Course No. 807
Professor J. Rufus Fears, Ph.D.
University of Oklahoma
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Course No. 807
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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
 |  Average 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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Your professor

J. Rufus Fears

About Your Professor

J. Rufus Fears, Ph.D.
University of Oklahoma
J. Rufus Fears (1945–2012) was the 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 the David and Ann Brown Distinguished Fellow of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. He earned his PhD from Harvard University. Before joining the faculty at the University of Oklahoma, Professor Fears was a Professor...
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Churchill is rated 4.3 out of 5 by 217.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from loved it! I learned a lot about Winston Churchill, of course, but also about the English form of government which I have never understood very well. Professor Rufus is clearly knowledgeable about his subject and I plan to take more of his courses.
Date published: 2019-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Most enjoyable course I found this course to be highly enjoyable and informative. So much so that I will likely watch the lecture series again. I disagree with the negative comments from the few who disliked that the professor painted Churchill in only a positive light and as such presented a caricature of the man. On more than one occasion he offered that Churchill was not perfect, that he said and did things he probably should not have. I’m sure if one were to lecture on the greatness of anybody, be they George Washington or Michael Jordan, that there would be those quick to criticize based on the positive content
Date published: 2018-12-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding Course After reading many reviews, both positive and negative, I obtained a DVD version of this course and watched it. I finished the entire course in less than a week. The professor's knowledge and enthusiasm were captivating. This professor really puts out a masterful effort to make the course understandable as well as enjoyable while maintaining a very high standard of academic quality. Some reviews criticized him for being overly positive about Churchill. I personally felt that his approach was fair and even handed. It also was very emotional as he puts forth the character of the man as he saw him in the contexts of his times. This course was the first time that I saw Professor Sears give a lecture. I found out in these reviews that he passed away in 2012. What a great loss!!! I already have obtained two of his other courses. He is one of the best presenters that I have seen and I have watched or purchased almost 50 Great Courses.
Date published: 2018-09-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The presentation of the course was superb. The subject was fascinating and the professor’s presentation of it, I bought CD, was superb. It kept me going as I packed-up my house to move. I texted snippets of his quotes to family members as I listened. It was outstanding. I can hardly wait to share my CD with others.
Date published: 2018-07-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Churchill a Great Course! This course is taught by a dynamic professor who makes each lesson interesting. Of course the subject would be interesting to anyone who enjoys history. Churchill the man was simply brilliant and had more experiences in his early years than most do in a life time. Learning what shaped the Workd Leader that he became is hugely interesting! I would Recommend this to anyone but those interested in History will fall in love with it!
Date published: 2018-07-20
Rated 2 out of 5 by from superficial and uninformative I have taken many of The Great Courses and they are generally good to outstanding This one was the exception. The only new thing learned from the course was that Churchill was a war hero. Apparently Lawrence of Arabia was a shrinking Violet compared to Winston. Okay I’m sorry for the plot spoiler but that’s it. The remainder of the course was a very poor discourse on how singularly wonderful Winston was and that Churchill’s only flaw was “that he loved not wisely but too well” (with apologies to Othello). Winston erred not, but like Caesar was stabbed by traitors. The lecturer paints Churchill only moderately greater than God. Churchill won WWI and WWII all by himself and warned the ailing Roosevelt of the coming Russian menace. However he advised Truman to concilliate with Russia. It is a shame that so great a statesman as Churchill was portrayed in such a superficial manner. I have read several books on Churchill’s dealings with WWII and the British Empire. Churchill was a highly complex person, he deserves better than this Course.
Date published: 2018-03-28
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Miserable excuse for a course I find Professor Fears both annoying to listen to and not very credible. I do not understand how he got the many awards cited in the introductory section. He speaks of things that he cannot know with great apparent authority and sincerity. I will never buy another course that features him as a presenter.
Date published: 2018-01-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Just terrific I got this because of the new movie coming out about Churchill. I didn't know much about him. This was really well done. I learned so much. I was disappointed when it ended. It was facinating how his career went up and down. And how he was viewed at the time of his life and how he is viewed now.
Date published: 2017-12-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent-analysis of this leader Dr. Fears give an insightful series of lectures that added levels of understanding lost in other historical reviews of this historic icon.
