Cover Image: The Splendid and the Vile

The Splendid and the Vile

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

This was a great read for fans of WWII. Winston Churchill was a character, smart, and was the best choice to lead England through the war. This book is very informative and full of great information about people who had an unimaginable job on their hands.
Was this review helpful?
This was an excellent retelling of a tumultuous time in the world’s history from a mew and in depth perspective. It reads more like fiction than non-fiction, with funny anecdotes and well chosen quotes. My only complaint was that it could get a little bogged down with data that didn’t necessarily move the “story” along. The being said, I learned a great deal about a topic that has been covered countless times before.
Was this review helpful?
I chronicle of Churchill's first day as Prime Minister of Great Britain during the German blitz of London. Brilliantly written, with detailed information about Churchill's private life and family. Highly recommended for WWII history buffs.
Was this review helpful?
What else is there to say, Erik Larson has written another wonderful narrative history that reads much more like a story than non fiction.  I appreciated all the details he put into this book about the extremely interesting and mercurial Winston Churchill.  With a plethora of fiction books based around this time period in Britain's history, it was really fascinating to get a view into this one important year in Churchill's life.  Thank you to Net Galley for the ARC of this book.
Was this review helpful?
THE SPLENDID AND THE VILE, by Erik Larson, follows Winston Churchill's first year as prime minister: through the Dunkirk retreat, the France surrender, the relentless bombing of England, and the inspiration and hope that Churchill provided his fellow English that through it all, England will succeed.  Larson delves into Churchill's personal life, his triumphs, his shortcomings, and everything in between.  Larson also details the other people close to Churchill that keep the war engines running in England including the man who led the manufacture and upkeep of the RAF fleet and those men who attempted to thwart Germany's radar and targeting technology and therefore disrupt the effectiveness of Germany's constant bombing raids.
   Larson, by doing extensive research, has created a narrative in the book that provides a fascinating and unique insight, but all the while entertaining and vibrant, not dull and dryly factual like many nonfiction books can be.  So many of the little tidbits make the book engaging, like Lord Beaverbrook, who served as the Minister of Aircraft Production, announced to Churchill he was resigning his post every so often, which Larson posits was, in part, a rouse Lord Beaverbrook and Churchill had because they enjoyed challenging each other.  Larson's ability to further his opinion of what happened not by fictitious storytelling but by using the facts in his favor is masterful.
   When I finished THE SPLENDID AND THE VILE, I felt well educated in the events surrounding Churchill's first year in office.  Being well entertained and inspired to learn even more about that time in history was a "splendid" bonus.
Was this review helpful?
Another fascinating read from Erik Larson!  Using private journals, letters, public speeches and news reports Larson dives into Winston' Churchill's actions during the Battle of Britain..  I was expecting this to be similar to his other 2 books where a better-known historical event was paired with a lesser-known  related mystery, so I was a little disappointed that that was not the case here.  However,  this book has the usual detailed research and engaging style expected from the previous books and i enjoyed it thoroughly!.
Was this review helpful?
I'm a fan of Erik Larson's work and this book didn't disappoint. He adds interesting factoids along the way, which helped a story about Winston Churchill's days in office seem livlier and not as dry as a book about World War II might normally be. 

While I think Devil in the White City is this author's best work, this one keeps the reader engaged, and fills in a lot of historical blanks that those who aren't war buffs might have. This book was interesting to the end.
Was this review helpful?
You can find many more knowledgeable reviews about this than mine. Most of what I learned before this book about Churchill and the Blitz came from novels. But here is something I can tell you. I started reading the book out loud to my husband during the Beginning Note to the Reader and I didn’t stop.  There is so much interesting information. If you love WWII English fiction, read this book. Larson’s writing often feels like fiction, but it is a non-fiction book. It may be one of the best books I read in 2020.
Was this review helpful?
Definitely for a history lover. Interestingly put together with riveting dialogue, smart facts, and rich, thorough historical richness. 

I would 100% recommend.
Was this review helpful?
An entertaining and enlightening look at a critical point in world war II and a unique leader. Larson is at his usual level of solid writing and this is a fascinating subject. If you have an interest in WWII or would like an engaging view of Churchill as a leader this is a good book for you. Along with Churchill, there is a very interesting cast of characters who he engages with.
Was this review helpful?
Erik Larson continues to bring history to life with his "your are there" style of writing.  Even those who normally shy away from historical tomes will find themselves drawn into the life of Churchill during London's darkest hour. Thank you for bringing Churchill to life in words that flow like the very best fiction while providing insight and entertainment that anyone is sure to enjoy.  Historical events should always be this enjoyable and enlightening to read!
Was this review helpful?
Erik Larson has a true talent for bringing history to life.  In prior books he has written about an American family in Hitler's Germany (In the Garden of Beasts) and, in the Dead Wake about the crossing of the Lusitania, among others.  He is clearly well credentialed for writing about history and WWII.   As an added bonus, Larson's books are not only informative, they are very readable.

