The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz

Erik Larson. Crown, $32 (608p) ISBN 978-0-385-34871-3
Larson (Dead Wake) delivers a propulsive, character-driven account of Winston Churchill’s first year as British prime minister (May 1940–May 1941), when the German air force launched “a full-on assault against the city of London” in preparation for an invasion that never came. Larson’s profile subjects include Churchill’s 17-year-old daughter, Mary; his private secretary, John “Jock” Colville, who kept a meticulous (and likely illegal, due to the national security secrets it revealed) diary; Nazi leader Rudolf Hess; and, to a lesser extent, ordinary Britons. Juxtaposing monumental developments, such as the Dunkirk evacuation, with intimate scenes, Larson notes that on the night Churchill learned French leaders wanted to make peace with Hitler, he raised his dinner guests’ spirits by passing out cigars, reading aloud telegrams of support from other countries, and “chant[ing] the refrain from a popular song.” Larson highlights little-known but intriguing figures, including chief science adviser Frederick Lindemann, who made a multifaceted but unsuccessful case for why tea shouldn’t be rationed, and documents the carnage caused by German bombs, including the deaths of 34 people at the Café de Paris shortly before Mary Churchill was set to arrive at the club. While the story of Churchill’s premiership and the Blitz have been told in greater historical depth, they’ve rarely been rendered so vividly. Readers will rejoice. Agent: David Black, the David Black Agency. (Feb.)
Reviewed on : 01/31/2020
Release date: 02/25/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 725 pages - 978-0-593-17207-0
Compact Disc - 978-0-593-16716-8
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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