Some men’s lives are larger than life; men possessed by a unique spirit and passion, who by the fortunes of unique circumstances are able to bring to bear that spirit upon their age. Theodore Roosevelt was one such man. Born to wealth, Roosevelt could have spend his life in ease and repose. But he chose instead action. The first mark of his extraordinary spirit revealed itself in the wilds of the western badlands of North Dakota, at a time when fortunes were made and lost in the cattle business. However, he truly came into his own during the Spanish-American War, when he and his Rough Riders became the heroes of San Juan Hill, which compelled him to the governorship of New York and eventually to the White House.

Another such man—one cut from a similar cloth as Roosevelt—was Winston Churchill. Born to British aristocracy (his ancestors were Dukes and Duchesses), Churchill could have chosen the life of an European playboy—a frivolous snot using family money to finance a life of luxury and women. Instead, like Roosevelt, Churchill sought a life of action. Joining the army at the height of the British Empire under Queen Victoria—and securing for himself positions as a war correspondent—Churchill fought for God, Queen, and Country in India, the Sudan, and South Africa. It was during the South African Boer War, working as a newspaper man, that Churchill became the stuff of legend. His heroics in saving British soldiers from massacre, his subsequent capture and daring escape propelled Churchill—as did San Juan Hill for Roosevelt—to national and political stardom.

Churchill’s Boer War heroics is magnificently captured in Candice Millard’s Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape and the Making of Winston Churchill. Known for her critically acclaimed biographies of Theodore Roosevelt and his arduous trek down the River of Doubt, and the agonizing death of President James A. Garfield, Millard is quickly rising in the ranks of literary historian luminaries like David McCullough and Nathaniel Philbrick. And her Hero of the Empire has move her up a notch or two in that regard.

While most historians tackle Churchill’s political life, particularly his role as Prime Minister during World War II, Millard has introduced us to where Churchill’s largeness of life began: as a young man regaining his freedom, and in the process electrifying a dispirited nation after many battlefield defeats at the hands of an enemy the British despised and disparaged. Millard’s Churchill is the brash and boastful Churchill we’ve come to expect from biographies of his life. But she also presents Churchill during times of deep doubt, indecision, and fear. In the hands of a lesser biographer, the young Churchill of the Boer War would come across as godlike—one in control of events. But reading Millard you quickly discover that Churchill was in control of very few events, which humanizes a man we’ve come to view as an icon of sturdiness and stability. And in this Millard has contributed greatly to the true story of Winston Churchill the man.

Churchill has earned his place in the realm of the heroic—of men who deserve our admiration and emulation. And reading Millard’s Hero of the Empire has renewed my admiration for a man I always thought was larger than life. And her biography has challenged me to emulate Churchill’s courage and daring in my own life.

I invite you to follow me on Twitter @derrickjeter.

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