Cover Image: The Splendid and the Vile

The Splendid and the Vile

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Member Reviews

A saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance during the Blitz

From newly available sources, declassified files and personal diaries, Erik Larson chronicles Winston Churchill’s life during his first year as prime minister and during the London Blitz. This compelling portrait shows in a cinematic way how Churchill taught the British people the art of being fearless. The story is more than a political one it also tells us the domestic drama and the day to day experience of Churchill, his family and his inner circle.

We are taken in a time of unrelenting horror with eloquence. Mr. Larson artfully weaves a tapestry of events, speeches, daily routines and tells us how the Prime Minister was determined in his pursuit to obtain aide from the USA and how it was up to him to hold his country together during Hitler’s relentless bombing campaign. Mr. Larson is definitely a master of narrative non-fiction work.

Although the Battle of Britain has been told many times there are always new discoveries and some omissions. This book ninety-some chapter tackles in depths the experience of the Battle as well as describing Churchill’s eccentric behaviour. For those who are fan of historical events, we learn a bit more, and for the fie hard definitely this book is an added bonus.

Whether a non-fiction or historical fiction I love reading war time accounts. Mr. Larson did not disappoint, his vivid details brought the era alive with all the screeching, whistling and hissing sound that bombs do to scare the population and to obliterate everything. With the resiliency of the population and good leadership Britain survived and with the contribution of allies, the Axis defeated. ……..”Never forget”……..
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Erik Larson is in top form with The Splendid and the Vile illustrating aspects of WW II and Churchill that most readers will not know.
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Another terrific book by author Erik Larson. The focus is on Churchill's first year as Prime Minister. France is falling, Britain is enduring bombing of its cities. This period is when Churchill becomes the man we recognize in history books, a transformational and inspirational leader and visionary who will grow to have a significant impact on world affairs.

Accounts come from a wide range of personal diaries and memoirs. Churchill family members, personal secretaries, senior governmental officials, as well as civilian diaries from hundreds of volunteers keeping daily war diaries are included. The perspectives of senior German leadership and American senior officials as they consider entering the war are especially compelling. 

Churchill was a decent, inspirational and intelligent communicator. Erik Larson’s meticulous research and masterful writing bring this true leader and patriot to life in a a fascinating and easily digestible manner.

**will post online reviews closer to publication.
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A meticulously researched book about the bombing of England during 1940-41 which ends just as the US is entering the war. I can't even begin to fathom the amount of hours that went in the researching all the facts that go into making this book come alive as the author tells the story of the bombing of England at the hands of Germany during the beginning of World War II. As I have mainly read books from the US perspective, this books was great and gave me a lot of insight about the war from Churchill's point of view. It seems as if he is practically begging the US to help him avoid defeat and the US seems to find every reason to avoid any substantive help. Pick this up if you enjoy this author, his style or a great book about the war.
Thank you Netgalley, by Erik Larson, Crown Publishing for the ARC for my honest review.
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Thanks Net Galley for the ARC

Bravo Mr. Larson, you never disappoint!  Now some may say the Churchill field is too crowded already and perhaps you are right but this is a smaller more digestible piece for you to enjoy.  No, if you have read several on PM Winston this will not illuminate some dark corner but n the likeable Larson language you get a glimpse into a pivotal year in the life of a great leader for WAR; but couldn't get elected once it was done.  Lots of good lessons here.
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This is a fine account of Churchill's actions (and his family's doings) during WWII, as well as side-chapters on the lives of his daughter Mary and one of his aides in particular. It is, as are most of Larson's books, well-written and interesting. Is another book on Churchill and the war necessary, though? While readable, this new entry into an already deep field doesn't offer anything particularly new to say to readers, nor does it provide exceptional insight or interviews or anything else that makes it extraordinary. I suppose it would make a nice gift for someone just getting interested in the war or Churchill's career during it.
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The book is astounding as all Larson books are to me.  He’s a marvel and this was such a detailed look into Britain at war, and Churchill.  Exciting, entertaining and educational, he illustrates how monstrous and brave that time was, and what a hero Churchill was to all.  I loved it.
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Erik Larson’s latest deep historical delve takes readers to Winston Churchill’s Blitz-battered but still resilient Britain. 

