breaking news

Austin bombing suspect, 24, dies as police close in, police chief says

Writer Thomas E. Ricks explores Churchill and Orwell in dual biography

“Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom” by Thomas E. Ricks is a joint biography of two men who “led the way, politically and intellectually, in responding to the twin totalitarian threats of fascism and communism” in the mid-20th century.

As dual biographies pour off the presses, authors stretch to find a suitable pair. That includes Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Ricks (“The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today”), who takes an odd tack with subjects who were neither friends, colleagues, rivals, nor enemies. Nonetheless, given the author’s abundant skills, readers will thoroughly enjoy the result.

Since Churchill and Orwell never met, Ricks writes separate biographies and then works hard to deliver a common theme. He succeeds because these two men made cases for individual freedom better than anyone in their century. During 1940, at a time when everyone agreed that Britain’s destruction was imminent, Churchill treated Neville Chamberlain and the appeasers (who were largely responsible) with respect, ordered no mass murders or arrests, and never assumed that, in this crisis and, of course, temporarily, Britain needed a touch of Nazi ruthlessness.

Orwell has always been the conservatives’ favorite Marxist, although he was a faithful socialist all his life. An obscure journalist until his breakthrough with “Animal Farm” (1945) and “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (1949), he hated totalitarianism in all forms but reserved special ire for the cant and fabrication that all governments employ and that his colleagues on the left accepted when it suited their beliefs. Everyone approves of Orwell’s classic statement that a lie in the service of a good cause is no less despicable than in the service of a bad cause. Yet it’s never caught on; our leaders routinely announce bad news as good news, and plenty of activists consider lying a useful tactic.

A superb account of two men who set standards for defending liberal democracy that remain disturbingly out of reach.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Insight and Books

Opinion: A parable of self-destruction

EASTER ISLAND — This remote speck in the South Pacific is famous for its colossal stone statues, nearly 1,000 of them towering over the landscape like guardians. Who built them? How did they get there? And who fitted some of them with giant red stone hats weighing up to 12 tons each? When I was a kid, a huge nonfiction best seller by Erich von...
INSIGHT: UT data shows ‘transit deserts’ in Austin and 52 U.S. cities
INSIGHT: UT data shows ‘transit deserts’ in Austin and 52 U.S. cities

Less than two months after President Donald Trump pledged in his State of the Union Address to “rebuild our crumbling infrastructure,” prospects look dim. The Trump administration is asking Congress for ideas about how to fund trillions of dollars in improvements that experts say are needed. Some Democrats want to reverse newly enacted...
Commentary: Texas oil and gas industry would lose with steel tariffs
Commentary: Texas oil and gas industry would lose with steel tariffs

American energy dominance isn’t just a catchy slogan. It is here and has distinctly been made possible by Texans. Texas leads the nation in oil and natural gas production, pipeline miles and refining capacity, all of which bolster our nation’s energy security. America’s position as a global energy leader – and Texas’ contribution...
Letters to the editor: March 21, 2018
Letters to the editor: March 21, 2018

Standing in the crowd at the Los Lobos show at Auditorium Shores, carried away in musical bliss, the thought popped into my head: “This is why we can never have a wall.” Austin elementary schools in the early 1960s had 30 minutes of Spanish language instruction a week. It was way too little, a little too late. Here’s an idea: Instead...
Viewpoints: Race, Russian bots and the angst around #AustinBombings

Five bombings in the past three weeks , with two dead, four injured and the culprit still at large, is plenty to put all of Austin on edge. But another incendiary layer to this saga is playing out on social media. The hashtag #AustinBombings has been trending on Twitter in part because of all of the media coverage...
More Stories