The Splendid and the Vile

The Splendid and the Vile: A Sage of Churchill, Family, and Defiance during the Blitz
© 2020 Erik Larson
464 pages


“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

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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7 Responses to The Splendid and the Vile

  1. Cyberkitten says:

    Definitely on my High Interest List. It’s probably my fave period of British History – or at least in the Top 3. I’ve accumulated quite a stack of books of the time that Britain stood alone… Now I just need to find the time to *read* them!

    • I can sympathize! A couple of weeks ago I drew out a schedule of Mt. Doom books to tackle in the coming months, and immediately someone GAVE me this one, which of course led to me reading another one by him…

      Of course, you’re retired in corona. You should have all the time in the world! 😉

      • Cyberkitten says:

        True, I *do* have lots more time but, unfortunately, the number of potential books has also expanded considerably. I am regularly reading 2 books a week presently (with a review backlog of 10 ATM!) so things are moving along….. I’m even thinking of re-reading the original Dune trilogy (prior to the movie next year) and the Foundation series (prior to the Series). Weirdly though I find that I haven’t read the *second* Dune trilogy! I have to put that right [lol]

      • I’ve yet to read the first Dune book! I’ve checked it out several times from the library, but it never works its way to the top of my interest pile. I’ve heard so much about it that I’d like to at least TRY it…same reason I wound up reading Ender’s Game.

  2. Cyberkitten says:

    Dune is definitely a MUST read. It’s been incredibly influential and it’s a really good read too! I read it around 40 years ago and I still remember how much it completely blew me away. It is FAR beyond your typical Space Opera. It’s full of ideas and is really intelligent. I think that most SF readers would place it in the Top 20 SF of All Time. I know I would!

  3. Pingback: World War 2 Index | Reading Freely

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