Review: When Lions Roar

When Lions Roar:  The Churchills and the Kennedys by Thomas Maier

Crown, 2014.  Hardcover, 784 pages.when lions roar cover

This massive tome is a dual biography of the Britain’s Churchill family and America’s Kennedy family.  I will say I was skeptical at first about the premise of this work, but once I started reading I knew why it was possible.  First, both families filled multiple political positions during the twentieth century.  Second, the Churchills and the Kennedys first met just before World War II when Joseph Kennedy, Senior, was the American Ambassador to England.  Third, there are many parallels between the two families, including but not limited to high political aspirations for the eldest son; troublesome daughters; marriages between Americans and British subjects; grandchildren whom the patriarchs hoped would also follow their footsteps; etc. Fourth, the had many friends, such as Lord Beaverbrook, in common.  Fifth, during World War II and after, Kathleen Kennedy and Winston Churchill’s daughter-in-law, Pamela, were best friends.

This well-researched book covers a vast amount of material.  Throughout it incorporates archival material, especially letters, to provide the thoughts through the individual’s own words.  The book opens with following the early lives of Winston Churchill and Joseph Kennedy, Senior.  Then it goes on to discuss their careers and rise into politics, including Churchill’s role in World War I and Kennedy’s support of Franklin Roosevelt (which later sours).  Then the book begins to focus equally on them and their children.  Both placed high hopes on political careers for their eldest.  We also see how Kennedy’s friendship with Roosevelt’s oldest son, Jimmy, played a role in Kennedy’s rise (a recurring theme that leads me to say the first 2/3 of the book should be a triple biography and thus also include the Roosevelt’s in the title).  The bulk of the book covers the years directly before, during, and after World War II.  During this  time, Churchill and Kennedy’s opposing views of the pending war are discussed; we see how the two men worked together early in the war, and how Roosevelt  frequently circumnavigated Kennedy; their hopes and fears for their children; and learn what their children did during the war years, with a focus on Randolph Churchill and Joe Junior, John, and Kathleen Kennedy.  Then the book goes on to follow the patriarchs through their final years and their children’s careers.  During this time frame, we see two things:  the appearance of Aristotle Onassis in both family’s the circle of friends and how Randolph’s career never lives up to expectations what John Kennedy’s far exceeds them.  Emphasis is placed on Churchill’s fears of communism and why it needed stomped out and how Kennedy orchestrated his son John’s rise to the presidency.

Despite how I found this tome interesting, there were a few flaws.  First, almost every chapter starts out with an event or situation then it jumps back in time and covers what leads to that.  I found this distracting and felt it disrupted the flow of reading.  Second, some chapters, especially early on, would tell the whole story from one family’s view with the next chapter from the opposite family but this was not clearly labeled.  Sometimes it took reading several pages into the chapter to realize the backtrack in time.  Third, the photo section could have been better.  There were times a specific photo was mentioned in the text (especially the Life magazine cover featuring Pamela Churchill and baby Winston, Junior) that were not included in the insert.  I had to look them up on Google!  Also, the section heavily favorite the Kennedys.

In all, an interesting book but I think it is better suited for research over casual reading.  In all, per the obvious father and son comparisons, as historical record also shows, Winston Churchill was the success in his family and John Kennedy in his, both politically and academically (they were also award-winning writers).  Randolph tried to imitate his father to no avail while John Kennedy learned from his father’s mistakes and rose above them while also looking to Churchill as a role model.  Both who succeeded were portrayed as having award-winning personalities.

Lastly, one disclaimer.  The book also is frank and goes into detail about the many affairs members of both families engaged in (especially Joe Kennedy and Randolph and Pamela Churchill).  When push comes to shove, the only innocents in this department were Rose Kennedy and Winston and Clementine Churchill (of those discussed; Mary Churchill Soames and the younger Kennedy women and men were never discussed in detail in the book).  While these three never participated in one, however, they often turned a blind eye to what their children (and in Rose’s case, husband) did.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.


5 thoughts on “Review: When Lions Roar

    • It’s always nice to hear when my reviews lead someone to want to read a book. Thanks for letting me know! If you’d like, let me know your thoughts after reading this massive tome.

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