Winston Churchill, seen here receiving the freedom of Woodstock in 1947, had a special relationship with the US because his mother, Jennie, was American.

It's a connection that has always lured US visitors to his birthplace, Blenheim Palace.

What is less well known is that the young Churchill was also influenced by his mother's lover Bourke Cockran, acclaimed during his lifetime as America's greatest orator. In Becoming Winston Churchill (Greenwood, £19.95), authors Michael McMenamin and Curt Zoller argue that the young Churchill adopted Cockran's political and economic views on democracy, capitalism, the Gold Standard, free trade, socialism, and other issues. More important, he learned some of the hard truths of politics.

Letters between Cockran and Churchill, reproduced in the book, cover Churchill's first foray into journalism during a visit to Cuba, which was then caught up in a war between Spanish and US colonialism. The 23 letters continue during Churchill's Army career in India, and while he covered the Boer War as a newspaper correspondent.

The bald history is interspersed with dramatic, racy reconstructions as Churchill is elected to Parliament, visits Cockran in the US and leaves the Conservatives to join the Liberal Party. Churchill's decision to seek a compromise on Home Rule for Ireland - which ultimately failed - is attributed to Cockran's Irish links, and the authors provide plenty of evidence for his profound influence on Churchill's oratory.