Archives For Winston Churchill

My goal is to read about 30-40 books a year.

Since my wife and I have young children, reading is difficult to achieve in our stage of life. I remember being frustrated a couple of years ago about this and wanted to find a solution to feed my mind’s curiosity.

Then I discovered audiobooks. 

People learn in different ways. I have friends who can read 50 or 60 books a year without breaking a sweat. I wish I could get to that point as a reader but I’ve discovered that I absorb information better through from the spoken word of an audiobook.

Book with HeadphonesBefore there were books, there was the beauty of the spoken word.

For thousands of years, stories were passed down from word of mouth, primarily because literacy was reserved for the elite and books were difficult to reproduce. Human history tells us that we are designed as humans to listen to others tell stories and share with the next person.

The reading purist may think I’m a heretic but my goal here is to help people discover more books through the way they can get the most out of them. I still read about 15 to 25 books a year in addition to audiobooks and I believe balance in reading is important.

I listen to audiobooks in the car on my drive to work, on long road trips, and when I work out during the week. I have hours of time that would go wasted without audiobooks, which makes me very thankful for them.

I’ve listened to many audiobooks and to be honest some are recorded with poor quality or are read by a voice that I don’t like. In those times, I stop listening and move on to the next. It’s okay to ditch one if it doesn’t work for you.

But, there are some excellent ones to choose from.

Here are five great audiobooks

Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer (read by award-winning voice talent, Scott Brick)

I loved this because I was always. As the author Krakauer makes a point in his book about Pat Tillman, he seems like a Greek athlete and personality of old.

WAR by Sebastian Junger (read by the author)

I thought this book had an important story to understand, especially from the words read by author Sebastian Junger. Since he was embedded with an Army Ranger company in Afghanistan for over a year, his words would have more passion and meaning than another voice.

Flyboys: A True Story of Courage by James D. Bradley (read by the author)

You all probably know that I love history books and this is one read by author James Bradley is a harrowing tale of Navy flyboys during World War II in the Pacific. With his Wisconsin accent, Bradley shares harrowing stories of these men in one of the most tragic stories you’ve never heard of from World War II.

Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill by Michael Shelden (read by John Curless)

Although written by an American, it is read by an English voice talent, John Curless, who reads the book with an Edwardian pomposity. I love listening to books written about British people. Don’t we all?

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell (read by the author)

There is a cadence to the voice of Malcolm Gladwell and his soft tone brings curiosity to the listener and releases the spirit of the author’s ideas. I think business books are great to listen to for the business traveler, who is traditionally on the run.

Notice how I did not mention fiction audiobooks. I have nothing against them except for idea that I believe fiction books are meant to stretch the imagination of the reader. Last year, I listened to a few and felt like the experience would be better by traditionally reading them. I can’t imagine listening to The Lord of the Rings, Huckleberry Finn, A Wrinkle in Time, or The Chronicles of Narnia for that reason. If you find some good ones to listen to, I’d love to hear your recommendations.

Questions consider before picking the right audiobook

  • How long do you have to listen to an audiobook?
  • Do you have a road trip coming up?
  • Do you have a long commute to work?
  • Do you work out multiple times a week?
  • Do you want to listen to the author or a professional reader? Would either make it a better listening experience?
  • Is a physical CD or digital version preferable for you?

Where to get audiobooks

Physically buy them at a store:  These are often the most expensive ($20-50)

Digital editions:  Choose from iTunes, Amazon.com, ChristianBook.com, AudioBooks.com, or Audible.com ($10-$30)

Public Library: This is where I get 90% of my audiobooks because yes, they are FREE. I don’t mind owning an audiobook because I can always  check it out again.

Free audiobooks: You can download classic audiobooks Charles Dickens, Jane Austin, Joseph Conrad, and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Here are two great places to download classic books free. Librivox and Open Culture.

Caution: I don’t recommend listening to a comedy audiobook while working out. I literally dropped a dumbbell on my head when working out listening to Stephen Colbert read and act out America Again.

Do you like audiobooks? 
If so, which ones have you enjoyed most and why? 

I love reading biographies.

I make an effort to read three or four biographies per year about people I have admired or wanted to learn more about.

For those who are avid readers, you may have a genre that you favor more than others. In the past two years I have made an effort to read a greater variety of books, especially by reading (or re-reading) classics and venturing into fiction. These genres are all fascinating and drive my spirit of mind. But, I keep coming back to my first love of biography.

I believe that human lives are beautiful and are meant to be studied. It’s not because I don’t care about myself. It is also not because I think people who have a book written about them (or by them) deserve to be worshiped, either. I do love hearing about their adventures and great triumphs and feel like I am along for the ride.

But, the secret to a good biography is learning that these great people we admire have made mistakes, just like us.

Historian Walter Isaacson said it best,

“When you write biographies, whether it’s about Ben Franklin or Einstein, you discover something amazing: They are human.”