Date published: 2017-11-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good look at an important man Very interesting look at a man important even within the sweep of world history. Professor Fears explains situations well. However, at times he takes on a pontificating air that can be distracting, I think in part because he felt the need to be an apologist for Winston Churchill in the face of some critical writings. He also misses the key contributions of Bletchley Park codebreakers even while pointing out the importance of having broken German codes. Yet Professor Fears makes the case well for admiring Churchill's enduring contributions to free societies. I also appreciated Professor Fears' inclusion of a number of telling humorous anecdotes that help us understand Churchill. The course is interesting throughout and goes quickly.
Date published: 2017-11-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Entertaining and inspiring I have recently visited both Blenheim Palace (the great man's birthplace) and Chartwell (his home) and had a particular interest in the course. The lectures are first rate and both entertain and inspire
Date published: 2017-11-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from satisfactory adequate but biased. Lacking detail about events. acceptable as an intriduction
Date published: 2017-10-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from On the edge of my seat This was my first Great Course and a marvelous introduction. The instructor presented his material in a well organized and thoughtful manner, but spoke in such a way that I felt as if I was privileged to attend the theatre. I found myself on the edge of my seat anticipating what the next lecture would bring.
Date published: 2017-08-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A thorough and quite entertaining! Interesting and in-depth portrait of this political genius.
Date published: 2017-07-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from excellent short biography of Churchill Rufus Fears is one of the best lecturers the Teaching Company has ever had! He brings a deep love of history to each of his courses, and provides an enormously well thought out assessment of his subject. This course on Churchill is no exception. It is a course which I will undoubtedly watch again because of its great sympathy with Churchill. I am only sorry that we will have no more courses from Professor Fears!!
Date published: 2017-06-26
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointing I've taken 10+ of the Great Courses history courses, and this is probably the worst I've taken. I have read a lot of Churchill, and hoped to get a quick refresher by listening to these 12 lectures. But what I got instead was a lot of opinions (many not supportable by the facts) and a rather arrogant-sounding professor. I know it is hard to cover Churchill in 6 hours (twelve 30-minute lectures), but this was not a good effort.
Date published: 2017-05-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Wonderful History Enjoyed, although I would have liked a more balanced approach on several issues that were glosssed over.
Date published: 2017-05-02
Rated 1 out of 5 by from I found the professor's style to be frustrating to listen to. He seems more interested in his own rhetorical flourish than in clearly conveying information. In addition, the content is not a well balanced approach to Churchill's life. It is more in the style of storytelling from a proud relative than a rigorous academic treatment of a historical figure's life. I've listened to well over a dozen Great Courses lectures, and this was by far the worst (bad enough to inspire writing my first review).
Date published: 2017-03-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent I am as happy with this Great Course as I have been with all of the others I have purchased. The content is excellent, in-depth, and well-presented. I would highly recommend this set to anyone with an interest in the life of Winston Churchill.
Date published: 2017-03-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thought this was deeply insightful. At the end of the course he describes "historians" that upon Churchill's death, began to claim he was an utter failure. He points out that these historians have no belief in right and wrong, see everything as shades of grey, and cannot possibly understand a man who always chose to do what was right rather than what was politically expedient.
Date published: 2017-03-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Can we temper the enthusiasm? Professor J. Rufus Fears is an unapologetic admirer of Winston Churchill; and as long as one keeps that in mind, the course in engaging and informative. From the intriguing questions about Churchill’s family tree – and some entertaining birth stories – to his life as Prime Minister and beyond, we’re regaled with a delightful collection of anecdotes and observations that give us a feel for Churchill the man. Professor J. Rufus Fears is an unapologetic admirer of Winston Churchill; and one must keep that in mind because the lectures present what – to me – is an uncritical evaluation of his life and work. We hear much of the good; and there is plenty of it. But we hear very little of the less-admirable; and there is plenty of that, as well. Case in point: Lecture 5, “Churchill and Controversy” does briefly mention Churchill’s inability to “read” his associates’ ill intentions. We do hear of his impetuosity and sharp tongue. But the failed Dardanelles/Gallipoli campaign of World War I is then more-or-less shrugged off as skullduggery by the good ol’ boys of the Admiralty. That Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty, and ultimately responsible for the disaster, gets a less-than-critical analysis. For a somewhat more sober account of the campaign, I suggest Professor Gregory S. Aldrete’s course “History’s Great Military Blunders and the Lessons They Teach,” Lecture 20: “Gallipoli: Churchill Dooms Allied Assault – 1915.” Other areas of Churchill’s life are either ignored, or barely hinted at. Was Winston Churchill suffering from a bipolar disorder? Depressive disorder? There is a lot of evidence to suggest it, but that gets little-to-no mention. Even if Dr. Fears disagrees with those assertions, they deserve mention – if only to debunk them. Perhaps the point of the course is simply to introduce us to a towering figure in modern world history who was, indeed, a visionary. I found the lectures delightful, and Professor Fears’ presentation delightful. I only wish he’d found a way to be more balanced in his assessment of Churchill, the man.
