cover image Alone: Britain, Churchill, and Dunkirk: Defeat into Victory

Alone: Britain, Churchill, and Dunkirk: Defeat into Victory

Michael Korda. Liveright, $29.95 (564p) ISBN 978-1-63149-132-0

English-born writer and novelist Korda (Clouds of Glory) attends to the British experience during the desperate months from the beginning of WWII to the retreat from Dunkirk and the very real prospects of a German invasion. Building around his own fragmented childhood memories, Korda eloquently depicts the reluctance with which Britain went to war. The atmosphere during inactive winter of 1939–1940, commonly called the Phoney War, seemed “very much as it had been in 1914–1918, but on a smaller scale,” Korda writes, and was accompanied by wishful thinking that Hitler had missed his opportunity to strike. The German invasion and overrunning of Norway in April generated apprehension that brought Winston Churchill to power—just as the whirlwind attack on France and the Low Countries demonstrated clearly that it was the Allies who had missed their chance. Synergistic catastrophe, well narrated by Korda, culminated at Dunkirk; the evacuation was a tactical tour de force, but also a reminder that, in Churchill’s famous words, “wars are not won by evacuations.” At any rate, Korda’s Hungarian-born father organized the family’s own timely evacuation from Britain to Hollywood. But his English mother unreflectively believed “everything would work out well in the end.” The successful Dunkirk evacuation “would sustain the people through the next four years,” Korda writes, with his mother’s optimism eventually affirmed. Maps & illus. (Sept.)