Sir Winston Churchill’s Reading List

Books That Winston Churchill Recommends

Sir Winston S. Churchill

We have put together the ultimate list of books that Sir Winston S. Churchill read and would have encouraged others to read. Each text has been gathered from references used in his own works, various media outlets, etc.

“If you cannot read all your books…fondle them — peer into them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that you at least know where they are. Let them be your friends; let them, at any rate, be your acquaintances.” – Winston Churchill

Source: A History of the English Speaking Peoples by Winston S. Churchill

Churchill referenced the following works within his four-volume series: A History of the English Speaking Peoples. Having gone so far as to cite such texts in his own writings, one can rest assured the following books must have been mainstays on his bookshelf. We break it all down, volume by volume.

Volume Two: The New World

History of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford

About the Book: Of Plymouth Plantation was written by William Bradford, leaders of the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts. Written between 1630 and 1651, it is an oft-cited first-person account of Pilgrim life in the Colony.

The History of the Rebellion by Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon

About the Book: Written by one of the closest advisers to Charles I and Charles II, Clarendon’s History contains a remarkably frank account of the inadequacies of royalist policy-making as well as an astute analysis of the principles and practice of government. Clarendon chronicles in absorbing detail the factions and intrigues, the rise of Cromwell and the death of Charles I, the bloody battles and the eventual Restoration of the monarchy in 1660 after the Interregnum.

Institution of a Christian Man

About the Book: Compiled during the early years of the Reformation, Institution of a Christian Man lays out the principles of the nascent Church of England. In his definitive new edition, Gerald Bray charts the development of this text from the first version introduced by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and his cohort of bishops, to the extensive edits made by Henry VIII himself, and finally to the version written by Bishop Edmund Bonner under the radically different circumstances of Mary I’s reign.

Although written nearly 500 years ago, much of what these books pronounce is still valid and can be addressed to contemporary use. A thorough analysis of content also sheds light on a neglected phase of the Reformation, and provides a unique insight into the theological development that characterized the earliest stages of the Church of England.

A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe

About the Book: In 1665 the plague swept through London, claiming over 97,000 lives. Daniel Defoe was just five at the time of the plague, but he later called on his own memories, as well as his writing experience, to create this vivid chronicle of the epidemic and its victims.

A Journal (1722) follows Defoe’s fictional narrator as he traces the devastating progress of the plague through the streets of London. Here we see a city transformed: some of its streets suspiciously empty, some – with crosses on their doors – overwhelmingly full of the sounds and smells of human suffering. And every living citizen he meets has a horrifying story that demands to be heard.

Faire Queene by Edmund Spenser

About the Book: The Faerie Queene was one of the most influential poems in the English language. Dedicating his work to Elizabeth I, Spenser brilliantly united Arthurian romance and Italian renaissance epic to celebrate the glory of the Virgin Queen.

Each book of the poem recounts the quest of a knight to achieve a virtue: the Red Crosse Knight of Holinesse, who must slay a dragon and free himself from the witch Duessa; Sir Guyon, Knight of Temperance, who escapes the Cave of Mammon and destroys Acrasia’s Bowre of Bliss; and the lady-knight Britomart’s search for her Sir Artegall, revealed to her in an enchanted mirror.

Although composed as a moral and political allegory, The Faerie Queene’s magical atmosphere captivated the imaginations of later poets from Milton to the Victorians.

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs by John Fox

About the Book: “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man: we shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England, as, I trust, shall never be put out.” Hugh Latimer’s famous words of consolation to Nicholas Ridley as they are both about to be burnt alive for heresy come from John Foxe’s magisterial Acts and Monuments, popularly known as the Book of Martyrs.

This vast collection of unforgettable accounts of religious persecution exerted as great an influence on early modern England and New England as the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. It contains many stirring stories of the apprehension, interrogation, imprisonment, and execution of alleged heretics.

Utopia by Sir Thomas More

About the Book: In his most famous and controversial book, Utopia, Thomas More imagines a perfect island nation where thousands live in peace and harmony, men and women are both educated, and all property is communal.

