemies Hitler and Mussolini, Churchill could not help himself and insisted on personally directing the strategic conduct of the Second World War. For better or worse throughout his long career, he insisted on being both a political master and a military commander.

Churchill

By Clive Ponting,

Book cover of Churchill

Left-wing historian Ponting has his detractors for what many regarded as a critical revisionist approach to Churchill’s life. However, there is no denying the depth of his research. Furthermore, far from coming over as an overt critic, his study is far more balanced than often thought.

Churchill

By Clive Ponting,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Churchill as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ponting's text challenges the Churchill myth, declaring that much of the accepted interpretation of Churchill's life stems from his own writings about himself. Using source material released during the past 25 years, it questions his competence as a war leader and the true level of his popularity.

Who am I?

Anthony Tucker-Jones, a former intelligence officer, is an author, commentator, and writer who specializes in military history, with well over 60 books to his name. His work has also been published in an array of magazines and online. He regularly appears on television and radio commenting on current and historical military matters.


I wrote...

Churchill, Master and Commander: Winston Churchill at War 1895-1945

By Anthony Tucker-Jones,

Book cover of Churchill, Master and Commander: Winston Churchill at War 1895-1945

What is my book about?

This book assesses what in his formative years shaped Winston Churchill as a military commander, and then examines how in high office he got it both right and wrong. From his earliest days, he was an extreme risk-taker and he carried this into adulthood. Today Churchill is widely hailed as Britain’s greatest wartime leader and politician. Deep down though, he was foremost a warlord. Just like his ally Stalin, and his arch enemies Hitler and Mussolini, Churchill could not help himself and insisted on personally directing the strategic conduct of the Second World War. For better or worse throughout his long career, he insisted on being both a political master and a military commander.

Wellington

By Rory Muir,

Book cover of Wellington: The Path to Victory 1769-1814

Speaking of which, this is the first of a two-volume biography of Wellington and is no doubt the most exhaustive and the most up-to-date biography of the man and his career. I’ve personally always found Wellington to be a fairly unlikeable character and there is nothing in this biography that made me change my mind. However, Muir’s familiarity with the sources and the archives enables him to integrate the personal, the military, and the political into this thorough examination of the man that ultimately defeated Napoleon.

Wellington

By Rory Muir,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Wellington as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A landmark contribution to understanding the real man behind the heroic legend inspired by the triumph at Waterloo

The Duke of Wellington was not just Britain's greatest soldier, although his seismic struggles as leader of the Allied forces against Napoleon in the Peninsular War deservedly became the stuff of British national legend. Wellington was much more: a man of vision beyond purely military matters, a politically astute thinker, and a canny diplomat as well as lover, husband, and friend. Rory Muir's masterful new biography, the first of a two-volume set, is the fruit of a lifetime's research and discovery into…

Who am I?

I'm an Australian historian specializing in the French Revolution and Napoleon. I have spent a goodly part of my career writing a three-volume biography of Napoleon, alongside chapters, articles, and edited books that aimed at reassessing the man and the period. Working on Napoleon and the French as occupiers led me into the history of massacre and more broadly into the history of violence. I studied under the preeminent French Napoleonic scholar, Jean Tulard, at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, Paris IV.


I wrote...

Book cover of Napoleon: The Path to Power 1769 - 1799

What is my book about?

In the first volume of the trilogy, I focused on Napoleon’s formative years, from his Corsican origins to his French education, from his melancholy youth to his flirtation with radicals of the French Revolution, from his first military campaigns in Italy and Egypt to the political-military coup that brought him to power in 1799. One of the first truly modern politicians, Napoleon was a master of “spin,” using the media to project an idealized image of himself. 

I was always fascinated by his meteoric rise from literally a nobody to gain power in the most powerful country in Europe at the young age of thirty. The journey that led him there was neither inevitable nor smooth. This is one of the few biographies that really attempt to uncover the man, that focuses on the evolution of Napoleon as a leader, and that debunks many of the myths that are often repeated about him. I tried to reveal just how ruthless, manipulative, and driven a man he really was.

Book cover of Jan Smuts - Unafraid of Greatness

This book by former lawyer and journalist, Richard Steyn, is a study of one of South Africa’s most celebrated, brilliant yet enigmatic figures, Jan Smuts. Soldier, statesman, philosopher, politician, Smuts was all of these things and a man unafraid of greatness. Prime Minister of South Africa from 1919 - 1924 and again from 1939 - 1948, a distinguished veteran of three wars, an international figure, whose opinions were sought after in the councils of the world, and the personal friend and confidante of world leaders like Winston Churchill and King George VI, Richard Steyn gives an extremely readable account of how Smuts achieved greatness in so many areas. He helped establish the United Nations and drew the attention of the world to South Africa, yet failed to address the growing need to create equitable political, economic, and social relations between black and white peoples in South Africa.