I was quite excited to receive this title from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  As can be seen from the title, this one is about Churchill and his circle during the time immediately after he became Prime Minister.  

I have read several books on Clementine Churchill, both fiction and biography so was very interested in this book.  It did not disappoint.  It was wonderful to spend time with this man who was truly the right man for England's difficult blitz years.  The book reads easily and tells the story of the country and also Winston and those who surrounded him, including his wife and children.  Readers also get to spend time in iconic locations, including Chequers.

This book is highly recommended for those interested in England, WWII abd a human and steadfast leader to whom we all owe much.

Again, many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for this title in exchange for an honest review.
Was this review helpful?
“Oh great,” you groan. “Another book about Winston Churchill. Just what the world needs.”

I’ll concede that those feelings are understandable. We’ve all been through the whole finest hour thing more times than we can count; it’s a story that anyone with any interest in history has at least a passing knowledge of. Untold reams of paper and gallons of ink have been devoted to the life and work of the noted statesman; while no one can argue Churchill’s historical significance, it’s also easy to assume that everything that needed saying has already been said.

All true, yes. But conversely – Erik Larson hadn’t yet said his piece. Until now.

The bestselling historian – author of acclaimed works such as “Thunderstruck,” “Dead Wake” and “The Devil in the White City” – has turned his narrative gifts and powers of insight onto the Prime Minister with “The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz.” Far from the dusty doorstop of a book you might expect, “The Splendid and the Vile” is an example of Larson at his best.

Meticulously, exhaustively researched and told with Larson’s usual deftness of prose, this account of Churchill’s first year – from his being named prime minister on May 10, 1940 up through April of 1941 – is an intense close-read of the man’s life. It’s an almost day-by-day accounting of how that first year was spent, both through Churchill himself and through those closest to him – his staff, his friends and his family.

Thanks to Larson’s deep and thorough dive, he (and hence we) are privy to a wealth of first-hand accounts of what it was like in the room with Churchill – the bombast, the charisma, the idiosyncrasies – all of it. People like Lord Beaverbrook, the minister of air production, and Churchill’s prime science adviser Frederick Lindemann, for instance. His private secretary and his bodyguard. These men knew that they were in the presence of history, and that they themselves were participants; the extent of correspondence and personal journals was significant.

And his family, his wife Clementine and their children. Larson incorporates their perspectives as well, illustrating that Churchill’s imperiousness wasn’t always the sort of thing that was easily left at the office, as it were. His children particularly get more attention than usual – again, an unexpected and welcome perspective.

“The Splendid and the Vile” is also a vivid and compelling look at the realities of the Blitz and the hard choices Churchill and his compatriots had to make in order to hold off the looming German threat. That campaign is explored not just through the prime minister and other luminaries, but via the accounts of ordinary Brits, the folks who spent every day keeping calm and carrying on even though the sky could fill with bombs at almost any moment.

The book hits the usual high points too, of course, the moments with which we’re all familiar thanks to Churchill’s accepted place in the larger cultural firmament, but they don’t receive the same sort of focus that they have in other past works – books, movies, etc. Instead, it is the smaller moments, the everyday routines and the quirks – the basic living of life – that carry the day. And that’s a good thing.

It’s almost a cliché to say that a nonfiction work “reads like a novel,” but clichés are clichés for a reason. Larson’s aptitude for quality storytelling is what sets him apart and makes his work so accessible – the facts are right and the research is thorough, but they work in service to the narrative rather than despite it. The result is a fascinating and electrifying read that belies its 600-plus page count; Larson hits the ground running and pulls you along. It’s not often you come across a book this big that practically demands to be read this fast.

Look, you know how this story ends. At least, I hope you do. But that doesn’t mean we should stop listening to it. Particularly when you have someone this talented willing to keep telling it.

By casting a wider net and adding the context provided by those captured in the man’s orbit, Larson has provided a valuable and worthwhile addition to the Churchillian canon. “The Splendid and the Vile” is a masterful plunge into the character of a truly historic figure, one possessed of all the propulsive power of great fiction and driven by the honesty and pathos of fact.
Was this review helpful?
I loved this book so much I picked it as my BOTM for March. Larson makes history accessible and so interesting. I’ll read anything about WWII, and I discovered so many new facts about Churchill.

Many thanks to NetGalley, the writer, and the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.
Was this review helpful?
Another great book by Erik Larson.

This have such insightful look into the days of Churchill. As always the history is worked on so well to read like a story that it's an intriguing way to get lost in the details and events going on.
Was this review helpful?
rik Larson’s newest book” is “The Splendid and the Vile : A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz”. In it he tells a well known story in a most unusual and interesting way.

