The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson


Any book by Larson I have found to be genius – beautifully written, impelling story, methodically researched. His latest book here on Winston Churchill focusing on his first year as Prime Minister from 10May1940 to 10May1941 is no different. This was a crucial time in WWII not only for the world, but especially for the British. This time coincided with the German air campaign as it evolved from sporadic, seemingly aimless air raids to a full-on assault on London itself. We all know Churchill was a character, though Larson intertwines the side-characters that surrounded in a more rounded light. His wife Clementine was a pistol not shy about flaying anyone verbally if need be in public. Their family called them, “Mama’s sweeps.” Churchill’s complete absence of personal vanity was inspiring, his daily baths to help him make sense and routine with all the lunacy around him; his nuances and aphorisms…such as “All you need to be married are champagne, a box of cigars, and a double bed.” As well as “One of the secrets to a happy marriage is never speak to or see the loved one before noon.” Enticing battles laid out b/w Germans and British.. the average age being of a Lutwaffe fighter pilot was 23; his RSF counterpart, 20. The take and sometimes origin of Churchill’s speeches.. he fertilizes a phrase or a line of poetry for weeks and then gives birth to it in a speech. His complex relationship with Roosevelt; the Germans aghast at Churchill’s stubbornness; daughter Mary’s love life as it proceeds for a young woman during war time; Hess’s insane flight to the British isles…. Story after story that make you smile, wonder, and know for a fact that during that time, it was tough, damn tough on every single person having anything and everything to do with war. Now…. some generations get upset when their internet is out for 15min. In 1940-41 alone in the UK the death doll was 44,652 with another 52,370 injured.. of the dead 5,626 were children. I enjoyed the book thoroughly. Make sure to read the endless notes cited to read what’s quoted from original documents or secondary sources, and other cited material that strikes readers as novel or controversial… a salt of the notes with little stories that were kept out of the final draft that I am so pleased he took the time to retell.