Once again, the author manages to create a historical snapshot that manages to be both simultaneously sweeping in scope of its subject matter yet also deeply intimate. Admittedly, the sheer amount of detail that fills this book’s pages can occasionally make one feel a little bogged down beneath it all. There were several moments where the numerous chapters meandered down into particular episodes of specific figures while I wondered to myself, “Is this really necessary?” 

However, this is not an uncommon phenomenon in Larson’s books. Also, the ninety-some chapters that divide up the narrative make it easy for readers to tackle this read in absorbable increments of any personal preference. Overall, as in past works, Larson’s detailed depths more than anything make for an immersive experience of the Battle of Britain.  

My only other quibble (and I am probably nitpicking a little at this point) is that in this exhaustive tale of Churchill’s Great Britain holding out against the Nazi threat on the European mainland, there is no mention at all about the numerous Poles, Czechs, Free French, and other non-British men and women who took refuge on the islands and contributed to the war effort.. Granted, there are books devoted specifically to this very subject (such as Lynne Olson’s excellent Last Hope Island).. But to write several hundred pages about the Battle of Britain and not to give any mention or acknowledgment whatsoever even about the numerous foreign nationals who flew for the RAF strikes me as a little bit strange. 

I confess that when mulling over a Larson book, I cannot help but think back to earlier works like Dead Wake, and of course the widely read and wildly successful Devil in the White City I don’t think I would consider putting this in the same echelon, But when considered alone as a telling of Britain’s holdout between the fall of France and the US’s entry into WWII, "The Splendid and the Vile" is unquestionably a solidly-delivered book. Any history fan who dives into this work will quickly find themselves deeply immersed right smack into the center of the Battle of Britain thanks to this information-packed work.
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This was a DNF for me. I have enjoyed the author’s previous work, but this lacked the narrative pace that his other work had for me.
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Received an ARC of The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson.  Winston Churchill became Prime Minister in 1940 when Hitler invaded the Low Countries and within a couple of months France had fallen.  Now Hitler was able to focus his efforts on the UK using the strategic France as a launching point.  Not everyone was enamored with the new PM with his pink silk underwear, siren blue suit and cigars.  He desperately needed US support but the Isolationist sentiment and the Neutrality Act tied FDR’s hands.  The Splendid and Vile focuses on the time between 1940 and the bombing of Pearl Harbor with the US’s entry into the war.  Larsen does an excellent job of portraying Churchill as he dances to keep Roosevelt believing the Brits can win and not portraying the desperation that might present the”Blitz” as a lost cause.  Most of the facts are well known but it is the details that add to the history.  After the war the Royal Family came out on the balcony to the cheering crowds, then went back into the  palace only to reappear separating so Churchill could come out front and center to the grateful British population.  However, I found the horror of the “Blitz” where’s  “total of civilian deaths in 1940 and 1941, ... reached 44,652, with another 52,370 injured, of the dead 5,626 were children” more viscerally portrayed in books like Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.  Many Brits went to the rooftops to watch the splendid aerial display only to reminded of its vile origin.  Good but not up to the level of Erik Larson’s other works.
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Excellent!  Erik Larson is already an auto-buy author for me and The Splendid and the Vile is everything you expect from Larson and more. He has a way of taking an event from history (that you think you know all about) and telling it in a way that makes you feel you were there and actually know the people. I was enjoying the book so much I didn't want it to end. This is a must read, especially for friends of Churchill, WWII, and historical narrative nonfiction. Five stars all the way.
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I'm sorry to say that I could NOT get through this. Holy moly, it's dense and long and booooring. The day-by-day, event-by-event telling of this story just got the better of me. 

And I'm an Erik Larson fan, for the most part. But ooooof, I can't recommend this to anyone but WWII completists.
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Be sure to set aside plenty of time to work your way through this deep exploration of one year in the life of Churchill and those close to him. It will require some patience, but if you're not inclined to read the multi-volume biographies about him, this book is an effective distillation of the man as he navigated his first year as prime minister.

May 10, 1940 through May 10, 1941 was a pivotal year, with the fate of England entirely uncertain and world domination by Hitler a frightening possibility. We know now that everything eventually came out right, but at the time that outcome was by no means a given. German invasion by sea appeared likely. Would England be under Nazi occupation like the rest of Europe?
Throughout this year, the English people were repeatedly traumatized by devastating bombing raids. The death toll and destruction was stunning.

What was this year like for Winston Churchill and those close to him? Larson uses diaries, letters, and other historical documents to reconstruct this time for him, his family, aides, and other government figures.

