the Junior Officers’ Reading Club


It was only while serving in an army barracks in Bangalore that the young Winston Churchill began reading books. At the comparatively late age of twenty-two he tells us in My Early Life, the desire for learning came upon him. He had always liked history at school and decided to begin with Gibbon; from there he went on to Macaulay. He already knew by heart (as so many children of his generation did) the Lays of Ancient Rome. He progressed to philosophy, beginning with Plato’s Republic and ending with Schopenhauer and Darwin’s Origin of Species. For Churchill, this was a preparation for life. He learned, for example, for the first time, that “ethics” did not mean “playing the game”, or esprit de corps; he learned that it concerned not just knowing the things you ought to know, but also the way you ought to do them. His greatest discovery was the “Socratic method” which was “apparently a way of giving your friend his head in an argument and progging him into a pit by cunning questions”. Like the young Winston, Patrick Hennessey also found himself fighting in Afghanistan.

more from Christopher Coker at the TLS here.