I believe that God sees each of us as a biography being written. After all, He sees us for who we really are; imperfect people who need grace and an urging by his holy spirit to act. Thus, he sends us on a journey called life. Some of us have a harder journey than others. But, we are all meant to seek it for God’s greater glory and that means taking steps beyond what we could ever have imagined. I believe biographies exist to remind us that we are not alone in our struggles.

Psalm 121:8

The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.

I think when I watch a movie like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, it reminds me that we need to do more than dream. We just need to obey God and act. And by that act comes a great journey in faith. Watch the movie and the life of Walter Mitty to understand this scene. Although the story is fictional, Mitty’s life represents a living biography. Clearly he has dreamed but it his the transformation that counts.

Start by examining your own life and how the story is meant to be told. Then read the lives of others to see how you can see your stories in theirs.

This past year, I have read the following biographies and here is a quick lesson (of many) I’ve learned from each.

Young Winston Churchill at the beginning of his journey.

Young Winston Churchill at the beginning of his journey.

Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill by Michael Shelden

  • Insight: Did you know that Churchill’s career was virtually done with at the age of 40? Did that stop him? “Never give in” were his words. And we now know him as the uniter of the English language to defeat Naziism.

Ike’s Bluff by Evan Thomas

  • Insight: Eisenhower was blamed for not being tough enough on the Soviets in the 1950s. But, it was his restraint and patience that kept the world alive.

Where Men Win Glory by Jon Krakauer (The Odyssey of Pat Tillman) 

  • Insight: Studying the life of someone like Pat Tillman who gave up millions of dollars to join the military post-9/11 is fascinating. But, think twice of why he really served.

The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames by Kai Bird

  • Insight: Ever wondered if CIA agents were all like Jason Bourne or Ethan Hunt? Think again. This is how real 20th Century CIA work was done.

 

Biographies are meant to inspire us.

They are here to compel us to move.

I dare you to pick up a biography this week.

Report back in on the journey.

Remember, Bilbo Baggins needed to go on his adventures first before his story could be told.

Go write yours.

I am a huge proponent of studying the lives of the great people of history. Don’t get me wrong, I love watching a modern-day trailblazer in action but there is something more pleasing about studying another’s life in full to understand their story and what we can learn from it.

I want to know their dreams, adventures, successes, struggles, and what they learned in the process. Then I want to study the life application.

Those who know me and have read this blog are aware that I am a student of Winston Churchill as are many others. The latest book of his I am reading is Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill by Michael Shelden.

Most people know Winston Churchill by his magnanimous speeches with his deep British accent, his cigar in hand as he walked, and the way he led the United Kingdom with the Allies to victory in World War II. He is one of the most quotable people of all time and books continue to be written about him and I suppose more will continue to be for years to come.

churchilldown

What most people do not know is that Winston Churchill was considered an incredible failure by the age of 40.

Like Churchill, we begin life with so much promise and hope – the world is to be conquered. Churchill was desperate to establish himself as a fast-moving politician in Edwardian England. He was an astute student of history and knew that he must be daring in how he lived to gain attention. He served in the military for a few years and in 1899 he was commissioned as a war correspondent during the Boer War. Churchill became famous worldwide for his fight in a train ambush and later through his daring escape from a POW camp in South Africa. Most Americans don’t know that he was a celebrity in the US even in his twenties and went on a massive speaking tour in North America to share stories from his Boer War heroics.

It’s easy to canonize Winston Churchill because of his successes. But, pay closer attention to his failures that made him who we know him today. 

During the First World War, Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty and the chief proponent of the invasion of Turkey now known as the Gallipoli campaign. His strategy was to create a southern link to Russia, their ally. The Turks were a skillful and determined enemy, repelled the allies, and the campaign costed the lives of many young Australians and New Zealanders (ANZAC troops). Perhaps not solely responsible for the tactical defeat on the ground, the campaign was never the less Churchill’s idea and it crippled him politically for years.

Churchill was a big, fat, failure. 

We now know the rest of the story as it didn’t end there.

Churchill entered the political wilderness, dug in his heels, and marched back to eventually become Prime Minister during World War II.

So what do we learn from Churchill’s first half of life?

Churchill said it best,

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

We may not live life with the type of drama that Churchill lived but we do share the ups and downs of life. Which honest person hasn’t had setbacks in life? We all have taken a punch or two to the face and even have fallen. It hurts admitting it but it is part of life.

“Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.”

Churchill’s life has taught us that failure is part of our journey and we become better because of it.

For that, we can keep getting back up and moving forward because victory in life is found in how we respond to the punches.

churchill2

 

Recently a friend shared about the disappointment of being passed over for a promotion. In addition, he was removed off of a key project thus feeling a setback in his career. Our friends spent time encouraging him and letting him know he was not alone. I as well have felt similar setback in my life.

