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The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz Kindle Edition
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“One of [Erik Larson’s] best books yet . . . perfectly timed for the moment.”—Time • “A bravura performance by one of America’s greatest storytellers.”—NPR
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times Book Review • Time • Vogue • NPR • The Washington Post • Chicago Tribune • The Globe & Mail • Fortune • Bloomberg • New York Post • The New York Public Library • Kirkus Reviews • LibraryReads • PopMatters
On Winston Churchill’s first day as prime minister, Adolf Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium. Poland and Czechoslovakia had already fallen, and the Dunkirk evacuation was just two weeks away. For the next twelve months, Hitler would wage a relentless bombing campaign, killing 45,000 Britons. It was up to Churchill to hold his country together and persuade President Franklin Roosevelt that Britain was a worthy ally—and willing to fight to the end.
In The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson shows, in cinematic detail, how Churchill taught the British people “the art of being fearless.” It is a story of political brinkmanship, but it’s also an intimate domestic drama, set against the backdrop of Churchill’s prime-ministerial country home, Chequers; his wartime retreat, Ditchley, where he and his entourage go when the moon is brightest and the bombing threat is highest; and of course 10 Downing Street in London. Drawing on diaries, original archival documents, and once-secret intelligence reports—some released only recently—Larson provides a new lens on London’s darkest year through the day-to-day experience of Churchill and his family: his wife, Clementine; their youngest daughter, Mary, who chafes against her parents’ wartime protectiveness; their son, Randolph, and his beautiful, unhappy wife, Pamela; Pamela’s illicit lover, a dashing American emissary; and the advisers in Churchill’s “Secret Circle,” to whom he turns in the hardest moments.
The Splendid and the Vile takes readers out of today’s political dysfunction and back to a time of true leadership, when, in the face of unrelenting horror, Churchill’s eloquence, courage, and perseverance bound a country, and a family, together.
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“Published in the midst of one of the greatest international crises since World War II, Larson’s new book tells the story of London facing the Blitz during that war through the characters of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, members of his family and his various advisers. Readers are left with an indelible portrait of a nation coming together to face a brutal assault from German bombs under leadership that is wise, empathetic and strategic—not to mention highly witty and charming.”—Time
“Erik Larson, in his suspenseful new book, The Splendid and the Vile, captures the foreboding that settled on London leading up to the bombardment, as well as Churchill’s determination not to give in. . . . Plus, there is Larson’s reliable, cinematic writing and his intimate portrayal of Churchill.”—The New Yorker
“An enthralling page-turner.”—O: The Oprah Magazine
“A damn good story. There are narrative arcs, heroes, villains, and suspense aplenty to craft the kind of rich, immersive histories that have become Larson’s trademark.”—Rolling Stone
“This is Erik Larson’s moment. His affecting and affectionate chronicle of the Churchill family during the Blitz, the Nazi World War II bombing campaign against Great Britain, has found a hungry audience in the United States.”—The Boston Globe
“Through the remarkably skillful use of intimate diaries as well as public documents, some newly released, Larson has transformed the well-known record of 12 turbulent months, stretching from May of 1940 through May of 1941, into a book that is fresh, fast and deeply moving.”—Candice Millard, The New York Times Book Review
“Larson’s book offers a delicious slice of life of the world’s last great statesman.” —The Wall Street Journal
“Fascinating . . . The entire book comes at the reader with breakneck speed. So much happened so quickly in those 12 months, yet Larson deftly weaves all the strands of his tale into a coherent and compelling whole.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“I have an early copy of this book on my desk and idly began reading the first pages—and suddenly time disappeared.”—The Seattle Times
“Still, it is a time of sadness, fear, grief and uncertainty for so many, and I find myself comforted by reading about other supremely challenging times in human history, and about resilience, and hope. For this, there is no better book right now than The Splendid and the Vile.”—Mackenzie Dawson, New York Post
“Nonfiction king Erik Larson is back.”—PopSugar
“Spectacular . . . Larson, as America’s most compelling popular historian, is at his best in this fast-moving, immensely readable, and even warmhearted account of the battle to save Britain.”—The Christian Science Monitor
