Randolph Churchill was the love of his father’s life, says Sarah Curtis in the TLS, and “the son all his life tried and failed to meet his father’s expectations”. Churchill & Son (John Murray £20) is a “poignant account” of the intense relationship between the two. Josh Ireland shows how Winston’s commitment to his son, for all Randolph’s excesses and despite their searing rows, “was at the centre of his own existence”.
From early on Randolph realised he could get away with almost anything, says Miranda Carter in The Oldie. He was rude to his nurses and bullied his sisters, “while his father fed him oysters at the dinner table” and told guests such as Charlie Chaplin that he was a prodigy. Confident and good-looking, Randolph was convinced as his father was that he would be an MP by 21 and PM by 24.
He was also lazy, a drinker and a gambler, “had expensive tastes (his father paid his debts well into his thirties) and propositioned anything in a skirt”. His volatility led to violent arguments and he “never, ever stopped talking”. Nancy Mitford called him LBR – “Little Baby Randolph”. Ireland is “an engaging guide”, but for all his sympathy for Randolph – he was “glorious in his own way”, the author says – he remains “a selfish lightweight”.
Ireland is not hagiographic about Randolph, says Andrew Roberts in Air Mail, but “there is a point in life when the blame for sarcasm and boorishness cannot be directed at the parents”. It was not Winston who drove Randolph to be “so monumentally rude” to people. And Randolph bears “ultimate responsibility” for the liver cirrhosis that killed him at 57. He outlived his father by only three years.
To give Randolph his due, he “hated injustice” and was “physically brave” – had he not been the prime minister’s son, “he would have probably won the Military Cross for his exploits” with Tito’s partisans in occupied Yugoslavia. The book is “ostensibly about how Winston built and broke his son”, but readers will conclude that he “built much more than he broke”.
Available as an audiobook on Kobo.
Vintage fiction: The Leopard
Published in 1958, The Leopard became one of the bestselling Italian novels of the 20th century, but its author, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, didn’t live to see its success. “This is a book which should be read by everyone who is interested in Italy, or in the nineteenth century, or indeed the conduct of the human race,” raved the TLS at the time of publication.
The novel begins in 1860, as Garibaldi lands on the shores of Sicily, determined to unify and modernise Italy. Don Fabrizio, the Prince of Salina, watches as the Sicily he loves fades into oblivion, and his place in the world with it. He is, however, determined that his favourite nephew, Tancredi, will prosper in the new age.
“The art of politics is an Italian invention,” first expressed in Machiavelli’s The Prince in 1513, and later in The Leopard, said Jonathan Jones in The Guardian in 2003. “The Prince of Salina, a physical giant of a man who unconsciously bends cutlery and crushes ornaments when he is in a dark mood, is a Prince as seductive as Machiavelli’s.”
To this day, Lampedusa’s dictum that “everything must change so that everything can stay the same” is used to describe the evolution of political power.
Available as an audiobook on Scribd.
It begins with a photograph, posted to the “Humans of Syria” Facebook account in 2015, says Mythili Rao in The Guardian: “An image of two men… standing in a windowless room, surrounded by stacks of books.” The Book Collectors of Daraya (Picador £16.99) tells how, over four “hellish” years, 40 young Syrian revolutionaries “embarked on a remarkable project, rescuing all the books they could find in the bombed-out ruins of their town.”
The book’s author, journalist Delphine Minoui, was “transfixed” by the image of the “secret library of Daraya”. She tracked down one of its founders, Ahmad Muaddamani – and, via unreliable
Skype connections and WhatsApp messages, maintained contact with him and others while the siege continued. Daraya, a suburb of Damascus, never had a public library under Bashar al-Assad, “so salvaging literature was also a political and civic act”. Within weeks the basement library held more than 15,000 books. Reading, said Muaddamani, gave him “the same sensation of freedom I felt at my first protest”.
The Book Collectors of Daraya celebrates the political and therapeutic power of the written word, says Houman Barekat in The FT. It became “a haven, a subterranean cultural centre” where the “beleaguered” activists gathered to watch movies, debate, sometimes even dance. Their reading habits are “admirably varied”, ranging from the 14th-century Tunisian historian Ibn Khaldun to the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. Muaddamani has “a fondness for American self-help books”. As Omar, a former engineering student, said: “Reading reminds us that we’re human.”
The siege of Daraya ended in August 2016, with a forced evacuation. Regime soldiers “stumbled upon the library and pillaged it.” There is little here to smile about, says Barekat, “yet the book strikes a defiant and cautiously optimistic note”.
Available as an audiobook on Audible.