I was reading through The American Patriot’s Almanac the other day and scanning key events of Abraham Lincoln’s life. It was interesting to study his life’s major events.

  • 1832: Elected captain of an Illinois militia company
  • 1832: Defeated for state legislature
  • 1833: Failed in business
  • 1833: Appointed postmaster of New Salem, Illinois
  • 1834: Elected to state legislature
  • 1834: Sweetheart died
  • 1836: Received license to practice law in Illinois
  • 1838: Defeated for Speaker of the Illinois House
  • 1841: Suffered deep depression
  • 1842: Married Mary Todd
  • 1844: Established his own law practice
  • 1846: Elected to U.S. Congress
  • 1849: Failed to get appointment to US. Land Office
  • 1850: Four-year old son died
  • 1855: Defeated for U.S. Senate
  • 1857: Earned large attorney fee in a successful case
  • 1858: Again defeated for Senate
  • 1860: ELECTED PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES

I noticed a few things. Lincoln’s life was full of ups and downs. It reveals the ebb and flow of life and we cannot expect everything to work out perfectly. What we do learn is that Lincoln kept moving forward no matter how many setbacks. His failures made him a better, stronger person that was able to never give up.

LincolnSomber

Lincoln said,

“I do the very best I know how, the very best I can, and I mean to keep doing so until the end.”

Galatians 6:9 offers additional encouragement,

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

By studying people I admire the most like Lincoln, I discover their great failures and tragedies.

  • King David of the Bible committed adultery
  • George Washington experienced military setback after setback during the American Revolution
  • C.S. Lewis lost his mother when he was young and was passed over at Oxford for promotions for years
  • Winston Churchill experienced a military disaster at Gallipoli in World War I
  • John F. Kennedy’s PT boat was demolished and was injured in World War II
  • George H.W. Bush lost a daughter to leukemia
  • J.K. Rowling was on the verge of homelessness

When I feel letdown, lose something or someone, or wonder why something didn’t go my way I am drawn to these great lives for inspiration.

They all shared adversity. Most importantly, they shared perseverance and all kept moving forward.

If you know me personally or have read my posts before, you’ll discover that my life is shaped heavily by the lessons of Sir Winston Churchill. If you have read anything about him, you probably learned about the Prime Minister Winston Churchill of World War II or the Cold War. Yet, the hidden gem of Winston Churchill is found in his ” wilderness years.”

churchill sitting

In the Spring of 1929 when the Conservative Party lost the General Election in Great Britain and the 54-year old Winston Churchill stepped down as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he had served in every major British Cabinet post except Foreign Secretary and Prime Minister. Churchill was never popular with the Conservative Party’s rank and file or its leaders thus he became marginalized throughout the 1930s leading up to World War II. He was in his wilderness.

gatheringstorm

These “Churchill wilderness” years are well represented by history books but my favorite portrayal of him on-screen during those years was by Albert Finney in The Gathering Storm (2002). In the movie, despite his political impotency, Churchill is the one of the few who most clearly (and accurately) sees Hitler’s Germany rearming and rising as a threat. By speaking up he becomes marginalized and dismissed as a war-mongerer. In addition, during those years he was having financial struggles and left to determine if he had any life left in him politically. Those were the years of building strength and courage to prepare for what was coming, the gathering storm. Thank God that our brave Sir Winston survived those years as they helped to fully develop the man who would lead (and arguably save) Britain in World War II.

Churchill brings encouragement to me in my wilderness. I have felt lately that I’m in it as well and trying to figure out a next stage of life and what God wants next for me. I am so thankful for this time because I can see God working despite not knowing the ending of this chapter. From one wilderness to another, Churchill is still teaching me. I am thankful for this wilderness.

The wilderness teaches us to

  • See more clearly because we are acutely seeking for purpose. We are thinking about what matters most in life.
  • Become more thoughtful in our writing, our personal relationships, and our prayer life.
  • Seek God for guidance. It is a time to remember that we are not alone. That is why God reminds us of why Jesus went into the wilderness. It was in preparation for something big.
  • Be patient. We need to slow down and embrace life’s meaningful development process.
  • Realize our potential.  God loves seeing victory through you.
  • Be thankful for the journey.

Great stories are written in wilderness. Embrace it.

You will be better because of it. We all will. 

Why Failure Matters

November 8, 2012 — 4 Comments

I am a failure.

You know those contests where people have to guess how many M&Ms are in a mason jar? Well I’d be willing to bet my failures would add up to ten dozen of those jars. I’m just getting started, too.

I am amazed by the idea of failure. I remember so many failures in my life, it still hurts thinking about them.

Why does failure feel so bad? I love failure for a good reason. It causes a person to look deep into their soul to ask the deep questions of “why” and a “do I have what it takes?”