While Winston determined the fate of his country, his eighteen-year-old daughter Mary was doing all the frivolous things wealthy young girls do, war or no war. Falling in love with the wrong boy, going to dances and parties, and visiting her friends in the countryside. His son Randolph was doing what he always did, racking up gambling debts and getting drunk. John Colville, Churchill's private secretary, was suffering over unrequited love. And of course, Lord Beaverbrook tried to resign about a dozen times, when all he really wanted was for Winston to beg him to stay on.

As with any Churchill portrait, his amusing idiosyncrasies and peccadilloes are on full display here. He had to have two baths per day, and the water had to be 98 degrees. He had no body shame and shocked and embarrassed people with his full or partial nudity. Late at night, he put military marches on the gramophone and paraded up and down in his pale-blue onesie, toting his old rifle.
He was a difficult man, irascible, demanding, and moody. But he was also tenderhearted, forgiving, and easily moved to tears.

I came away from this book with a feeling of relief that Churchill was the one at the helm when he was needed most. This was the year that mattered, and he had just the right combination of skills and personality traits to stay the course, juggle strategies, and maintain high morale among the citizens. Hitler and Goring and Goebbels were repeatedly confounded by his unwillingness to surrender or sue for peace. They thought if they just dropped enough bombs, he would have to give in eventually. They severely underestimated his resolve his resourcefulness, and his patriotism.
KBO was his motto, and KBO he did.
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Erik Larson never disappoints!! From the vivid, detailed descriptions of people, places and events his books bring history alive and make me feel I understand it better. I only had a rudimentary understanding of Churchill and this time in English history, and I wasn't sure I wanted to read a whole book about it but I did, I enjoyed every page of it and Larson laid it out wonderfully, brought it to life.
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Erik Larson, to no surprise, paints history with a human and detailed touch. Yet another find book from this author.
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Just finished an advanced reader copy of Erik Larson's latest work. Thanks to NetGalley for the copy!

I have read all of Erik Larson's previous works so I am clearly biased. He is such as wonderful writer and storyteller. His books are a complete pleasure to read. His latest is no exception to that rule! I am sucker for all Churchill stories to begin with. 

I can't imagine that anyone even a. new reader of Larson's work would be anything but delighted with this one. I learned so much from this story. New sources and Erik Larson's touch make this one a must read for any WWII student. 

This will be a real hit with his current fans and will win many new ones I'm certain. You will see what it was like to live in Britain at the start of the war. You will become familiar with Churchill's habits. 

Highly recommend!
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I have always admired the British for standing up to Hitler’s forces in WWII, after almost all of Europe had fallen under Nazi control. How did they endure the almost nightly bombing raids? This book focuses on Churchill’s first year (1940-1941) as British Prime Minister, the Battle of Britain, and what life was like for Churchill, his family, and his inner circle. As Larson states in his introductory notes to readers: 

<I>“Mine is a more intimate account that delves into how Churchill and his circle went about surviving on a daily basis: the dark moments and the light, the romantic entanglements and debacles, the sorrows and laughter, and the odd little episodes that reveal how life was really lived under Hitler’s tempest of steel.”</I>

Larson draws upon memoirs, diaries, letters, recently declassified material, and many other sources documented in the appendix. He artfully weaves personal stories into the larger tapestry of significant events, Churchill’s famous speeches, and the escalating war with Nazi Germany. He shows Churchill’s active pursuit of involvement by the United States, along with the obstacles. The reader gains insight into Churchill as a person, including his leadership style, daily routines, and eccentricities. 

Mary Churchill’s diary and previously unpublished excerpts from John Colville’s journal provide material for many personal anecdotes. I found it interesting that Mary, Churchill’s seventeen-year-old daughter, acts as most would expect of an adventurous teen, even while her parents try to protect her by sending her away from London. Larson also mines German sources, such as Goebbels’ journal and fighter pilot Adolf Galland’s recollections.
A few highlights include:
- The need to camouflage Chequers, the country house supplied to the Prime Minister, where he entertained family, colleagues, and dignitaries
- Professor Frederick Lindemann’s scientific ideas to assist in the war effort
- Rudolf Hess’ flight to Scotland

<i>The Splendid and the Vile</i> is a masterful work of narrative non-fiction and is up to the high standards I have come to expect from Erik Larson. I have previously read five of the author’s works and this one is of the same superior quality. Larson puts the “story” in history. Highly recommended!
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