Date published: 2017-01-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Churchill I have many biographies of this great man but Dr. Rufus Fears animates him better than any other
Date published: 2016-12-14
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Unfinished Only on disk 3 of 6. Ok so far, but not exceptional.
Date published: 2016-09-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Could Churchill Do No Wrong? I am a great admirer of Churchill - I think he was one of the greatest men of the 20th century. But even I found it difficult to swallow Professor Fears' unwavering adulation for Churchill and everything that he did. A little more balanced perspective would have added to the course. That said, I still enjoyed the course and, in fact, a life as rich and varied as Churchill's could have used a few more lectures.
Date published: 2016-08-23
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Learned a lot Like most I did not pay the attention I should have in my history classes in my youth. This was a good (re)teling of what I may haver never heard and remembered from "the day." The lecturer was a bit too defensive about some of Churchill's shortcomings and effusive about his greatness, but the course was a great way to commute to work for the week.
Date published: 2016-08-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good but not great This course (I bought audio only so in fairness might have missed important video content) seemed good but not great. Churchill was a towering figure who spoke and wrote magnificently well. I wish that there had been a larger number of direct Churchill quotations--wow, so many of these still resonate decades later--but there were only a few included in this course. The speaker seemed to be reading from notes most of the time without the spontaneity and enthusiasm of a truly great speaker. Nevertheless, the course does cover Churchill's life reasonably well. This course is OK. It might have been great.
Date published: 2016-07-27
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Churchill Excellent very good but audio tended to drop off at the end of sentences
Date published: 2016-07-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Churchill This course is outstanding. I am sorry it is only 12 lessons long. Professor fears is a masterful story teller and captivates your attention immediately
Date published: 2016-07-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Fine and Rewarding Course, Despite Obvious Bias This short course is one of the most enjoyable I have taken. This is thanks in part to Churchill's extraordinary life story, and in equal part to the late Professor Fears' wonderful storytelling ability. Having known little of Churchill beyond his role in World War II and the "Iron Curtain" quote, I found his biography fascinating. The placement of the events within the history of the English aristocracy and their contextualization within the wider world were well done and added a great deal to my learning. And as has been noted, Professor Fears approaches teaching with wonderful flair and enthusiasm; he would have done beautifully as a reader of audiobooks (this is a high compliment!). As has also been noted, our good professor is strongly biased in Churchill's favor, and until the last lecture Sir Winston is portrayed as a near saint who could do almost no wrong. Professor Fears makes this bias very clear, however, and I do not feel it detracted from the course. In the final lecture he does bring in the opposing views of a number of prominent historians, and a Churchill neophyte like myself is left understanding the fact of the wide range of interpretations of Churchill's life, and the very varying assessments of his effect on history, although admittedly without an adequate foundation to come to my own conclusions. The Course Guidebook has maps, a timeline, a glossary, very helpful biographical notes, and an annotated bibliography. (These were the glory days of the TGC guidebooks, much lamented.) The lecture summaries themselves are quite brief. So - I do highly recommend this course, not only for giving insight into a pivotal time in modern history, but also and independently for its depiction of a thoroughly fascinating life, hagiographic though the presentation may be.
Date published: 2016-06-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Biased but I Don't Care There is no denying it—the professor gave a fairly biased history of Churchill's life. He made no attempt to hide his deep admiration of Churchill and his amazing accomplishments. You could say that the professor acted as a sort of Churchill apologist. That being said, there is a whole lot to like when it comes to Churchill. Churchill was a visionary leader and the "right man, in the right place, at the right time." I admire him too, so I was not the least offended by the professor's unabashed support for Churchill. The professor was not shy about pointing out the various criticisms that have been made of Churchill as well as the scandals that existed during his life. The professor, however, does a masterful job of explaining Churchill's side of the story and putting the criticisms in context. If you generally like Churchill, or want to know more about him, this is a great course. If you do not like Churchill, or are looking for the bad side, then this is still a great place to start to at least hear Churchill's point of view. If you are looking for a truly neutral account of his life, then this may not be the right course for you. That being said, I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone.
Date published: 2016-06-14
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