BookBrowse Reviews The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

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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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  • First Published:
    Feb 2020, 608 pages

    Feb 2022, 624 pages


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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.

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