In looking closely at the military and political dimensions of the conflict's first crucial years, Alan Allport tackles questions such as: Could the war have been avoided? Could it have been lost? Were the strategic decisions the rights ones? How well did the British organize and fight? How well did the British live up to their own values? What difference did the war make in the end to the fate of the nation?
... demonstrate[s] well what we can learn and need to relearn about Britain’s People’s War ... brave and bold arguments and nuance through thick description ... [Allport] moves with ease, wit and insight between the high political and diplomatic, the social and economic, the strategic and military, with biographical vignettes and anecdotes illustrating the lived experience of ordinary people. That it is an epic story there is no doubt. But the twist is that it is a tale of national decline on an epic scale ... imaginatively de-familiarizes national myths ... Allport’s exposé of the private Chamberlain as insufferable, vain, a dreadful judge of character, and an appalling negotiator is balanced by a surprisingly judicious assessment of his foreign policy ... Students of history will be grateful for it as a reference work and treasure trove for many years to come. Covering those traumatic months when civilians were under Nazi fire, the Home Intelligence Reports are a much needed reminder of the drama and diversity of experience, as well as of the quotidian, the petty, and the mundane ... I, for one, can hardly wait for the sequel.
There’s a lot of this saga in Mr. Allport’s 450-page account—how could there not be?—but as one turns again and again to the evidence on offer in the endnotes (more than 60 pages of them), one has a growing sense that Britain at Bay is more than that—in fact, that it might be the single best examination of British politics, society and strategy in these four years that has ever been written. I use the word 'examination' here because the book is much more than a fine narrative account of great personalities and surface actions, of the history of events. It reaches to deeper levels—of geography and grand strategy, and wartime logistics, of shipping logistics and troop deployments ... Mr. Allport goes further than telling the story of a people 'at bay' when he switches to an analysis of the geopolitical, military and industrial-production aspects of the war ... Moreover, he does all this with a rare verbal fluency, often with irony, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, as when he mocks the legendary Royal Air Force leader Lord Trenchard for his May 1941 assertion that the oppressed German nation never joked while in their bomb shelters as the British did and would collapse soon after aerial bombing was intensified ... Britain at Bay is beautifully written, thoroughly researched and cleverly presented. It is a handsome book, too, with great photographs and maps.
... unusually informative and stimulating ... They say there’s no disputing taste and, just as I don’t share Allport’s fondness for the Shire, I don’t share his loathing for Chamberlain, who had another side, a deep love of nature ... Quite a few other received ideas are deftly skewered ... valuable.