Skip to main content


November 28, 2009

Newt Gingrich on THE RIVER WAR

Posted by admin

Newt Gingrich, who recently co-authored TO TRY MEN’S SOULS: A Novel of George Washington and the Fight for American Freedom, details his nearly impossible Christmas wish for a literary rarity in a story that ends in a true holiday fashion.

As a lover of reading, I have many fond memories of receiving and giving books for Christmas. One memory in particular involves a classic work by Winston Churchill.

It was summer, and I was reading a book by Robert Kaplan about modern challenges in poor countries. In it, Kaplan referenced Churchill's book, THE RIVER WAR.

As a very young man, Churchill was an officer in the British Army. With his mother's help, he talked his way into Kitchener's campaign up the Nile in 1898.

Churchill was endlessly energetic and managed to both be at the main battle at Omdurman and write a book about the campaign.

Kitchener, the commanding general, deeply disapproved of a young officer taking it upon himself to render judgment about a campaign, even when Churchill was flattering him. The very idea of a young man thinking he could comment irritated the most famous British general of the age.

However, whatever approval Churchill lost amongst the establishment, he more than gained in public fame and celebrity status as a daring military adventurer and writer.

Callista had been asking me to think of something I really wanted for Christmas. Suddenly, Kaplan had given me the answer: I wanted an early edition of Churchill's THE RIVER WAR.

I didn’t want a first edition because that would have been far too expensive. However, I did want a book from before World War I that would feel and smell like the books of Churchill’s youth.

Callista looked at me with some exasperation.

This was not an, easy-order opportunity. However, she gamely decided she would do her best to make my Christmas wish come true.

Callista found a great online organizer of historic books called Abe Books. It had almost everything a book lover could want.

On Christmas Day, waiting for me when we got home from Mass, there was a beautifully wrapped early edition of THE RIVER WAR, exactly the gift I had dreamed of.

The next day, as we left to visit Callista's parents, I held firmly in my grasp Churchill's work. I spent my spare time the first few days after Christmas devouring Churchill’s words and marveling at his command of the English language.

Seldom has a book made me happier at Christmas.

-- Newt Gingrich

Check back later today, as Kaitlin O'Riley illustrates how even the most trivial of objects can seem magical around the holidays.