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Professor J. Rufus Fears, Ph.D.
University of Oklahoma

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Course No. 807
Professor J. Rufus Fears, Ph.D.
University of Oklahoma
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Course No. 807
  • Audio or Video?
  • You should buy audio if you would enjoy the convenience of experiencing this course while driving, exercising, etc. While the video does contain visual elements, the professor presents the material in an engaging and clear manner, so the visuals are not necessary to understand the concepts. Additionally, the audio audience may refer to the accompanying course guidebook for names, works, and examples that are cited throughout the course.
  • You should buy video if you prefer learning visually and wish to take advantage of the visual elements featured in this course. The video format features more than more than 100 visuals, including maps, portraits, historical paintings and photographs, graphics, and quotations culled from Churchill's own writings. On-screen spellings and definitions also help to reinforce material for visual learners.
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Course Overview

Winston Churchill is arguably the greatest leader of the 20th century, and one of the greatest democratic statesmen ever. His friend, colleague, and esteemed political foe Clement Attlee memorialized him as "the greatest Englishman of our time—I think the greatest citizen of the world of our time." Churchill is eminently worthy of study because he is proof that a single individual can change the course of history for the better and make of life a blessed and noble thing, despite public and private trials too numerous to name.

A Champion of Freedom

At an awful hour when freedom and right stood in mortal peril before tyranny and brutal terror, Churchill, with his great-souled courage, genius, and eloquence, rallied the British people: "Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ' This was their finest hour.' "

He stood alone against the Nazi onslaught. And from there he led his people to victory, which puts us all in his debt.

Who was this extraordinary man, and how did he accomplish this amazing feat? How was it that this achievement was just a single part of a long and fruitful life?

A Life of Stunning Accomplishment

These lectures will introduce you to:

  • A successful politician who won his seat in Parliament at age 26
  • A statesman of vision and principle
  • A brilliant orator who invoked timeless concepts of valor, honor, and freedom when the civilized world needed them most
  • A brave and resourceful soldier in battles large and small
  • A gifted public servant who helped his country in a variety of key cabinet posts, never shirking a tough assignment or dodging a tough issue
  • A military innovator and strategist who outpaced his contemporaries in his grasp of the impact of technology on warfare
  • An eminent bestselling author who won the Nobel Prize for Literature, whose biography of Marlborough has been called the greatest historical work of the 20th century, and who had already become a millionaire through his writings when he took his seat in Parliament
  • A gifted painter of landscapes whose artwork, which hangs today in major museums, brought him a considerable income
  • A loving son, faithful husband, and doting father who won the devotion of his children.

Remarkable Literary Output

In his writings alone, Churchill completed five works that would, in Professor Fears's words, "each be a life work for most academic historians today":

  • Lord Randolph Churchill, 2 vols. (1906)
  • The World Crisis, 6 vols. (1923–31)
  • Marlborough, His Life and Times, 4 vols. (1933–38)
  • A History of the English-Speaking Peoples, 4 vols. (1956–58)
  • The Second World War, 6 vols. (1948–53).

And as we've already noted, those writings were far from "alone" in the accomplishments of his life.

Exceptional Subject, Exceptional Teacher

To condense the rich words and deeds, works and days of this multifaceted genius in a single lecture series is a daunting task. But we think you'll agree that Professor Fears is a man superbly suited to the job.

The winner of 15 awards for his outstanding teaching skills—including University of Oklahoma Professor of the Year three times—he frequently leads study trips to historical sites in the United States and Europe.

Of these tours, "Winston Churchill and World War II" is the most popular.

The lectures will clarify why this is so as you experience Professor Fears's learning, his deep understanding of Churchill, and his command of the lecturer's art as he brings his subject to life with dramatic flair.

Professor Fears begins at the supreme moment in Churchill's life, as he spoke to the House of Commons on June 4, 1940, declaring to the world that Britain "shall never surrender."

As Churchill later wrote, his whole past "had been but a preparation for this hour and this trial."

