Welcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British and Irish — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British and Irish themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!
Last week, I wrote about the latest historical documentaries from Lucy Worsley that are available for viewing at PBS.
Book: The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson
Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date: 2020
Source: e-audiobook borrowed from the librarySummary: The first year that Winston Churchill was Prime Minister of the UK began with Germany’s invasion of Belgium, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands and ended, almost to the day, with the last major attacks of the Blitz. The Splendid and the Vile tells the story of that year with Churchill at the center, but with many other characters revolving around him — family members, friends, government and military officials, and American visitors.
Much of the story is told through diary entries.
The title comes from an entry in the diary of John Colville, assistant private secretary to three Prime Ministers, about a glorious full moon over London illuminating the destruction of bombs and fires: “Never was there such a contrast of natural splendor and human vileness.”
The diaries of Mary Churchill, Winston and Clementine’s youngest daughter, describe the weekends at Chequers (the country residence of the UK Prime Minister) and how young people experienced the war through dances, fear, boredom, romance, and war work.
We learn about the experiences of ordinary Britons from Mass-Observation diaries — a social science research project that recruited volunteers to record their experiences of the war.
Thoughts: I enjoyed reading Devil in the White City by Erik Larson during a visit to Chicago, so I was happy to learn that he applied his story-telling skills to one of my favorite settings — London in World War II.
I’ve only been listening to audiobooks since the first of the year, so I’m still surprised when a new genre works for me. The Splendid and the Vile took about a month for me to complete. I looked forward to it every morning and miss it now that I’m done.
The reader, John Lee, gives us passable impressions of Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt (the only two voices I would recognize) but not so over-the-top as to bring me out of the story. I appreciated that I recognized Mary Churchill’s voice each time that she appeared.
Appeal: The Splendid and the Vile will please anyone who can’t get enough of WWII stories, without it being a repetition of things we’ve already read.
This book will also appeal to people who are looking for comfort and motivation in our present time of crisis. The British survived their ordeal of 1940-41 and, I’m confident, the world will muddle, bluster, and strategize its way through 2020-21, too.
Have you read this book? What did you think?