Through dialogue and correspondence between the protagonist Raphael Hythloday and his friends and contemporaries, More explores the theories behind war, political disagreements, social quarrels, and wealth distribution and imagines the day-to-day lives of those citizens enjoying freedom from fear, oppression, violence, and suffering.

Volume Three: The Age of Revolution

Letters From a Farmer by John Dickinson

About the Book: Written in 1767 and 1768, the Letters from a Farmer formed one of the key foundations on which the American Revolution was built. John Dickinson, impassioned by the passage of the Townshend Acts, took up his pen and wrote of the greatest and most important missives the American continent had ever seen as he struck down the unconstitutional and immoral actions by Parliament on its loyal and loving colonies.

When John Dickinson died in 1808, Thomas Jefferson said that “a more estimable man, or truer patriot, could not have left us…his name will be consecrated in history as one of the great worthies of the revolution.”

The Encyclopedie of Diderot and D’Alembert

About the Book: The publication of the Encyclopedie in the middle of the eighteenth century is generally recognized as a decisive factor in the conflict ideas which led to the French Revolution of 1789.

Yet, despite its importance in the history of eighteenth-century French thought, no outstanding work of the period is less read today, simply because of its bulk and inaccessibility.

Those parts reproduced in this edition cover religion, philosophy, science, and political and social ideas and include articles which reflect the humanitarian outlook of the contributors and their attitude to the abuses of the ancient regime.

The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay

About the Book: These essays appeared first in 1787-88 as a series of articles in New York City’s newspapers to explain and defend the proposed Constitution of the United States. Ever since, they have been read and studied around the world for their examination of the challenges of constitution-making and the innovative features of the Constitution.

Common Sense by Thomas Paine

About the Book: Thomas Paine arrived in America from England in 1774. A friend of Benjamin Franklin, he was a writer of poetry and tracts condemning the slave trade. In 1775, as hostilities between Britain and the colonies intensified, Paine wrote Common Sense to encourage the colonies to break the British exploitative hold and fight for independence.

The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

About the Book: The Wealth of Nations was published 9 March 1776, during the Scottish Enlightenment and the Scottish Agricultural Revolution. It influenced a number of authors and economists, as well as governments and organizations.

For example, Alexander Hamilton was influenced in part by The Wealth of Nations to write his Report on Manufactures, in which he argued against many of Smith’s policies. Interestingly, Hamilton based much of this report on the ideas of Jean-Baptiste Colbert, and it was, in part, Colbert’s ideas that Smith responded to with The Wealth of Nations.

Volume Four: The Great Democracies

The History of England by Thomas Macaulay

About the Book: One of the greatest figures of his age, Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-59) was widely admired throughout his life for his prose, poetry, political acumen and oratorical skills.

Among the most successful and enthralling histories ever written, his History of England won instantaneous success following the publication of its first volumes in 1849, and was rapidly translated into most European languages.

Beginning with the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and concluding at the end of the reign of William III in 1702, it illuminates a time of deep struggle throughout Britain and Ireland in vivid and compelling prose.

On The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

About the Book: The Origin of Species Darwin outlined his theory of evolution, which proposed that species had been evolving and differentiating over time under the influence of natural selection.

On its publication it became hugely influential, bringing about a seismic shift in the scientific view of humanity’s place in the world that is still controversial today. It is both a brilliant work of science and also a clear, vivid and at times even moving, piece of writing that reflects both Darwin’s genius and his boundless enthusiasm for the natural world.

Other Sources:

The following sources offer further knowledge into the readings of Sir Winston Churchill.

Yale University Press Blog

On June 29th, 2015, the Yale University Press Blog released an article titled: Winston Churchill’s Beach Reading: His Top Ten Books. The author, Jonathan Rose, dives into various book selections he believes would have been within Winston Churchill’s top ten books to read, had he made a top ten. Rose also provides invaluable insight into Churchill’s relationships with the texts.

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

About the Book: So begins the Time Traveller’s astonishing firsthand account of his journey eight hundred thousand years beyond his own era—and the story that launched H. G. Wells’s successful career. With a speculative leap that still fires the imagination, Wells sends his brave explorer to face a future burdened with our greatest hopes…and our darkest fears.