And you will learn how Churchill, despite the grave ordeal he and his nation faced, met this trial with buoyancy and hope by drawing on his heritage of courage and his store of principle.

The Four Supreme Qualities of Statesmanship

Drawing on the most recent historical scholarship and richly documenting his lectures with material from Churchill's writings and speeches, Professor Fears argues that there are four qualities that merit for Churchill the title of statesman.

In fact, Professor Fears goes even further. He argues that Churchill belongs with Pericles of Athens and Abraham Lincoln as one of the greatest statesmen in the history of democracy because of his:

  • Bedrock of principles
  • Moral compass
  • Vision
  • Ability to build consensus to achieve that vision.

These qualities, Professor Fears claims, are intimately related to Churchill's lifelong faith in the ideal of liberty under law and to his belief in absolute right and wrong. That belief enabled him to discern, name, and denounce the wickedness of Hitler at a time when such a stance was far from common.

Twin Ideals of Liberty and Justice

For Churchill, ideals of liberty and justice were best embodied in history by the twin bastions of Britain and the United States.

Those ideals guided him through all the issues and challenges over the decades, and led him to become a friend of social justice but a foe of socialism.

He remained a fearsome enemy to both Fascist and Communist tyranny, even though he was willing to bring his country into an alliance with the latter when the former presented the more immediate threat.

No Stranger to Controversy

Throughout his life, Churchill never shrank from controversy—and never lacked critics. Many of his personal qualities tended to provoke controversy, including his refusal to "stay in his box," compromise his vision, or avoid difficult decisions.

Professor Fears evaluates some of the most influential criticisms of Churchill, many of which were first heard during his lifetime.

He explains why historians representing a range of political opinions have assailed Churchill, and sketches briefly how these critics may be answered.

In the end, perhaps the spirit of this indomitable man is best captured by some advice he gave in the fall of 1941 to the boys of Harrow, his old school:

"Never give in," said the old lion, "Never, never, never, never!"

He never did.

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12 lectures
 |  31 minutes each
  • 1
    Heritage and Destiny
    On June 4, 1940, Winston Churchill spoke to Parliament, rallying a nation during the darkest days of history's most awful war. To see what brought him there, we must begin, as he would have, with the legacy of heroism and public service he received from his ancestors, above all the great First Duke of Marlborough. x
  • 2
    Young Churchill
    Despite his high birth, the "troublesome boy" Winston showed scant promise of greatness. His school career was uneven; his parents distant, even harsh. Yet as he later noted, "the solitary tree, if it grows at all, grows to be strong and sturdy." His own blossoming began at Sandhurst, Britain's Royal Military Academy. x
  • 3
    On the Empire’s Frontier
    Churchill began manhood as a soldier of the British Empire, which he would always see as a force for good. His service was noted for its "valour, courage, and resolute spirit," and he wrote successfully and well of his perilous experiences in Afghanistan and Africa. x
  • 4
    Political Beginnings
    Churchill burned with a strong sense of ambition and family honor. Already a war hero and author, he won a seat in Parliament at 26 (his second try) as a voice for "Tory democracy." He would be a top Cabinet minister by 34, and First Lord of the Admiralty by 37. x
  • 5
    Churchill and Controversy
    Mediocrity distrusts genius. Such distrust contributed to Churchill's fall from the Cabinet after the failure of the Dardanelles campaign. His own response to adversity revealed the nobility of spirit that enabled him not only to survive, but to triumph. x
  • 6
    Post-War Challenges
    Returning to the Cabinet as Minister of Munitions—a testament to his organizing skills and "can-do" spirit—Churchill pioneered a new weapon code-named the "tank," becoming a founding father of modern armored warfare and paving the way for victory on the Western Front. x
  • 7
    In the Wilderness
    Churchill returned to the Tory party and the Cabinet in the 1920s. By decade's end, he would resign over India. There followed years of political exile lightened by his warm family life and copious, brilliant literary output. x
  • 8
    The Nazi Menace
    For most of the 1930s, Churchill was widely considered washed-up and out of touch. Undaunted, he stood nearly alone as he persistently and eloquently made the case for British rearmament and resistance to Nazi aggrandizement. x
  • 9
    Rallying the Nation
    Why did Churchill, at last named Prime Minister during the stern days of May 1940, feel that all his life "had been but a preparation for this hour and this trial"? How did he resist pressures to negotiate for peace with Hitler, and instead rally his fellow Britons to meet "their finest hour"? x
  • 10
    The Tide of War Turns
    In a war of powerful leaders, Churchill proved to be the supreme strategist. What were the skills and experiences that made him so successful? How did he meet the numerous and awful challenges with which the burden of wartime leadership confronted him? x
  • 11
    Champion of Freedom
    In 1945, Churchill was determined that freedom's victory not be squandered as it had been in 1918. With the war barely won, voters gave him "the Order of the Boot." In his last years his health failed but his judgments remained astute (even prophetic) and his principles shone undimmed. x
  • 12
    The Legacy of Churchill
    In what does Churchill's greatness ultimately consist? What did he understand by liberty and democracy? What role did he see for government? Where did he learn his principles, and how did he uphold them so unswervingly over a political life of more than 50 tumultuous years? x

