Reviews for The Splendid And The Vile

by Erik Larson

Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

The bestselling author deals with one of the most satisfying good-vs.-evil battles in history, the year (May 1940 to May 1941) during which Churchill and Britain held off Hitler.Bookshelves groan with histories of Britain's finest hour, but Larson (Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, 2015, etc.) employs a mildly unique strategy, combining an intense, almost day-to-day account of Churchill's actions with those of his family, two of his officials (Frederick Lindemann, who was Churchill's prime science adviser, and Lord Beaverbrook, minister of air production), and staff, including private secretary Jock Colville and bodyguard Walter Thompson. Since no one doubted they lived in extraordinary times and almost everyone kept journals and wrote letters, the author takes full advantage of an avalanche of material, much of which will be unfamiliar to readers. Churchill remains the central figure; his charisma, public persona, table talk, quirks, and sybaritic lifestyle retain their fascination. Authors have not ignored his indispensable wife, Clementine (Sonia Purnell's 2015 biography is particularly illuminating), but even history buffs will welcome Larson's attention to their four children, especially Mary, a perky adolescent and his favorite. He makes no attempt to rehabilitate Winston's only son, Randolph, a heavy-drinking spendthrift whose long-suffering wife, Pamela, finally consoled herself with a long affair with American representative Averell Harriman, which was no secret to the family and was entirely approved. Britain's isolation ended when Germany invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, but Larson ends on May 10. The Blitz was in full swing, with a particularly destructive raid on London, but that day also saw Rudolf Hess, Hitler's second in command, fly to England and engage in a wacky attempt (planned since the previous autumn) to negotiate peace. Nothing came of Hess' action, but that day may also have marked the peak of the Blitz, which soon diminished as Germany concentrated its forces against the Soviet Union.A captivating history of Churchill's heroic year, with more than the usual emphasis on his intimates. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Publishers Weekly
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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 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.)


Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

New York Times best-selling author Larson here investigates Winston Churchill as leader in the early days of World War II. Drawing on intelligence reports, recently declassified files, and personal diaries only now made available, Larson presents not just Churchill but those in his immediate circle, from his family to private secretary John Colville and newspaper baron Lord Beaverbrook.


Library Journal
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

In this illuminating history, best-selling writer Larson (Dead Wake) offers context for and understanding of Britain's defense against Hitler's Germany under Winston Churchill's leadership during World War II. Focusing on a single year (May 1940-May 1941), which coincided with Churchill's appointment as Prime Minister, Larson presents a near-daily account through a combination of diary and journal entries, archives, and new reports from Churchill's family, including his wife Clementine and his children, as well as officials from Britain, Germany, and the United States. The picture he paints unearths the intimate details of Churchill's family and cabinet, leadership style, personality, and idiosyncrasies, all of which laid the foundation for his determination to unite Britain during this national emergency while also navigating the monumental task of keeping the United States and President Roosevelt close at hand. VERDICT Blending a gripping narrative and a well-researched examination of personal and news archives, Larson's distinctive history of Britain's "darkest hour" offers a new angle for those already familiar with this era, while attracting readers who wish to learn more about the notable leader. [See Prepub Alert, 9/9/19.]—David Miller, Farmville P.L., NC


Book list
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.

It is difficult to imagine a more challenging first year in office than that experienced by Winston Churchill in 1940. Hitler invaded Belgium and Holland on Churchill's first day in office, and the Dunkirk evacuation was only two weeks away. Yet, as Larson (Dead Wake, 2015) so artfully illustrates, it is equally difficult to imagine a leader more uniquely equipped for confronting Germany than Churchill. The broad outlines may be familiar to most readers: the relentless air raids by the Luftwaffe and the heavy burden that England had to bear before the other Allied powers joined the war. What Larson brilliantly provides are the finer details of the effects on England as he focuses on the family and home of its dynamic, idiosyncratic, and indefatigable leader. Larson draws heavily on the diaries and papers of Churchill's inner circle, especially daughter Mary and personal secretary James Colville, as well as correspondence with his trusted advisers: Lord Beaverbrook, physicist Frederick Lindemann, and General Hastings Lionel Ismay. Similarly, incorporating snippets from the diaries of German leaders Goring and Goebbels demonstrates how determined the Germans were to annihilate England, even as they expressed the grudging respect they came to have for Churchill. Larson's skill at integrating vast research and talent for capturing compelling human dramas culminate in an inspirational portrait of one of history's finest, most fearless leaders.HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Best-selling Larson, a library star, once again masterfully renders history immediate, suspenseful, and relevant.--Bill Kelly Copyright 2020 Booklist

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