The Morgan Library’s summer exhibition of the writings of Winston Churchill, on display until September 23, packs a great wallop into an exceedingly small space. Housed in a single room of the museum, the exhibition brings together a lifetime sampler of notable documents from the Churchill Archives Center at Cambridge, along with items from his manor house at Chartwell. It amply succeeds in justifying its implicit premise: that Churchill’s career as a writer and public intellectual, which preceded and made possible his career as a statesman, ought to be the starting point for any conversation about the great man’s public life.

Of course, Churchill is well known for the Nobel Prize in Literature he received in 1953, a trophy that is on display in a front case of the Morgan’s exhibit. But what is often overlooked in popular portrayals of his life is the way in which he used his immense...

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