Primary Genre(s): History, Nonfiction
Published: 25 Feb 2020 by Crown Publishing
Page count: 546 (print)
My Format: ebook via NetGalley
Do I Recommend: Yes
Commission Link (U.S.): Buy The Splendid and the Vile
My rating: ★★★★★
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 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.
Here are my pros and cons for The Splendid and the Vile:
- I love Erik Larson. I love the way he writes nonfiction as if you are reading a novel. I know other people write nonfiction this way too, but Larson is the master at it.
- I appreciate how his books always have a personal aspect. In this book, you aren’t just learning dry facts about the Churchill and WWII in this book… you are learning about Churchill’s family as well. Larson is excellent at combining history with human interest.
- This book is exceptionally well researched. Larson has a commitment to accuracy and thoroughness that really seems unsurpassed by anyone else.
- Larson stated “…I set out to hunt for the stories that often get left out of the massive biographies of Churchill, either because there’s no time to tell them or because they seem too frivolous. But it is in frivolity Churchill often revealed himself, the little moments that endeared him to his staff, despite the extreme demands he placed on all.” Larson pulled Churchill out of the stuffy history books and humanized him for future generations.
I would read anything Larson publishes. I love his style, his attention to detail, his mastery of the topics he writes about, and his ability to humanize his subjects. He is easily my favorite author of nonfiction.
I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in Churchill, British history, or WWII history.
Thank you NetGalley and Crown Publishing for a free eARC of this book, which I have reviewed honestly and voluntarily.
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