Drawing on diaries, original archival documents, and once-secret intelligence reports, Larson provides a new lens on London’s darkest year through the day-to-day experience of Churchill and his family.
Through the remarkably skillful use of intimate diaries as well as public documents, some newly released, Larson has transformed the well-known record of 12 turbulent months, stretching from May of 1940 through May of 1941, into a book that is fresh, fast and deeply moving ... These small, forgotten stories, which Larson uses to such moving effect, make it possible for us to understand, even 80 years later, what made hearts race and break, and are best told by the people who experienced them, not only in a war room surrounded by military advisers but also in a London walk-up, alone ... The Blitz — its tense, terror-filled days, the horrors it inflicted — is palpable throughout this book, often by way of the kind of wrenching, carefully chosen facts that not only bring a story to life but also make a reader stop, look up and say to whoever happens to be nearby, 'Listen to this.'
There are countless books about World War II, but there's only one Erik Larson ... Over his career, he has developed a reputation for being able to write about disparate subjects with intelligence, wit and beautiful prose ... Fans of Larson will be happy to hear that his latest book, The Splendid and the Vile, is no exception. It's a sprawling, gripping account of Winston Churchill's first year as prime minister of the United Kingdom, and it's nearly impossible to put down ... Larson's decision to focus on a wide group of people is a wise one. While Churchill is clearly the main character, Larson's profiles of his aides and colleagues add valuable context to the prime minister's role in the war. Many books have been written about Churchill, obviously, but by expanding the scope of his book, Larson provides an even deeper understanding of the legendary politician ... And although he doesn't at all neglect Churchill's actions and policies, he also paints a vivid portrait of the politician's personality .. There are many things to admire about The Splendid and the Vile, but chief among them is Larson's electric writing. The book reads like a novel, and even though everyone (hopefully) knows how the war ultimately ended, he keeps the reader turning the pages with his gripping prose. It's a more than worthy addition to the long list of books about World War II and a bravura performance by one of America's greatest storytellers.
...spectacular ... Larson, as America’s most compelling popular historian, is at his best in this fast-moving, immensely readable, and even warmhearted account of the battle to save Britain ... Along with Churchill himself, a pair of dashing young people give this book its heart: Mary Churchill, the fun-loving but somewhat naive teenage daughter of the prime minister, and John 'Jock' Colville, a private secretary. Both individuals leave deeply revealing diaries that capture their refusal to put their personal lives on hold for queen and country ... Should we care about privileged people who find time for love and cats while a nation faces oblivion? Absolutely. As Churchill and his nation demonstrated, leadership and resilience don’t require a grim determination or even an always-stiff upper lip.