I've recently finished two very long books, History of Beauty (Rizzoli International Publications, 2004), edited by Umberto Eco, at 230 pages (there is a lot of very small print), and John Colville's The Fringes of Power (W. W. Norton, 1985), subtitled "10 Downing Street Diaries 1939-1955," at 725 pages of main text (with another 70 pages of biographical notes and a glossary).
Colville describes himself, again in the preface, thus: "...the money saved by my parents' carefulness (which never verged on meanness) went on providing their three sons with the best and most expensive education available; and though they were far from being cadgers, they had enough devoted friends and relations to provide their children with pheasants to shoot, horses to ride, yachts in which to race and pleasant country houses in which to stay.
"Thus in 1936, when I came down from Trinity College, at the age of twenty-one, I had not been stinted of pleasures and had even, in the days when travel was still an adventure, been to the Soviet Union, steamed down the Danube in a barge, crossed Asia Minor in a third-class railway carriage, spent ten days as a guest in the monasteries of Mount Athos and learned to speak both French and German with fluency. I had also won two scholarships. However, I was well aware that I must soon earn my living with greater urgency than some of my university friends."
While Colville did not come from great wealth, perhaps, his family was comfortable and with numerous connections to people of the upper classes. While at times he sounds a trifle snobbish (particularly to an American) his is the perspective of a man with the kind of education and breeding that it might be nice to see in people in public service again, and some of the most interesting comments he makes are about the US generals and politicians he and Churchill work with when dealing with the United States, particularly later in the war. The Americans, if not laughed at, are generally regarded as sincere but poorly educated and naive.
There is much of interest here about Churchill the man—his quirky habits, in particular—and about the workings of Parliament. The deep respect for and expectation of fine oratory in the House of Commons obvious in the time and effort Churchill and the author put into speech writing will probably seem alien to those of us used to US politicians and, especially today, when we are led (if that's the right word) by a man who is obviously both of limited mental capacity and limited education. If Eisenhower seemed sincere but poorly informed to Colville, how would he have characterized a Mr. Trump?
Some of the diary will sound like gossip—Colville rarely misses an opportunity to comment on the beauty, charm, or intelligence (or the lack of any of these) of the women he meets or on the effectiveness (or lack of it) of the politicians he works with. There is quite a bit about behind-the-scenes maneuvering among the politicians of the day. The coverage is uneven, and there are some startling omissions. For example, while there is a great deal of comment on Churchill's efforts to push Roosevelt into providing Britain with more aid in the early stages of the war, the attack on Pearl Harbor that finally precipitated US war participation is not even mentioned. The atomic bomb is barely noted. That said, a very interesting and entertaining read, not least because of the writer's excellent writing style, a product, no doubt, of that expensive education. Recommended.