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The Splendid and the Vile: Book summary and reviews of The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

The Splendid and the Vile

A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz

by Erik Larson

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson X
The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson
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About this book

Book Summary

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Devil in the White City and Dead Wake delivers a fresh and compelling portrait of Winston Churchill and London during the Blitz.

On Winston Churchill's first day as prime minister, Adolf Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium. Poland and Czechoslovakia had already fallen, and the Dunkirk evacuation was just two weeks away. For the next twelve months, Hitler would wage a relentless bombing campaign, killing 45,000 Britons. It was up to Churchill to hold his country together and persuade President Franklin Roosevelt that Britain was a worthy ally—and willing to fight to the end.

In The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson shows, in cinematic detail, how Churchill taught the British people "the art of being fearless." It is a story of political brinkmanship, but it's also an intimate domestic drama, set against the backdrop of Churchill's prime-ministerial country home, Chequers; his wartime retreat, Ditchley, where he and his entourage go when the moon is brightest and the bombing threat is highest; and of course 10 Downing Street in London. Drawing on diaries, original archival documents, and once-secret intelligence reports—some released only recently—Larson provides a new lens on London's darkest year through the day-to-day experience of Churchill and his family: his wife, Clementine; their youngest daughter, Mary, who chafes against her parents' wartime protectiveness; their son, Randolph, and his beautiful, unhappy wife, Pamela; Pamela's illicit lover, a dashing American emissary; and the advisers in Churchill's "Secret Circle," to whom he turns in the hardest moments.

The Splendid and the Vile takes readers out of today's political dysfunction and back to a time of true leadership, when, in the face of unrelenting horror, Churchill's eloquence, courage, and perseverance bound a country, and a family, together.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"[P]ropulsive...While the story of Churchill's premiership and the Blitz have been told in greater historical depth, they've rarely been rendered so vividly. Readers will rejoice." - Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A captivating history of Churchill's heroic year, with more than the usual emphasis on his intimates." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Larson's skill at integrating vast research and talent for capturing compelling human dramas culminate in an inspirational portrait of one of history's finest, most fearless leaders." - Booklist (starred review)

"This book is peppered with eye-popping details...A deeply compelling work of history...Without resorting to heroism, it makes one long powerfully for real leadership." - Lit Hub, "Most Anticipated Books of 2020"

The information about The Splendid and the Vile shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's online-magazine that keeps our members abreast of notable and high-profile books publishing in the coming weeks. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author of this book and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Reader Reviews

Write your own review

Christine P. (Gig Harbor, WA)

Dense and Detailed
When I saw that Erik Larson was writing a book about Winston Churchill and his first year as Prime Minister, I was thrilled. This past fall I was in London and visited the Churchill War Rooms so it was an opportunity to revisit what I had seen and learned in the museum. The book is dense with details of strategies and every day life as the Brits prepared for war and beyond. There is a lot to admire about Churchill and for some, a lot to criticize but the book reflects the loyalty to its leadership and the resilience of its citizens. There are tons of tidbits from personal diaries, which can make it gossipy at times, but for me, that's what gives history its liveliness. Its what makes Erik Larson a good writer of history. He also includes in this timeline what was happening with the leaders in Germany and the United States. It's a well researched snapshot of a particular period of time in WWII.

Claudia G. (Orange City, FL)

Churchill & family during the Blitz
Erik Larson, author of the "Devil in the White City" has, once again, made a memorable period of history come alive for readers of all ages. "The Splendid & the Vile" documents Churchill and his family's experiences during the Blitz.
Larson shows the reader Churchill's struggles to get a complacent Britain ready to respond to the Nazi threat. He also portrays not just the politics of the time but the inner workings of the Churchill family; wife Clementine, daughter Mary and pregnant daughter-in-law Pamela as they each react to the night-time bombings and general upheaval of this period. The reader learns how much Clementine dearly loved her husband but was also willing to speak up when necessary and remind him that "one leads by calm". Nelson, Churchill's black cat attended most staff meetings and also helped him stay calm when his political foes saw no immediate threat of invasion.