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  • 88-page printed course guidebook
  • Maps
  • Excerpts from Speeches
  • Suggested readings

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Your professor

J. Rufus Fears

About Your Professor

J. Rufus Fears, Ph.D.
University of Oklahoma
Dr. J. Rufus Fears was David Ross Boyd Professor of Classics at the University of Oklahoma, where he held the G. T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty. He also served as David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. He earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University. Before joining the faculty at the University of Oklahoma, Professor Fears was Professor of History and...
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Rated 4.3 out of 5 by 166 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by The Greatest Briton Winston Churchill earned this honor in a 2002 British poll and Professor Fears no doubt agrees. Churchill was a man who as a child was virtually ignored by his father, yet he revered him. Churchill struggled in school until he attended Sandhurst Military Academy and discovered military strategies and history. He went on to become a war hero in the Boer War and the youngest Member of Parliament (MP). As Lord of the Admiralty he absorbed all of the blame for the disaster at the Dardanelles during WW1, even though he was cleared in an investigation. Consequently his career stumbled between the wars until May 10, 1940 when Hitler invaded Belgium and France and Parliament realized they needed Churchill as Prime Minister to have a hope of surviving the war. They were right as Churchill led the country through its "finest hour", to an alliance with the Americans and eventually to victory. Churchill had great affection for America and its freedoms, beginning with the heritage of his American mother. Yet he was committed to the preservation of the British empire, which led to conflict with his benefactor FDR as the war in Europe was approaching its end. Dr. Fears presents Churchill as a man of great conviction and controversy, unlike his Immediate predecessor PMs who did not have the former and avoided the later in order to gain re-election. Churchill embraced these characteristics as they are no doubt necessary to be a great leader. Churchill was a great military strategist, a great statesman, a great charismatic rallying force for his countrymen, an eloquent speaker, a prolific writer, and an accomplished painter. Quite a resume for someone who was ranked dead last in his primary school. Dr. Fears is an unabashed admirer of Churchill for good reason. He revels Churchill's life with the consummate skill of a great storyteller. Listening to Dr. Fears made me feel as if I was there as the story unfolded. Since this is a 12 lecture course it is an overview of Churchill's life. Some details such as Churchill's time living with the Roosevelt's in the White House are missing. But Dr. Fears does an excellent job of providing enough detail to bring out the character, personality, and accomplishments of Churchill. I watched the DVD and there were some useful maps and photographs which supported the lecture. However, many of these are quite familiar and this is one course where the student will get nearly as much out of an audio only version. Dr. Fears' speaking style is most captivating and commands one's attention even when visuals appear. The course guide is excellent. The lecture notes are in outline form, there is a timeline, biographical notes, an annotated bibliography and, a bonus, excerpts from Churchill's speeches. I highly recommend this course and I look forward to taking some of the other Great Courses taught by Dr Fears. October 4, 2013