Steyn does…

Jan Smuts - Unafraid of Greatness

By Richard Steyn,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Jan Smuts - Unafraid of Greatness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

Gail Nattrass was born in Northern Rhodesia. She was educated at Mufulira High School and the universities of Natal, Rhodesia, and Nyasaland, and UNISA. She relocated to South Africa with her husband in 1967, and subsequently lectured in the history department at the School of Education, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg for 20 years. She has written materials for students and presented papers on various aspects of South African and international history at four universities in South Africa. She is also the author of The Rooiberg Story, published by the mining house, the co-editor with S B Spies of Jan Smuts: Memoirs of the Boer War, and a contributor to They Shaped Our Century and Leaders of the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902.



I wrote...

A Short History of South Africa

By Gail Nattrass,

Book cover of A Short History of South Africa

What is my book about?

Gail Nattrass describes how writing her book, A Short History of South Africa is the culmination of almost a lifetime of researching and teaching the broad spectrum of South African history, collecting stories, taking students on tours around the country, and working with distinguished historians whose specialised studies are acknowledged in the text. She acknowledges that she has learned so much from all of these people. 

Her book takes us from the early occupants of The Cradle of Humankind, early settlement, both pre and post-European arrival, to the warfare of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries that influenced the democracy that is South Africa today. She describes how wars, rebellions, strikes, and protests have divided South Africa’s people and highlighted the differences between them. South Africans are also of mixed ancestry, class, and culture, a `rainbow’ nation of diverse people but who nevertheless have characteristics in common, and despite the problems that still exist, consider South Africa their home. Peppered with anecdotes of individual lives and illustrated with maps and photographs, this is an accessible read both for South Africans, themselves, and for people overseas who might like to visit the country.

Darkest Hour

By Anthony McCarten,

Book cover of Darkest Hour: How Churchill Brought England Back from the Brink

A nation at war, facing seemingly insurmountable odds, with much of Europe already conquered and Germany winning every battle, triumphant over all—leaving Britain isolated, its very survival now imperiled. Yet a solitary voice defies the inevitable. “We shall never surrender,” cries Winston Churchill.  Single-handedly, Churchill turns back the voices of defeatism, standing firm against all those both in and out of his government who wanted to sue for peace with Adolf Hitler. He was defiant to the end. This is a book about England’s darkest hour, when she stood alone on the brink of catastrophe, and about one man, Winston Churchill, whose courage, enormous strength of will, and clarity of purpose, saved Britain from disaster and arguably saved Western Civilization along with it.

Darkest Hour

By Anthony McCarten,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Darkest Hour as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE SUNDAY TIMES NUMBER ONE BESTSELLER AND OFFICIAL TIE-IN TO THE AWARD-WINNING MOTION PICTURE STARRING GARY OLDMAN, WHO TOOK HOME BEST ACTOR AT THE OSCARS FOR HIS SUBLIME TURN AS WINSTON CHURCHILL.

From the prize-winning screenwriter of The Theory of Everything, this is a cinematic, behind-the-scenes account of a crucial moment which takes us inside the mind of one of the world's greatest leaders - and provides a revisionist, more rounded portrait of his leadership.

May, 1940. Britain is at war, European democracies are falling rapidly and the public are unaware of this dangerous new world. Just days after his…


Who are we?

Gershen Kaufman, Ph.D., professor emeritus in psychology at Michigan State University, is a pioneer in the study of shame and author of ground-breaking books on shame. His work is considered foundational in the Recovery Movement and in Psychology. Lev Raphael, Ph.D., is an educator, editor, and author publishing in genres from memoir to mystery.  We've co-authored several books based on an innovative program we created at Michigan State University, which Free Spirit Publishing invited us to adapt for kids. This program teaches you how to build self-esteem: a crucial skill that can be taught just like reading, writing, and arithmetic—and is equally essential to living a secure, confident life.


We wrote...

Stick Up For Yourself!: Every Kid's Guide to Personal Power and Positive Self-Esteem

By Gershen Kaufman, Lev Raphael,

Book cover of Stick Up For Yourself!: Every Kid's Guide to Personal Power and Positive Self-Esteem

What is our book about?

Everyone faces challenges in life, kids as well as adults. Powerlessness, uncertainty, and insecurity are some of the most difficult challenges we will ever face. Shame is another. Uncertainty too often leaves us anxious and afraid.  Powerlessness can render us humiliated or enraged, or both. And shame is like a wound made on the inside by an unseen hand, a sickness of the soul. Though specifically aimed for 9-13 year-olds, this book teaches kids of all ages, along with parents, vital skills for strengthening one’s inner self. Learn how to overcome shame and how to affirm oneself from within. Learn how to move from powerlessness to enhanced personal power, and to shared power in a relationship. Learn how to live with uncertainty without becoming overwhelmed by it. Acquire the necessary skills for building personal power, positive self-esteem, and inner security.

