BookBrowse Reviews The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Read-Alikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

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
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Feb 2020, 608 pages

    Feb 2022, 624 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers
Buy This Book

About this Book



A fascinating account of Winston Churchill and those close to him during a critical period of WWII, The Splendid and the Vile holds strong appeal for history buffs and casual readers alike.

Voted 2020 Best Nonfiction Award Winner by BookBrowse Subscribers

An impressive 23 out of 24 reviewers rated Erik Larson's The Splendid and the Vile 4 or 5 stars, giving it an overall average of 4.6.

What the book is about:

This well-documented non-fiction work by Erik Larson was fascinating to read. Larson focuses on Winston Churchill's first year as prime minister during which time the British people faced brutal bombing by the Germans in an effort to get them to give up (Lorraine R). Larson weaves a narrative using threads of the lives of various personalities: Churchill himself, Lady Clementine, daughter Mary, and various aides and governmental figures (Emily C).

Readers found The Splendid and the Vile to be a highly engaging work of non-fiction…

Far from being a ponderous tome of non-fiction, this book reads more like a thrilling novel. Larson zeroes in on a critical year in WWII history, breathing life and insight into Churchill, his family and close associates. Larson's research creates a very detailed picture of a blitz-besieged England and the impact on everyday life. Even his footnotes are interesting (Lois K). Simply put, The Splendid and the Vile brings Churchill to life in a way only those who surrounded him could have shown. I would love to see this made into a movie (Yolanda M).

...and loved the intimate, personal feel that Larson brings to the book.

As I read each page, I felt as if Larson was speaking directly to me while sitting in my living room with a cup of tea (Emily C). Larson takes a moment in history and brings it to life in a way that makes you feel like you are there. You get a sense of the true emotion of the people living through the events of the time. I think everyone knows a little (or a lot) about World War II, however, Larson takes this one year in the beginning of the British entry into the war and tells it through the eyes of some of the people closest to the decision making process (Vicki R).

Some point out that the level of detail may require patience and commitment…

I found the length and number of details to be challenging. If this had been an academic publication much of the information would probably have been footnoted. At 500 pages, this is not a quick read but the careful reader will be rewarded (Dona N). The book begins with some scene-setting, and would benefit from a reader's patience during the first 50 or so pages as the threat increases (Janet T).

...but most were thoroughly absorbed.

Erik Larson is not capable of writing anything less than a gripping account of historical events as he has already demonstrated in his past books. This one is no exception. I found myself emptying the dishwasher and thinking, I can't wait to get back to WW2! (Peggy A). 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 (Sarah M).

Reviewers recommend the book for history buffs…

I found many facts I had not previously known about how Churchill rallied the British people amid horrific times, to carry on. I enjoyed how the author quoted first hand accounts about how Londoners survived. I think history buffs will enjoy this book (Lorraine R). I'd recommend it to readers of history who appreciate a detailed account of the Churchill family under the toughest of circumstances (Janet T).

...and for those less familiar with the time period.

Recommended for history buffs and biography fans in particular, but anyone who loves a good story will enjoy it (Deborah C). Larson's writing introduces Churchill to readers less familiar with him and his times. For the more knowledgeable reader, Larson's writing adds to the Churchill story (Jill M). 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 (Victoria B).

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in March 2020, and has been updated for the December 2020 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!


Read-Alikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked The Splendid and the Vile, try these:

  • The Nazi Conspiracy jacket

    The Nazi Conspiracy

    by Brad Meltzer, Josh Mensch

    Published 2024

    About this book

    More by this author

    From the New York Times bestselling authors of The First Conspiracy and The Lincoln Conspiracy comes the little-known true story of a Nazi plot to kill FDR, Joseph Stalin, and Winston Churchill at the height of World War II.

  • Lady Clementine jacket

    Lady Clementine

    by Marie Benedict

    Published 2020

    About this book

    More by this author

    New from Marie Benedict, the New York Times bestselling author of The Only Woman in the Room! An incredible novel that focuses on one of the people who had the most influence during World War I and World War II: Clementine Churchill.

We have 7 read-alikes for The Splendid and the Vile, but non-members are limited to two results. To see the complete list of this book's read-alikes, you need to be a member.
More books by Erik Larson
Search read-alikes
How we choose read-alikes

Join BookBrowse

For a year of great reading
about exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Crossings
    by Ben Goldfarb
    We've all seen it—a dead animal carcass on the side of the road, clearly mowed down by a car. ...
  • Book Jacket: Wifedom
    by Anna Funder
    When life became overwhelming for writer, wife, and mother Anna Funder in the summer of 2017, she ...
  • Book Jacket: The Fraud
    The Fraud
    by Zadie Smith
    In a recent article for The New Yorker, Zadie Smith joked that she moved away from London, her ...
  • Book Jacket: Wasteland
    by Oliver Franklin-Wallis
    Globally, we generate more than 2 billion tons of household waste every year. That annual total ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
Fair Rosaline
by Natasha Solomons
A subversive, powerful untelling of Romeo and Juliet by New York Times bestselling author Natasha Solomons.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Wren, the Wren
    by Anne Enright

    An incandescent novel about the inheritance of trauma, wonder, and love across three generations of women.

  • Book Jacket

    The September House
    by Carissa Orlando

    A dream home becomes a haunted nightmare in this compulsively readable, twisty, and layered debut novel.

Win This Book
Win Moscow X

25 Copies to Give Away!

A daring CIA operation threatens chaos in the Kremlin. But can Langley trust the Russian at its center?



Solve this clue:

A M I A Terrible T T W

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.