The Nazi bombing campaign of 1940-41, known as the Battle of Britain or the Blitz, is known (at least in broad outline) to most of us and largely coincided with Churchill’s first year as Prime Minister. Yet Larson’s retelling of this story deepens our understanding of this crucial year.

By focusing on Churchill’s family and colleagues as well as enemies and drawing from contemporary sources, he retells this important story as a work of non-fiction that reads like a novel.

Most of us know the ending but how Churchill got Britain through it and the descriptions of life during the Blitz result in a fascinating story told by the master of telling history in a very interesting way that reads like fiction.
Was this review helpful?
Erik Larson does it again! This author is on my must-read list and has never left. His books are consistently engrossing, well-researched, and intriguing.

Winston Churchill has been a conundrum to me. Most know of his exalted status because of his leadership during WWII. This is also the man whose policies led to the Bengal Famine in India which resulted in more than 3 million deaths from starvation. He was also a romantic as I learned upon a visit to Blenheim Palace and marveled at the folly in which he proposed to his wife. There are many sides to this man.

Erik Larson focuses on Churchill's life, decisions, and family during the first year of WWII. It was fascinating to learn about his decision-making and his respect for his wife's thoughts on matters. In typical Larson fashion, there are many details many/most readers will discover for the first time, and his research backs up his writing. This book will appeal to Larson's fans, WWII readers, or anyone with an interest in Churchill.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for an eARC in exchange for my unbiased view.
Was this review helpful?
I love Erik Larson's books "Devil In the White City, " "Dead Wake, "and "In The Garden of Beasts." I always learn a LOT while enjoying the way his nonfiction reads like fiction. He’s one of my favorite authors, so I was particularly pleased to have a copy of "The Splendid and the Vile" from Crown Publishing and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. 

Subtitled "A Saga of Churchill, Family and Defiance During the Blitz," this new book is nonfiction, but because of Larson’s skill, it is as hard to put down as the best fiction.  Clearly, we all know how the war would turn out, but reading about the earliest days of Churchill’s tenure as prime minister, the story is riveting. After France fell to Germany,  the U.S. was not yet in the war, so the British empire stood completely alone against Hitler.  In addition to presenting the facts that made my military historian fanatic husband ecstatic, Larson provides amazing detail about Churchill the man, with all his faults and eccentricities. It was an extraordinary time in history, and the early years of the war (prior to U.S. participation) could easily have resulted in a completely different outcome. Some of the reality doesn’t quite match the fantasy of the U.S. as military saviors portrayed so frequently in movies, which may ruffle the feathers of a few folks I can think of, but it’s an essential resource for anyone who is interested in either studying Churchill/WWII or reading a great story, extremely well written. Five stars.   My husband LOVED it, BTW.
Was this review helpful?
It took a while to get into this dense, detailed account of Churchill’s days as prime minister and the corresponding Nazi plans to conquer Britain, but the end result is a brilliant composite of political and personal life of WWII in Europe. Focusing primarily on Churchill, Larson enriches the portrait by bringing in a full supporting cast, pulling from their diaries, letters, and other memorandum. On the German side, the pacing gradually reveals successes and errors that affect the course of the war. Underlying all of the facts, however, is a thorough analysis of the shaping of the cultural sociology of Great Britain during the war. There are endless books on Churchill, of course, but a Larson has managed to give us another fascinating perspective with the context he provides. A very rewarding study.
Was this review helpful?
👍Pick it: if your scope of WWI education goes as far as The Crown
👎Skip it: if you’re looking for a WWI Blockbuster in book form 

Historical nonfiction is a frequent victim of misrepresentation. Authors either give it the Hollywood treatment, snip the highlights and throw a bunch of confetti at it for mass appeal’s sake. Or, they don’t even bother to make it attractive to anyone outside the reading realm of historians.

Erik Larson is hyper-aware of this grievance and responsibly approaches what and how he’ll package some of the most important and underreported historic events. 

Whenever I recommend Larson, I tag on this advice: eat slowly. Because although he writes colorfully and concisely, he’s relaying information, often foreign and technical, that deserves savoring.

And as his latest book made abundantly clear, I have no clue about this archaic brand of warfare.
Splendid takes on the underbelly happenings of Britain and the Churchills as WWI unfolded, zooming out on the global ops and then zooming back in on the humanity experiencing it. 

At times,  Splendid, can feel more toilsome than previous Larsonings, but even that critique is a testament to Larson’s ability to transport us back to the interminable landscape of WW1: dreary, sluggish contact, a dread for night that bred paranoia and the tragic reality of towns bombed to bits by morning. 

We, the immediacy age, struggle to stomach the patience, and in turn, apprehension that stewed during this era and the leadership required of Churchill. Splendid and The Vile, and Larson’s work as a whole, is another important gulp of history made accessible to any reader who wants to dive deeper.
Was this review helpful?