"What sets [Larson's] work apart is his signature way of using painstaking research through personal journals and historical records to spin a gripping nonfiction tale through the ordinary lives of the men and women who succeeded, failed, and perished as a result.”—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“The Splendid and the Vile delivers the great saga with a novelist’s touch. It’s like you’re watching and hearing the days and nights of 1940 as a passenger on a double-decker London bus.”—Chris Matthews, Churchill Bulletin
“The popular historian Erik Larson has done it again. As I read this book, I kept wondering what the swelling of powerful emotion was that I felt, sometimes in an almost physical sense.”—Andrew Roberts, author of Churchill: Walking with Destiny, in Air Mail
“A propulsive, character-driven account of Winston Churchill’s first year as British prime minister . . . Readers will rejoice.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
About the Author
- ASIN : B07TRVW6VX
- Publisher : Crown (February 25, 2020)
- Publication date : February 25, 2020
- Language : English
- File size : 4359 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 546 pages
- Page numbers source ISBN : 0385348711
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #4,342 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
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Top reviews from the United States
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Given that libraries could be filled with volumes dissecting almost every angle of Churchill’s life and WWII, it’s hard to imagine that Erik Larson could offer anything particularly original.
He has chosen, however, not to emphasize the extensive scholarship on this era, but to use journals and other primary sources to retell the Battle of Britain as it appeared to those in Churchill’s immediate circle. Thus, we get details as various as teenage Mary Churchill’s love of dances juxtaposed with his pet scientist’s ability to explain radar technology in a way he could understand.
These personal portraits, drawn from contemporary sources, combine to form a unique saga of what it felt like to be around Churchill in this troubled era. Accomplished with real brilliance, I thoroughly enjoyed Larson’s narrative.
Personal taste for this kind of history will, obviously, differ. Should history be recounted with more ample reference to other scholars? Does the personal inform the world-historical as much as Larson suggests?
These are questions which ultimately have to be answered by every reader. But, to my taste, this technique was an immense success in shedding new light on this dark, but inspiring era, in human history.
This is not dry history! Larson writes like a novelist but his book is backed up by years of research. The reader gets to know the figures in the book and to care for their fates. England was a brave nation as in their finest hour they faced the horrors of the Nazi menace with great courage and determination to never surrender. Anyone who is interested in Churchill, World War II or history in general will profit from this excellent book. This is the kind of book which could well get a young person hooked on history! Kudos to Erik Larson!
Top reviews from other countries
This book focuses on the dramatic events between the arrival of Winston Churchill as Prime Minister in May 1940 to the entry into the war of the United States in December 1941. The narrative moves effortlessly between the high drama of the war and the intimacies of Churchill’s family and the contrast between terrible events and the concerns of everyday life, not least the universal pleasures of romance in the beautiful summer of 1940, much of it told through the observations of Churchill’s youngest daughter Mary and one of his private assistants John Colville. This is very much the world of upper class English life but wider social comments come through reports from the Mass Observation correspondents.
Churchill is introduced as an enigmatic figure divisive and unreliable to many political contemporaries but adored by much of the public who believe he is the only man to lead the country out of the dire straits apparent by May 1940. A striking part of the ensuing narrative is how Churchill becomes increasingly respected and even loved by those who work closely with him. He is described with all his eccentricity and unreasonableness but also his warm humanity. The unremitting pressure on him is all too obvious and although prone to dangerous diversions and an enthusiasm for any form of action his strategic sense is a dominating theme. Right from the beginning he sees Nazism as evil and not a force to negotiate with, he sees the absolute need to win the USA to the cause and he understands the power of image and oratory to stiffen morale and see the country through the dangerous months of the Battle of Britain and the Blitz. The range of his concerns, his work load and amazing energy are quite remarkable. There are wonderful pen portraits of Beaverbrook, Ismay, Lindemann, Goring and Harry Hopkins but also the sadness of aspects of Churchill’s family life particularly the increasingly tragic figure of his son Randolph. The main themes are peppered with little vignettes such as the importance of tea for civilian life, the accounts for running Chartwell, the significance of radar, and the ceaseless round of Churchill’s purposeful entertaining.
