My third vacation book was written by my favorite historical figure, Winston Churchill. The Story of the Malakand Field Force was published in 1898 and was Churchill’s first book. It chronicles an 1897 campaign in the Northwest Frontier of British India (modern-day Pakistan) to punish hostile tribes for an attack on British positions, particularly the camp at the Malakand Pass. Churchill was a young cavalry subaltern during this campaign and requested to be attached to the force as an observer. He would eventually serve as an active officer during the campaign, taking the place of a wounded man.
The historical value of this book is somewhat limited. The campaign was a relatively minor one and is rarely studied. The chief interest in this book is connected to Churchill himself. Even as a very young man, Churchill displays a rare natural ability in composing English prose. The circumstances of his early life are very interesting, as he travels from war zone to war zone in an effort to make a name for himself. Malakand is also interesting as a glimpse at the Victorian British Empire at its height. The attitudes Churchill expresses towards natives are typical of gentlemen of that time, and are the foundation of many of the struggles that the 20th century would see in relation to Indian and African independence. Churchill believes wholeheartedly in the destined superiority of the Empire, and it is easy to see how that belief would eventually help him push through to victory in World War 2.
Beyond the historical significance, this book was extremely enjoyable as a piece of writing. Churchill is a master at building interest and excitement. His depictions of battle are outstanding. This book stands in sharp contrast to McCaslin’s Tainted Breeze. Whereas that book was a boring look at a very significant historical event, this book is a very exciting look at an event of limited importance. If you enjoy military history and strong English prose, Churchill’s Malakand Field Force is an excellent choice.
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