Rated 5 out of 5 by Informative, Balanced & Wonderfully Told Prof Fears, who looks a bit like Churchill himself, presents in a delightful, memorable manner the life and times of Winston Churchill. He presents the relevant information as well as his cogent insights into a stirring description of a man we desperately wish was a world leader today. This course is inspirational and gripping from beginning to end and a must for anyone who despairs of the leadership we find ourselves burdened with today. Churchill was a special one-of-a-kind giant with ironclad principles and the brains, spine and guts to face reality without flinching even while those in power hid behind massive denial. Dr. Fears clearly and steadily explains what made Churchill the visionary and charismatic leader who rallied a nation on the brink of annhilation and led his people to help defeat the monstrous evil trying to topple the civilized world. Dr. Fears, though, does not shrink from pointing out Churchill's flaws, mistakes and political missteps. After taking the course I keep wondering if Churchill were alive today what he would think about the pressing issues of the day, such as how our country grapples with threats from abroad. This terrific course, I submit, provides you with a 'Churchillian' framework for thinking about and understanding national and international crises, situations and dilemmas. If you value freedom of the individual and need an inspiration for standing tall against those who would stomp on such freedom, this course is for you. August 19, 2015
Rated 5 out of 5 by Excellent! AUDIO DOWNLOAD This is a wonderful, all too short, course on an individual who Professor Fears ranks as likely the “greatest Englishman of all time”, certainly the greatest statesman of the 20th century. The course is conducted in Professor Fears’ engaging, story-telling, style. At the very beginning, he alerts the listener to his perspective, that history is made “not by anonymous economic and social forces [but] by titanic individuals [like Churchill] who change the course of history…”(audio only, lecture 1). In this regard, Professor Fears says this course complements his others on famous Greeks and Romans and The History of Freedom. Having listened to those other courses, I can attest to that claim, and, I eagerly looked forward to each lecture on Churchill. I thought I knew a lot about Churchill, but this course widened and deepened that knowledge and considerably increased my estimation of him. In twelve thirty minute lectures Professor Fears covers so much so well: Churchill’s illustrious ancestors (most notably John, First Duke of Marlborough, 1650–1722), strained family relationships and miserable childhood of a “troublesome boy”; his early and distinguished military service and early and continued success as a writer; his rise as a politician and minister (not slighting his failure in the Dardanelles/Gallipoli campaign of 1915); and the more well-known period leading up to and including World War II and beyond, with a truly interesting treatment of Churchill’s great success as a painter. (His works still hang in major museums.) In all of this, Professor Fears reveals Churchill as a “multifaceted genius” (Course Guidebook, Page 1), often ahead of his time, one who “could not be fit in a box”, and who rather than testing the winds of opinion relied on his “moral compass… his conviction of absolute right and wrong” (Page 5) in all that he did. There’s even more. Professor Fears does not stint on Churchill’s family life, and spends considerable time on his personal habits, my favorite being the incredible nine scotches and nine cigars a day. As one would expect of an individual who operates on a “moral compass”, Churchill had a lot of detractors during his lifetime and even does today. Professor Fears deals with them head-on throughout the lectures, and in the final lecture addresses the academic assessments of prominent scholars. You may not agree with all Professor Fears has to say about Churchill, but I am sure his lecture content and style will keep your attention throughout. The eighty-two page course guidebook is great, not only having fine lecture notes, but also maps, a timeline, biographical notes on key individuals mentioned, excerpts from Churchill’s speeches, and an annotated bibliography. Very highly recommended! June 24, 2015
Rated 5 out of 5 by Correction of my prior review. An apology, my original review of this course was the fault of my own defective hearing. When I listened to the course again with a proper hearing device, I discovered the richness of the presentation by Professor Fears. I then listened to his course about Books that Made History. This man had a gift that he shared with us. He was a rare teacher of great depth and vivid presentation. May we all try to leave a legacy of the quality that he earned with his fine work. April 24, 2015
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