Hero of the Empire Audio Book Review

Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill

Authored by Candice Millard, Narrated by Simon Vance

Audiobook, 10 hours and 14 minutes

Published by Random House Audio

Language: English

ASIN: B01J6GNLB8

Born into English aristocracy, Winston Churchill was always convinced he was destined for greatness.  He determined that the surest path to political success was being publicly recognized for audacity on the battlefield, and at the end of the 1800s England did not lack for battlefields in the far reaches of her sprawling Empire.  Churchill served as a junior officer in India and the Sudan, but the medals he so desperately sought eluded him.  Resigning his commission, he relied on his writing skills as a military correspondent in Cuba, and his oratory skills in a failed run for Parliament.  Still craving adventure and the recognition which would propel him to greatness, he sailed to South Africa to cover the Boer War as a journalist in 1899.  He was 24 at the time.

The Boers soon proved to be worthy opponents for the mighty British Army.  A pioneering people, they turned their frontier skills and knowledge into formidable weapons, fighting a successful guerilla war and handing the British several defeats.  Churchill was with a formation which was bottled up in Estcourt, harassed by invisible Boer fighters.  The garrison sent out an armored train on a daily patrol.  Churchill rode along on the day the train was ambushed.  He saw this as an opportunity, and directed the men in responding to the ambush, attempting to get the train underway again.  The British were eventually overwhelmed, the survivors being captured and taken to Pretoria, the Boer capitol.

Churchill chaffed at his captivity.  He joined a small party who were planning an escape, but wound up being the only member to go over the wall unnoticed.  There he found himself alone deep in enemy territory, lacking adequate provisions, a map, or even a plan.  With no other acceptable options, he set out.

This book is part biographical history and part adventure story, an excellent combination.  While I was familiar with Churchill’s background in broad terms, the details of his escape are fascinating.  This is not a dry history and the author’s style is engaging, resulting in a real “page turner”.  I was surprised at Churchill’s unreserved ambition, and conviction from an early age that he was destined for greatness.  One wonders how the world might have turned out differently today if things had worked out differently for him, and there certainly were multiple opportunities for things to have gone wrong.  Highly recommended.