The Splendid and the Vile
A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The author of The Devil in the White City and Dead Wake delivers an intimate chronicle of Winston Churchill and London during the Blitz—an inspiring portrait of courage and leadership in a time of unprecedented crisis
“One of [Erik Larson’s] best books yet . . . perfectly timed for the moment.”—Time • “A bravura performance by one of America’s greatest storytellers.”—NPR
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY The New York Times Book Review • Time • Vogue • NPR • The Washington Post • Chicago Tribune • The Globe & Mail • Fortune • Bloomberg • New York Post • The New York Public Library • Kirkus Reviews • LibraryReads • PopMatters
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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
If historian Erik Larson’s The Splendid and the Vile only covered its primary subject—the first year of Winston Churchill’s tenure as prime minister (1940-41)—it would be a remarkably detailed look at a crucial moment in 20th-century history. But Larson (The Devil in the White City) isn’t interested in the typical Great Man biography—instead, he digs deep into the complicated, messy lives of Churchill’s family, advisors, and staff. He draws from numerous personal diaries to give us new insight into how the untested prime minister steered his country through World War II’s early days with the help of family and trusted collaborators—and how some, like his alcoholic son, Randolph, added to the immense pressure he found himself under. Though we already know how Churchill’s story ends, Larson’s propulsive and fine-grained storytelling kept us glued until the final page.
Larson (Dead Wake) delivers a propulsive, character-driven account of Winston Churchill's first year as British prime minister , when the German air force launched "a full-on assault against the city of London" in preparation for an invasion that never came. Larson's profile subjects include Churchill's 17-year-old daughter, Mary; his private secretary, John "Jock" Colville, who kept a meticulous (and likely illegal, due to the national security secrets it revealed) diary; Nazi leader Rudolf Hess; and, to a lesser extent, ordinary Britons. Juxtaposing monumental developments, such as the Dunkirk evacuation, with intimate scenes, Larson notes that on the night Churchill learned French leaders wanted to make peace with Hitler, he raised his dinner guests' spirits by passing out cigars, reading aloud telegrams of support from other countries, and "chant the refrain from a popular song." Larson highlights little-known but intriguing figures, including chief science adviser Frederick Lindemann, who made a multifaceted but unsuccessful case for why tea shouldn't be rationed, and documents the carnage caused by German bombs, including the deaths of 34 people at the Caf de Paris shortly before Mary Churchill was set to arrive at the club. 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.
My first book on Churchill and Erik Larsen provided me with a vivid story about the man, his family and his staff I feel like I now know them all personally. Frightening years that but for his leadership may have changed the world forever. Thank you for letting these historical figures introduce themselves through their own words and actions. Oh how I wish I could experience a night at Chequers!
Thrilled and exhausted
I am so grateful to the author for this exhaustive account of the war times of Winston Churchill. The progress of the war in England was so painful. This book had a big impact on me.
Fantastic book. Nothing not to like.