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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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  • Published:
    Feb 2020, 608 pages

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There are currently 29 reader reviews for The Splendid and the Vile
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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.
Carol S. (Mt. Juliet, TN)

The Splendid and the Vile
As a confirmed "fiction almost always" reader, I was completely drawn in to this suspenseful and historic account of a year (1940-1941) in the life of Winston Churchill, his family, friends, employees and other British citizens on the scene during his first term as British Prime Minister. Having completed the 500 pages of this book, I wanted to read more about this fearless and charismatic leader as he moved his country through the remaining years of World War II and victory. Part 2 perhaps?

Through it all, Churchill's brilliant speeches, presented with fascinating details of their writing and delivery, resonated through this story. I could not help but imagine how his inspiring words and example must have bolstered the courage of those in the crosshairs of relentless and vile German bombs. I read with interest the many splendid events inspired by Churchill's words, making the title of Erik Larson's book especially meaningful.

I was interested especially in the details of the strategies of German Luftwaffe commanders. The reluctance of some German fliers to carry out their brutal bombing missions on civilian targets was a notable contrast presented by Larson which added to the appeal of his new look at past events in this well-researched book.
Peggy A. (Morton Grove, IL)

Words Do Matter!
Eric 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!

Larson manages to bring such detail into his account of the pivotal role of Winston Churchill in the very beginnings of the war effort. It was his stunning oratory that convinced a nation that Hitler had to be challenged. In today's culture of poorly worded presidential tweets, it was refreshing to see how much blood, sweat, and tears went into his communications and speeches which ultimately changed the course of history and buoyed up the British people in their darkest hour. In no small part, Churchill's gift of wordplay altered history.

I highly recommend this fascinating book for its abundance of primary source material and titillating personal stories which totally absorbed me.
Yolanda M. (Renton, WA)

3D Snapshot
Simply put, The Splendid and the Vile brings Churchill to life in a way only those who surrounded him could have shown. Exposed to characters whose very human experience of him and the circumstances of that period in time took his biographical information and put in into 3D. I would love to see this made into a movie.

Erik Larson always delves into periods and events at a molecular level and he never fails to disappoint. Looking back at a time when information was not instant, it is fascinating to see world leaders and those who carried out the good and ugly tasks take calculated guesses at next steps almost blindly - and then go home and worry about their children. A look into the lives of those most loved by him and those who stood behind him reminded me that leaders do not stand, nor are they successful, in a vacuum.

I especially enjoyed the marvelous space given to the people of Britain. To stand up to each blow and truly "carry on" takes incredible strength, stubbornness and an extraordinary amount of trust in the leader of the country. Who heads to a dance/dinner in the middle of an air raid ... in a car dressed to the nines? They did.

The words flowed well and Erik drew me in, then let the story take it the rest of the way. Bless him for adding an epilogue.
Lorraine R. (Southampton, NY)

The Splendid and the Vile
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. 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.
Emily C. (Naples, FL)

Another Erik Larson hit
I have loved all of Erik Larson's books but this one is his best in my never-to-be-humble opinion. Of course, I am a huge fan of Winston Churchill, so that may also influence my 5 star rating.

I admire Larson as a writer is because his writing style is so intimate. 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. His research is deep and thorough. As he explains in his acknowledgments, he uses such documents as list of household expenditures, diaries, letters, telegrams, speeches and personal minutes of the personalities involved.

Using the year of the Battle of Britain (May 1940-1941) as an umbrella of the master narrative, Larson weaves a narrative using interweaving threads of the lives of various personalities: Churchill himself; Lady Clementine; daughter Mary; and various aides and governmental figures.

Churchill's 18 year old daughter Mary went to dances and parties, fell in and out of love, and visited friends at their estates all while the war was going on. Larson points out that "as the boss fell, libidos soared. No one wanted to be alone, so they date up way ahead ofttimes to ensure against an evening alone."

John Colville, Churchill's private secretary, who was 25 years old, dealt with his unrequited love with Audrey Paget, at the same time he worked with Churchill to meet the political and military pressures of the day.

Lord Beaverbrook continued to try to resign from various government positions, ever hoping that Churchill would refuse his resignations.

Larson's portrayal of Churchill is personal and detailed. While he had many shortcomings (his love of champagne and cigars, his pale blue body suit, his pink silk underwear, and holding meetings in the nude while bathing in 98 degree bath water), he was, says Larson, "the man for the occasion. "His spirit is indomitable and even if France and England should be lost...he would carry on the crusade himself with a band of privateers." His pattern of leadership throughout the war was to offer a sober appraisal of facts, tempered with reason for optimism.

This is a great book: well written and riveting. I thank BookBrowse for the opportunity to read and review an ARC.
Vicki R. (York, PA)

Another great book by Larson
"The Splendid and the Vile" by Erik Larson is another excellent book by this author. 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. The personal lives of Churchill's daughter, private secretary, and others come into vivid focus and allows for an entertaining read. If you have enjoyed other books by this author you will not be disappointed!
Mary S. (Houston, TX)

Carry On
If you find yourself struggling to maintain any sense of optimism after following national politics through daily news and opinion pieces, this book throws you a lifeline.
After reading the Splendid and the Vile, particularly the personal accounts captured in the diaries of leaders and everyday citizens, I am allowing myself to latch on to their coattails to find the inspiration and to carry on.

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