A pull of the Time Machine’s lever propels him to the age of a slowly dying Earth. There he discovers two bizarre races—the ethereal Eloi and the subterranean Morlocks—who not only symbolize the duality of human nature, but offer a terrifying portrait of tomorrow as well.

Other Notes: Churchill praises H.G. Wells, saying, “It must be more than thirty years ago that I first discovered his “Select Conversations with An Uncle” or read in the pages of the “Strand Magazine” his “Queer Side of Things.” I responded at once to his intellectual stimulus and literary dexterity when I came upon “The Time Machine,” that marvelous philosophical romance, not unworthy to follow at some distance, but nevertheless less in the train of Gulliver’s Travels, I shouted with joy.

Then I read all his books. I have read them all over since. I could pass an examination in them. One whole long shelf in my small library is filled with a complete edition. Here is entertainment and frolic. Here are suggestions of order and design. Here are shrewd ideas of peace and war. Here are prophecies of the future, not a few of which we have lived to verify and endure.”

King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard

About the Book:  Following a mysterious map of dubious reliability, a small group of men trek into southern Africa in search of a lost friend-and a lost treasure, the fabled mines of King Solomon.

Led by the English adventurer and fortune hunter Allan Quartermain, they discover a frozen corpse, survive untold dangers in remote mountains and deserts, and encounter the merciless King Twala en route to the legendary hoard of diamonds.

Jonathan Rose: As a young man he read this African adventure tale about a dozen times, and once he closely questioned Haggard about what it all meant. Today it is often misread as an imperialist novel, when in fact it is a story of resistance to a genocidal tyranta story that left a deep and obvious impression on Churchill.

Exodus – The Holy Bible

Other Notes: When reflecting on the story of Moses, Churchill declares, “We reject, however, with scorn all those learned and labored myths that Moses was but a legendary figure upon whom the priesthood and the people hung their essential social, moral and religious ordinances.”

Churchill continues, “We believe that the most scientific view, the most up-to-date and rationalistic conception, will find its fullest satisfaction in taking the Bible story literally, and in identifying one of the greatest human beings with the most decisive leap forward ever discernible in the human story.”

The Ballad of Reading Gaol by Oscar Wilde

About the Book: The Ballad of Reading Gaol is a poem by Oscar Wilde, written in exile either in Berneval-le-Grand or in Dieppe, France, after his release from Reading Gaol in 1897. Wilde had been incarcerated in Reading after being convicted of homosexual offenses in 1895.

During his imprisonment, a hanging took place. Charles Thomas Wooldridge had been a trooper in the Royal Horse Guards. He was convicted of cutting the throat of his wife, Laura Ellen. He was aged 30 when executed. Wilde spent mid-1897 with Robert Ross in Berneval-le-Grand, where he wrote The Ballad of Reading Gaol.

The poem narrates the execution of Wooldridge. No attempt is made to assess the justice of the laws which convicted them, but rather the poem highlights the brutalization of the punishment that all convicts share.

Jonathan Rose: This may come as a surprise, but Wilde had been a friend of his mother Jennie, and he provided a model for Winston’s distinctive style of wit. Though the subject was too scandalous to discuss openly, there is evidence that Churchill considered Wilde’s imprisonment a terrible injustice.

As Prime Minister in 1954 he discussed in the Cabinet (behind closed doors) reforming the laws against homosexuality. Ultimately he concluded that Parliament wasn’t ready for that (true at the time), but he thought that in the near future public opinion might shift (true again).

Counter-Attack and Other Poems by Siegfried Sassoon

About the Book: Sassoon’s fame as a novelist and autobiographer, and the success of his posthumously published Diaries, have somewhat obscured his achievement as a poet. Apart from the famous War Poems of 1919, which firmly established his reputation, he published eight volumes of verse during his lifetime.

This collected edition represents his own choice of the poems he wished to preserve. It was first published in 1947 and subsequently enlarged to include the late poems in Sequences.

Other Notes: When being warned by peers about making amends with the anti-war poet, Churchill stated, “I am not a bit afraid of Siegfried Sassoon. That man can think. I am afraid only of people who cannot think

After meeting Churchill, Sassoon explained, “.. To my surprise he seemed interested to hear my point of view … he evidently wanted me to have it out with him … for him war was the finest activity on earth. Nevertheless he was making me feel that I should like to have him as my company commander in the front line.”