Larson made this period of history very personal to the reader. Who knew that children, at the age of 5 were given Mickey Mouse gas masks or that the King sought help from the British ambassador in the United States to remedy the shortage of bathroom tissue in the palace.

This is not a dry history book but a view into how a family, and ultimately how a country lived through times that seem insurmountable to the modern American.

Eileen C. (New York, NY)

Churchill and the Blitz
It is easy to forget that the outcome of World War Two wasn't inevitable and that the United States wasn't particularly eager to become involved. Larson has written a gripping, well-researched book which humanizes historical figures who have become—in some cases, with good reason—larger than life characters. By weaving together the personal with the political and historical, Larson is able to give us an idea of what it would be like to live in a country that was being bombed on a regular basis for months on end, and how Churchill sought to save it. It is a compelling and enlightening book. Highly recommended.

Kathrin C. (Corona, CA)

On the Brink
Erik Larson will take you on a meticulous backstage journey through Winston Churchill's opening year as Prime Minister just as WWII breaks all out. And he does it in such a way that will totally engage you to revisit the Blitz that nearly brought England to the brink.
It's a long read - but not a dry one. There are so many fascinating historical details and tidbits you wouldn't find in old history books - family trials and tribulations, war romance, political intrigue and '40s-style fake news. The pages will keep on turning.

Vicki Baty - Bookends Book Store, NMB, SC

Another Hit by Erik Larson
I admit I am a big fan of Erik Larson and have read most of his books. When I got the chance to read and review his latest, The Splendid and the Vile, I was extremely happy.

The Splendid and the Vile starts with Churchill's appointment as Prime Minister of England in May, 1940. Unhappy with the way Neville Chamberlain's government was conducting the war and looking for a more aggressive approach, Parliament held a confidence vote and Chamberlain's government was toppled. Although George VI was not impressed with Chamberlain's suggestion of Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, as Prime Minister, he asked Churchill to accept the position and form his own government.

Almost immediately Adolf Hitler gave directions to step up bombing attacks on England, at first focusing on London and then strategic industrial targets throughout the country. In reply Churchill, using his intelligence, resources, contacts, and amazing oratory skills, taught England to fight back.

In Larson's story the reader can see, hear, and smell the London of 1940. His rich descriptions of Churchill, his family, and contacts as well of those of the German leadership, create vivid pictures of the characters.

Erik Larson brings history to life. His books are entertaining and always well researched. Even as a student of history, especially that of World War II, I learned so much from this book. The only fault I had with the book (and this is a personal thing for me) is that I enjoy pictures. I found I kept looking up the people Larson describes so I could see them more clearly.

If you are a history fan or even if you just want to learn more about Winston Churchill and his first year in office, this book is for you.

Sarah M. (Kirksville, MO)

A Stay-Up-Way-Past-Bedtime Read
Lots of World War II novels and histories have been published lately, but Larson's is a compulsive, stay-up-way-past-bedtime read. He makes Churchill's political brinkmanship so thrilling, it's easy to forget everything you learned about history and turn each page waiting to see how each maneuver will turn out. Churchill is not the only draw, though. We become invested in the love life of his personal secretary, Jock Colville, worry about what Churchill's ne'er-do-well son will do to embarrass him next, and dread each passing night as more bombs fall on London. But upon finishing The Splendid and The Vile, all you feel is gratitude for all the men and women who stood in the way of Hitler's campaign to take over Europe and possibly the world.

...18 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Erik Larson Author Biography

Photo: Mary Cairns

Erik Larson is the author of eight books, five of which became New York Times bestsellers. His book, Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, hit no. 1 on the list soon after launch. His saga of the Chicago World's Fair of 1893, The Devil in the White City, was a finalist for the National Book Award, and won an Edgar Award for fact-crime writing; it lingered on various Times bestseller lists for the better part of a decade. Hulu plans to adapt the book for a limited TV series, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese as executive producers. Erik's In the Garden of Beasts, about how America's first ambassador to Nazi Germany and his daughter experienced the rising terror of Hitler's rule, has been optioned by Tom Hanks for development as a feature film.

Erik's first book of ...

... Full Biography
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Link to Erik Larson's Website

Other books by Erik Larson at BookBrowse
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  • The Devil in the White City jacket

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