Margaret Thatcher

By Charles Moore,

Book cover of Margaret Thatcher: The Authorized Biography: From Grantham to the Falklands

Impressively researched, elegantly written, and sprinkled with dry humor, Moore’s account is an even-handed portrait of a remarkable woman who turned her sex and her humble background from handicaps into assets, and used her outstanding political skills to become a driving force in twentieth-century British history.  The author addresses his polarizing subject’s inconsistencies, and her bizarre yet conventional personality, to present a multidimensional picture of Britain’s first female prime minister.

Margaret Thatcher

By Charles Moore,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Margaret Thatcher as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Not For Turning is the first volume of Charles Moore's authorized biography of Margaret Thatcher, the longest serving Prime Minister of the twentieth century and one of the most influential political figures of the postwar era.

Charles Moore's biography of Margaret Thatcher, published after her death on 8 April 2013, immediately supersedes all earlier books written about her. At the moment when she becomes a historical figure, this book also makes her into a three dimensional one for the first time. It gives unparalleled insight into her early life and formation, especially through her extensive correspondence with her sister, which…


Who am I?

I’ve always been captivated by stories about powerful women. After a corporate career as one of the first female executives in the international world of Wall Street, while raising two children as a single working parent, I returned to academia. I am a magna cum laude graduate of Smith College, hold a doctorate in modern European history, with academic distinction, from New York University. I wanted to ascertain whether the mostly male writers of history were correct in attributing the success of exceptional women to the bedroom. Meticulous research yielded a different narrative, one I delight in sharing.


I wrote...

Florence Nightingale, Feminist

By Judith Lissauer Cromwell,

Book cover of Florence Nightingale, Feminist

What is my book about?

The first, full-length biography told from a post-feminist perspective. Born into Victorian Britain’s elite, a brilliant, magnetic teenager decided to devote her life to the indigent sick by becoming a nurse. Her family opposed. Catapulted into the Crimean War, Nightingale brought order to the chaos of British military hospitals, but never forgot her patients.

Despite debilitating illness, she focused on preventing another Crimean catastrophe -- the death of thousands due to avoidable causes. Hygienic army installations, sanitation for India, and the creation of modern nursing owe much to Nightingale. Victorians saw her as the ideal nurturing female. Hindsight provides a wider perspective. By conceiving a career for women that empowered them with economic independence, Florence Nightingale stands among the founders of modern feminism.

Book cover of The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz

Erik Larson’s highly readable, page-turning treatment of one of history’s most enigmatic figures—Winston Churchill—during his “Finest Hour” makes us pause and reflect just how consequential one man can be. Yet Larson’s true triumph is how he showcased the people around Churchill, showing the reader how any of us can bravely rise to the occasion.

The Splendid and the Vile

By Erik Larson,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Splendid and the Vile as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

While my book Oklahoma’s Atticus is technically true crime, I always viewed it as a story about courage, not unlike the stories of brave heroes that have inspired me for longer than I can remember. But unlike these great figures of history and literature, my book is about a regular man who never saw himself as a hero. I should know, for that man, Elliott Howe, was my grandfather. I can only hope his story inspires others as much as it did me.


I wrote...

Oklahoma's Atticus: An Innocent Man and the Lawyer Who Fought for Him

By Hunter Howe Cates,

Book cover of Oklahoma's Atticus: An Innocent Man and the Lawyer Who Fought for Him

What is my book about?

Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1953: an impoverished Cherokee named Buster Youngwolfe confesses to brutally raping and murdering his eleven-year-old female relative. When Youngwolfe recants his confession, saying he was forced to confess by the authorities, his city condemns him, except for one man—public defender and Creek Indian Elliott Howe. Recognizing in Youngwolfe the life that could've been his if not for a few lucky breaks, Howe risks his career to defend Youngwolfe against the powerful county attorney’s office. Forgotten today, the sensational story of the murder, investigation, and trial made headlines nationwide.

Oklahoma’s Atticus is a tale of two cities—oil-rich downtown Tulsa and the dirt-poor slums of north Tulsa; of two newspapers—each taking different sides; and of two men both born poor Native Americans, but whose lives took drastically different paths.

A State at Any Cost

By Tom Segev, Haim Watzman (translator),

Book cover of A State at Any Cost: The Life of David Ben-Gurion

Every nationalist struggle requires effective leaders. Zionism, in particular, faced such long odds and such peculiar circumstances, that success depended not only on effective, but ruthless and single-minded leadership. In this monumental biography of David Ben-Gurion, the single most dominant individual within the Zionist movement and in the first two decades of Israel’s existence, Tom Segev shows that Zionism did have such a leader. Contrary to official hagiography, Ben-Gurion offered no brilliant or innovative ideas about politics, history, or the human condition. What he contributed was a shrewd, consuming, and merciless dedication to wresting as much of Palestine, or the Land of Israel, from its Arab inhabitants as possible without risking the state he wanted by demanding more than the world could be forced to provide. 

