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In May 1940, with France on the verge of defeat, Britain alone stood in the path of the Nazi military juggernaut. Survival seemed to hinge on the leadership of Winston Churchill, whom the king reluctantly appointed prime minister as Germany invaded France. Churchill’s reputation as one of the great twentieth-century leaders would be forged during the coming months and years as he worked tirelessly first to rally his country and then to defeat Hitler. But Churchill—regarded as the savior of his nation, and of the entire continent—could not have done it alone.

As prizewinning historian Jonathan Schneer reveals in Ministers at War, Churchill depended on a team of powerful ministers to manage the war effort as he rallied a beleaguered nation. Selecting men from across the political spectrum—from fellow conservative Anthony Eden to leader of the opposing socialist Labor Party Clement Attlee—Churchill assembled a war cabinet that balanced competing interests and bolstered support for his national coalition government. The group possessed a potent blend of talent, ambition, and egotism. Led and encouraged by Churchill, the ministers largely set aside their differences—at least at first. As the war progressed, discord began to grow. It reached a peak in 1945. With victory seemingly assured, Churchill was forced by his minsters at war to dissolve the government and call a general election, which, in a shocking upset, he lost to his rival Attlee.

Authoritatively recasting our understanding of British high politics during World War II, Schneer shows that Churchill managed the war effort by managing his team of supremely able yet contentious cabinet members. The outcome of the war lay not only in Churchill’s individual brilliance but also in his skill as an executive and in the collective ability of men who muted their personal interests to save the world from barbarism.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “A striking look inside the British government during a time when some of the most interesting characters of a challenging era were fighting for both the nation’s salvation and their own ambitions. Churchill’s role as a wartime leader is well-known from a myriad of histories, but this is one of the best recent treatments of his role as a head of government. Clear, thoroughly entertaining, and full of lively detail.”

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  • “Schneer has crafted a smoothly written and insightful examination of the men who aided Churchill during the years fraught with danger from the Nazi war machine…For most readers, this will be a book that cannot be put down until the last page is reached. An exceptional history on an extremely important topic.”

    Library Journal

  • “Like Abraham Lincoln before him, Winston Churchill proved himself a great war leader, as everyone knows. But Jonathan Schneer’s achievement is to show us how Churchill too had to work with ‘a team of rivals’ in his own war cabinet. It is a story told with great assurance and studded with vivid personal detail.”

    Peter Clarke, author of Mr. Churchill’s Profession

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About the Author

Dr. Jonathan Schneer, who received his BA from McGill University in 1971 and his PhD from Columbia University in 1978, is the modern British historian at Georgia Tech in the School of History, Technology, and Society. He is a coeditor of two books and the author of six more, including London 1900; The Imperial Metropolis, The Thames: England’s River and most recently The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict which won a 2010 National Jewish Book Award.