The author manages to bring to life a familiar period of British history with the skill of a novelist and an immediacy to events that take the reader to the heart of the personal and national drama. At the end this reader, at least, was reminded how fortunate civilisation was to have such a champion as Winston Churchill at its moment of greatest danger.
Larson is brilliant at bringing historical events to life so that it feels as if the reader is there in the room rather than reading a dry recital of historical facts years afterwards. Here he uses a variety of personal accounts to paint a vivid picture of Churchill through this dramatic period – primarily the diaries of his daughter, Mary, and his private secretary, Jock Colville, supplemented by various letters and memos between Churchill and members of his inner team. Larson also turns to contemporaneous reports in the newspapers and on radio, to show what people knew and how they felt at the time rather than through the lens of hindsight.
It’s probably true to say there’s nothing startlingly new in the book, but Larson brings out the drama and emotion of the time without sacrificing factual accuracy and detail. Names from the history books become living, breathing people – Beaverbrook, Lindemann, Goering, Hess, et al – and we see their weaknesses and vanities along with their passion and commitment, whichever side they were on. The use of the word “saga” in the subtitle made me fear this might be too geared towards gossip about Churchill’s family, but in fact we learn just enough about them to get a feel for Churchill as a family man, and through Mary’s diary extracts we also get a picture of how the young upper-classes lived and played during this early part of the war, and how their attitudes changed and hardened as the dark realities of modern air-led warfare became clear.
What Larson does so well, though, is to bring the lives of the mass of ordinary working people into the story, not simply as a kind of audience for the great and the good, but as real participants in their own fate. For this, he uses extensively the records of the Mass Observation project, where many volunteer observers kept diaries in which they recorded not just their own lives but their impressions of what was happening in their localities. We see London reeling and terrified after the first air-raids, but the Londoners gradually realising that they were brave enough to take it, and showing the resilience and defiance for which they are remembered. He shows a kind of euphoria developing, and a good deal of sexual licence on display, due to a growing eat, drink and be merry attitude. Larson takes us to Coventry to see the devastating raid there and its aftermath, and his description of this piece of history I already knew well is so vivid that he reduced me to tears and roused my rage anew at this mindless death and destruction.
Back with Churchill, we get to know the people in his smallish inner circle and how they interacted. We are critical of all government ministers and of course they should not be above criticism, but we perhaps don’t cut them enough slack for the enormous responsibilities we expect them to deal with on our behalf. Churchill lived a life of comparative luxury, and rationing, which hit the general public hard, didn’t seem to make his table any less lavish, or his brandy to run out. But he worked such long hours his staff were permanently exhausted and he himself became ill (and worked through it), he had to tolerate and soothe the ruffled feelings of those to whom he delegated the impossible while still driving them to get it done yesterday, he regularly put himself in danger to show the public that he understood and shared what they were going through, he had to cajole and flatter the American president endlessly for very little return in the way of practical assistance; and frankly I didn’t begrudge him his smuggled cigars and chocolate, his extensive cellar, his extra meat provided by grateful landowning Dukes, even the money that was raised by supporters to help pay his household expenses. I suspect his poor entourage regularly wanted to beat him over the head with a brick, especially when he would put on records and start dancing round the dining room at 1 a.m. after a twenty-hour working day, but I’m glad they didn’t.
Another excellent book from Larson, his trademark blending of historical facts with the personal building to give an intimate and affectionate portrait of Churchill’s personality and daily life as he led Britain through its darkest hour. Highly recommended.