Major Barbara by George Bernard Shaw

About the Book: Andrew Undershaft, a millionaire armaments dealer, loves money and despises poverty. His estranged daughter Barbara, on the other hand, shows her love for the poor by throwing her energies into her work as a major in the Salvation Army, and sees her father as another soul to be saved.

But when the Army needs funds to keep going, it is Undershaft who saves the day with a large check—forcing Barbara to examine her moral assumptions. Are they right to accept money that has been obtained by “Death and Destruction”? Full of lively comedy and sparkling debate, Major Barbara brilliantly tests the tensions between religion, wealth and power, benevolence and equality, and metaphors and realities of war.

Other Notes: Regarding having seen Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara play, Churchill, declares, “Twenty years had passed since I had seen it. They were the most terrific twenty years the world has known. Almost every human institution had undergone decisive change. The landmarks of centuries had been swept away. Science has trans- formed the conditions of our lives and the aspect of town and country.

Silent social evolution, violent political change, a vast broadening of the social foundations, an immeasurable release from convention and restraint, a profound reshaping of national and individual opinion, have followed the trampling march of this tremendous epoch.

But in “Major Barbara” there was not a character requiring to be re-drawn, not a sentence nor a suggestion that was out of date. My children were astounded to learn that this play, the very acme of modernity, was written more than five years before they were born.”

Jonathan Rose: In the midst of the Great War, Churchill offered Siegfried Sassoon a job in the Ministry of Munitions. If you’re baffled by that (and Sassoon certainly was), it begins to make sense once you know that in this drama, written by Churchill’s favorite playwright, an arms manufacturer persuades a Salvation Army officer and her peace-loving fiancé that weapons can be a force for good.

A passionate theatergoer, Churchill often played out in life and politics what he had seen on the stage, and this is a striking example.

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck

About the Book: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, an all time classic beloved by millions, The Good Earth tells the story of the rise of the House of Wang- the family of the Chinese peasant Wang Lung who gloried in the soil he worked. He held it above his family and above his gods and it sustained him.

He held it against the ravages of nature and bandit tribes and he prospered. He planted the roots of a powerful dynasty- one of wives and concubines and many sons who would betray him.

Jonathan Rose: Churchill was sincerely moved by this saga of China in revolutionary turmoil, though he didn’t entirely get it. On finishing the book, he concluded that the toiling Chinese masses would have been much happier if, like the Indians, they had enjoyed the blessings of British rulenot exactly the message that the author intended to send.

It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

About the Book: It Can’t Happen Here is the only one of Sinclair Lewis’s later novels to match the power of Main Street, Babbitt, and Arrowsmith. A cautionary tale about the fragility of democracy, it is an alarming, eerily timeless look at how fascism could take hold in America.

Written during the Great Depression, when the country was largely oblivious to Hitler’s aggression, it juxtaposes sharp political satire with the chillingly realistic rise of a president who becomes a dictator to save the nation from welfare cheats, sex, crime, and a liberal press.

Jonathan Rose: This dystopian nightmare envisioned America under the Fascist jackboot, ruled by a corn pone despot clearly based on Huey Long. When Long was shot and killed, Churchill gloated over the demise of “the most clownish of the Dictator tribe.”

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

About the Book: Since its original publication in 1936, Gone With the Wind—winner of the Pulitzer Prize and one of the bestselling novels of all time—has been heralded by readers everywhere as The Great American Novel.

Widely considered The Great American Novel, and often remembered for its epic film version, Gone With the Wind explores the depth of human passions with an intensity as bold as its setting in the red hills of Georgia. A superb piece of storytelling, it vividly depicts the drama of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

This is the tale of Scarlett O’Hara, the spoiled, manipulative daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, who arrives at young womanhood just in time to see the Civil War forever change her way of life. A sweeping story of tangled passion and courage, in the pages of Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell brings to life the unforgettable characters that have captured readers for over seventy years.

Other Notes: In correspondence with Brigadier-General Sir James Edmonds, Churchill ponders the U.S. Civil War, “When one comes to look at it en bloc, the Confederates never had any chance at all. It was only a question of the North getting under way and the amount of time required to destroy, if necessary, every living soul in the Confederate states. The dramatic point is the wonderful resistance which they made.