Ben-Gurion’s model was Lenin, his modus operandi was Bolshevik. Everything for the cause, and nothing not for the cause, at least insofar as those…

A State at Any Cost

By Tom Segev, Haim Watzman (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A State at Any Cost as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The definitive biography of Israel's founder by one of Israel's most celebrated historians.

As the founder of Israel, David Ben-Gurion long ago secured his reputation as a leading figure of the twentieth century. Determined from an early age to create a Jewish state, he took control of the Zionist movement, declared Israel's independence, and navigated his country through wars, controversies and remarkable achievements.

In this definitive biography, Tom Segev uses previously unreleased archival material to give an original, nuanced account that transcends the myths and legends that have built up around the man. He reveals Ben-Gurion's secret negotiations with the…


Who am I?

I began studying the Israeli-Palestinian relationship as an idealistic Brandeis University student living in Jerusalem in 1969, when I directly encountered the Palestinian problem and the realities of the occupation. Trained at Berkeley to be a political scientist I devoted my life to finding a path to a two-state solution. In 2010 I reached the tragic conclusion that the “point of no return” toward Israeli absorption of the occupied territories had indeed been passed. Bored with the ideas that my old way of thinking was producing, I forced myself to think, as Hannah Arendt advised, “without a bannister.” Paradigm Lost is the result.


I wrote...

Paradigm Lost: From Two-State Solution to One-State Reality

By Ian Lustick,

Book cover of Paradigm Lost: From Two-State Solution to One-State Reality

What is my book about?

In his widely acclaimed book, Ian Lustick offers a provocative explanation of why a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem is unattainable and why efforts to resume the peace process charade will only contribute to what he calls “silent apartheid.” Lustick bases his argument on how failed paradigms of thinking can be replaced and on the unintended consequences of Zionism’s “Iron Wall” strategy toward Arabs; of deep-seated but maladaptive “lessons” of the Holocaust; and the Israel lobby’s hammerlock on American policy toward Israel. In combination these legacies and circumstances scuttled the two-state solution, but have set the stage for new struggles and better problems. He insists that attention must shift from blueprints for solutions that provide no map for realistic action, to the democratizing dynamics of a “one-state reality.”

Salazar

By Tom Gallagher,

Book cover of Salazar: The Dictator Who Refused to Die

My neighbor, who owns the local agricultural store where I buy honey, told me almost casually that his father died in prison under Salazar. 

Gallagher has written 15 books on world history and politics, so I chose his to understand the dictator´s lasting impact on society. Salazar hung with dictator Franco strategically as a shield against Hitler, who he told to lay off all European Jews with Portuguese names because “Portugal does not recognize racial distinctions.” Personally above reproach Salazar was tolerant of homosexuality and promiscuity in others, and he welcomed back exiled and imprisoned opponents into regime leadership. Exploitations by the professional guilds Salazar built exist today, but so does social value on correct and ethical behaviour. 

Maybe my neighbor´s father stole a pig.

Salazar

By Tom Gallagher,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Salazar as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Fifty years after his death, Portugal's Salazar remains a controversial and enigmatic figure, whose conservative and authoritarian legacy still divides opinion. Some see him as a reactionary and oppressive figure who kept Portugal backward, while others praise his honesty, patriotism and dedication to duty. Contemporary radicals are wary of his unabashed elitism and scepticism about social progress, but many conservatives give credit to his persistent warnings about the threats to Western civilisation from runaway materialism and endless experimentation.

For a dictator, Salazar's end was anti-climactic-a domestic accident. But during his nearly four decades in power, he survived less through reliance…

Who am I?

Wendy Lee Hermance was heard on National Public Radio (NPR) stations with her Missouri Folklore series in the 1980s. She earned a journalism degree from Stephens College, served as Editor and Features Writer for Midwestern and Southern university and regional publications, then settled into writing real estate contracts. In 2012 she attended University of Sydney, earning a master’s degree by research thesis. Her books include Where I’m Going with this Poem, a memoir in poetry and prose. Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat marks her return to feature writing as collections of narrative non-fiction stories.


I wrote...

Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

By Wendy Lee Hermance,

Book cover of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

What is my book about?

When I arrived in Porto knowing no one, I had to pinch myself to believe what was happening. Having a low threshold for pain, I decided to write about it instead.

"With her typically American intrepidness, her thirst for a good story and her power of observation, Hermance closes-in on the Portuguese she encounters along the way, bringing to us a psychological picture of the Portuguese individual and society that you won´t find on expat guides….” - David Peres Rebelo

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