The River War, Winston Churchill’s account of the reconquest of the Sudan, first published in two volumes in 1899 and now appearing in a definitive edition edited by James Muller, was arguably his best book. Written with the terrific élan of a subaltern of hussars eager to emulate Gibbon and Macaulay, it tells the story of General Kitchener’s advance on the dervish stronghold of Khartoum in 1896–8 and culminates with the Battle of Omdurman. It was there that Churchill himself, attached to the 21st Lancers, took part in the last great cavalry charge in British history.
With precocious brilliance, Churchill conjures up the eternal serpent of the Nile, which ‘glitters between the palm-trees during the actions’. He creates romance out of the building of the desert railway, the stem on which blossomed the ‘beautiful, bright-coloured flower’ of victory. He depicts the dramatic progress of the Anglo-Egyptian