Have you read Gone With The Wind? It is a terrific book, but I expect you are too pressed with your work to read….I hope you are as sanguine as you used to be about no war and our not getting scragged.”

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

About the Book: One of the most celebrated classics of the twentieth century, Orwell’s cautionary tale of a man trapped under the gaze of an authoritarian state feels more relevant now than ever before.

Winston Smith, a member of the outer Party, spends his days rewriting history to fit the narrative that his government wants citizens to believe. But as the gap between the propaganda he writes and the reality he lives proves too much for Winston to swallow, he begins to seek some form of escape.

His desperate struggle to free himself from an all-encompassing, tyrannical state illuminates the tendencies apparent in every modern society, and makes vivid the universal predicament of the individual.

Jonathan Rose: During the Second World War, Churchill observed with apprehension the growth of the national security state. In a 1945 election broadcast, he warned that postwar Britain might be dominated by “some kind of Gestapo”. So when George Orwell imagined that in his 1949 novel, Churchill read it twice. In his final years, he was spellbound by the literature of totalitarianism.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

About the Book: Aldous Huxley’s profoundly important classic of world literature, Brave New World is a searching vision of an unequal, technologically-advanced future where humans are genetically bred, socially indoctrinated, and pharmaceutically anesthetized to passively uphold an authoritarian ruling order–all at the cost of our freedom, full humanity, and perhaps also our souls.

“A genius [who] who spent his life decrying the onward march of the Machine” (The New Yorker), Huxley was a man of incomparable talents: equally an artist, a spiritual seeker, and one of history’s keenest observers of human nature and civilization.

Brave New World, his masterpiece, has enthralled and terrified millions of readers, and retains its urgent relevance to this day as both a warning to be heeded as we head into tomorrow and as thought-provoking, satisfying work of literature. Written in the shadow of the rise of fascism during the 1930s, Brave New World likewise speaks to a 21st-century world dominated by mass-entertainment, technology, medicine and pharmaceuticals, the arts of persuasion, and the hidden influence of elites.

Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

About the Book: First published in Italy in 1957 amid international controversy, Doctor Zhivago is the story of the life and loves of a poet/physician during the turmoil of the Russian Revolution.

Taking his family from Moscow to what he hopes will be shelter in the Ural Mountains, Zhivago finds himself instead embroiled in the battle between the Whites and the Reds. Set against this backdrop of cruelty and strife is Zhivago’s love for the tender and beautiful Lara, the very embodiment of the pain and chaos of those cataclysmic times.

Pevear and Volokhonsky masterfully restore the spirit of Pasternak’s original—his style, rhythms, voicings, and tone—in this beautiful translation of a classic of world literature.

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

About the Book: In the madness of World War II, a dutiful Russian soldier is wrongfully convicted of treason and sentenced to ten years in a Siberian labor camp. So begins this masterpiece of modern Russian fiction, a harrowing account of a man who has conceded to all things evil with dignity and strength.

First published in 1962, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is considered one of the most significant works ever to emerge from Soviet Russia. Illuminating a dark chapter in Russian history, it is at once a graphic picture of work camp life and a moving tribute to man’s will to prevail over relentless dehumanization.

Penguin Random House

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon

About the Series: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is a six-volume work by the English historian Edward Gibbon. It traces Western civilization (as well as the Islamic and Mongolian conquests) from the height of the Roman Empire to the fall of Byzantium.

Gibbon offers an explanation for the fall of the Roman Empire, a task made difficult by a lack of comprehensive written sources, though he was not the only historian to attempt it. According to Gibbon, the Roman Empire succumbed to barbarian invasions in large part due to the gradual loss of civic virtue among its citizens.

He began an ongoing controversy about the role of Christianity, but he gave great weight to other causes of internal decline and to attacks from outside the Empire.

Other Notes: Churchill explains, “I set out upon Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire [and] was immediately dominated by both the story and the style…I devoured Gibbon. I rode triumphantly through it from end to end and enjoyed it all….I was not even estranged by his naughty footnotes.”