Book review: 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

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Erik Larson is fast becoming one of my favorite non-fiction authors. Who else could take 2 years from World War II and turn it into compelling reading about Winston Churchill and the war between Britain and Germany?
Quoting from diaries and letters by the main protagonists and their families (and others), the author paints a picture of Winston Churchill and his family, Churchill’s friends, allies, colleagues, and enemies, and the efforts of the British government to meet the German threat and cajole FDR and the Americans into joining the war. It’s all fascinating reading–from the London Blitz to the fancy parties given by the upper crust in defiance of the war, to Hitler’s mischaracterization of Britain to attempts by various Germans to defeat Britain/negotiate peace with Britain. It is an amazing series of events to have been crammed into twenty-four months.
The one weakness of this book is that because the author chose to focus on a two year period, he needed to include a lengthy epilogue to wind up the various story lines of the various characters. It is necessary and well-written and interesting, but it does somewhat detract from the narrative arc of the book. (If I may be so bold, it’s somewhat like the five endings Peter Jackson put into “The Return of the King.”) It makes for an anti-climactic ending.
That being said, if you are interested in history and World War II European theatre history, this is a must read.

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