There are times in life when I failed and quit.

There are times in life when I failed and kept going.

Both of those times hurt. Sometime early in life I was being told to keep going during these times. I didn’t really know what that meant but the more I failed, the more I wanted to get through that emotion of personal disappointment. It took victory upon victory to see what the failures meant.

Great stories begin with failures and end with greatness. Pushing through failures produces the character that will ultimately take you on the journey of being a better person. It is like a marathon runner who hits ‘the wall’ midway through a race. The pain becomes so excruciating, that eventually your body tells you to stop. Some choose to stop. Some chose to continue. Those that continue, find something inside of them that pushes through the pain. By pushing through the pain, euphoria takes over and you suddenly float forward to finish.

In the midst of pain, we discover what matters most. It is a process but it awakens us to what life is supposed to be. The pain of failure and the process causes us to cry out to God for help. Pick up your Bible because it is full of men and women who have failed. Grace in the form of Jesus picked them up so they could keep moving. They were stronger, bolder, and humbler because of this grace. They understood what the pain meant to push through.

My hero, Winston Churchill, faced failure on numerous public occasions during his career: He failed political races, was responsible for military blunders in World War I, was marginalized in Parliament between the wars, and lost battles as Prime Minister during World War II. Despite winning World War II, he was voted out of office. Did he stop? No he kept going and became Prime Minister again years later. His words carry me today.

Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

I am imaging the day when one of my daughters come to me full of some sort of worry. They will share their fear and it will be about losing a game, not making the cut, failing a test, or perhaps feeling rejected by a boy. I will hug them. I will tell them I understand some of their hurt. I will even cry with them. I will help pick them up and tell them to look up.

I will tell them about Winston Churchill. I will tell them about life’s marathon. I will tell them about my failures.I will share the Bible with them. I will tell them that it will be okay. I will tell them to never give up.

 

What has failure taught you in life?

Any favorite quotes or Bible verses that help you through failure?

 

You know a good speaker when you see one.

But are you one?

Do you ever wonder exactly why a speech can be so good? It can bring shivers down your back. It can inspire you to change the world.  Sometimes it can be as simple as provoking the feeling that you aren’t alone.  Everyday I have the opportunity to speak in public or watch someone else do it.  I am fascinated by those who do this so well so I try to study and emulate them.

More people fear public speaking over death for example.  It is frequently ranked as the #1 fear for people as a matter of fact.   With so much fear attached to public speaking, often people shy away from trying to better themselves at it.  As Flannery O’Connor put it, “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” As it a good speech. I have a long way to become a good orator.

Winston Churchill noted that in each speech,

“There must be character, personality, delivery and occasion,…”

As in all things in life, Sir Winston. Thank you.

I like keeping things simple in life so there are two attributes that can be applied to about anything in life, especially speech:  Planning and Delivery.

Let us study two of my heroes of speech and rhetoric.

PLANNING: Churchill’s “Our Finest Hour” Speech

Churchill grew up with a lisp and had to overcome incredible odds to become the speaker we know him as today.  He was known early on in his political career as a rambler but over the decades, he transformed into a master of public speaking. How did he do it?  Churchill would often say that for every minute in a speech one should prepare an hour.  His work ethic was untouchable and it helped eventually him do best what was needed in the moment.  In Churchill’s preparation, he knew that his pause was his secret weapon.  By intense planning, he knew when to best use the pause.  Churchill has given thousands of speeches that you will neither hear nor read in life but if you could only read one, read his amazing “Our Finest Hour” speech.  Whenever you feel down and frustrated by life’s circumstances, it will uplift your spirit.  If you are in that Dunkirk point of life in retreat as the Allies were; learn from the Brits and regroup, reassess, and get back in the game.  You can read the full speech here.

“Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.'”

DELIVERY: FDR’s Message to Congress after Pearl Harbor

Draft #1: “Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in ‘world history’….”

Following the sudden and deliberate attack on the United States, FDR knew this was a moment to capture emotion and reason so in his final draft he changed ‘world history’ to ‘infamy.’  Read the original version a few times and you realize that it doesn’t fully embrace the magnitude of what happened at Pearl Harbor.  It is now one of the most famous opening speech lines ever.  Can you imagine trying to describe the emotion of a nation on the fly like FDR?  He mastered the moment and a nation became united and galvanized for war.

What does this mean to you?  

Part of your planning must be to anticipate the moments that could come.  You must plan for the moment in the same way that you planned how to get there.  Over my years as a history student, I studied Churchill and FDR extensively.  Today, I become discouraged occasionally and think, “I can’t do it like them.  I am not even in a position of ultimate leadership that would require this sort of planning and skill.”  But I then realize that I am wrong.  My team, which includes my family, look to me daily to master these skills of planning and mastering the moment.

Remember that yes you can do it.

Keep it simple. Plan, and plan for the moment.