Top positive review
What’s Well-Known becomes New When Retold as Personal Saga
Reviewed in the United States on February 25, 2020
There are few historical episodes more well known to Anglophones than the Battle of Britain. Even the words Churchill used to help save democratic civilization have become cliches: “Their finest hour”, “Blood, sweat and tears”, “Never have so many owed so much to so few.”
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.