The Splendid and the Vile: A Sage of Churchill, Family, and Defiance during the Blitz
© 2020 Erik Larson
“Nothing could have been more beautiful and the searchlights interlaced at certain points on the horizon, the star-like flashes in the sky where shells were bursting, the light of distant fires, all added to the scene. It was magnificent and terrible: the spasmodic drone of enemy aircraft overhead; the thunder of gunfire, sometimes close, sometimes in the distance; the illumination, like that of electric trains in peace-time, the guns fired; and the myriad stars, real and artificial, in the firmament. Never was there such a contrast of natural splendor and human vileness.” – John Coville, Private Secretary to Winston Churchill
The Splendid and the Vile is an intimate history of the first year of WW2, told principally through Winston Churchill’s personal and professional household’s perspective. Taking office as World War 2 was just beginning, Churchill saw Britain through some of its darkest hours — months in which Britain stood alone, its continental allies subdued by the ferocity of Blitzkrieg, and its great ally the United States not yet engaged. In those hours the church-bells were still, waiting in dread silence for signs of Hitler launching his promised- and planned-for invasion of the Isle. Throughout all that fear and uncertainty, though, life went on — couples fell in love, common citizens dusted themselves off and picked up the pieces, and gardens were tended. All the ordinary work of life continued apace. The Splendid and the Vile offers a look into that year of the war as it was lived, sometimes day-by-day — drawing on the diaries of Churchill staff, family, others not associated. We jump, too, across the Channel, where Hitler & co nod with satisfactions at the quick consolidation of power in western Europe, and prepare for the real battle: the invasion of Russia. Here there is also interest; the decadent oafishness of Goering, which somehow won him fans instead of derision, and one of the war’s odder stories, that of the deputy fuhrer taking off for Britain in hopes of securing a treaty with an old friend of his in the English nobility. Although it suffers a bit from the sheer amount of people covered, I thoroughly enjoyed this on-the-ground review of Churchill’s first year. Although the PM is only one voice out of the many which feature here, there’s no doubt in my mind he was the man for that hour — who helped the British find their own courage, and endure until the Axis began making their fatal mistakes.
London at War, Phillip Ziegler
Alone: Britain, Churchill, and Defeat into Victory, Michael Korda
With Wings Like Eagles: The Battle of Britain, Michael Korda