One may find dates and short descriptions in a text book, or you could sit through a lecture to get a bit more personality, or even watch a documentary to see some moving pictures… but you wouldn’t get the depth and insight that you do in an Erik Larson book. In The Splendid and the Vile his meticulous research and talented writing give readers a fascinating look into one year in the life of Winston Churchill. Starting in May of 1941, just before he takes office as Prime Minister, Larson details the conversations, the meetings, and the speeches, but also the eccentricities of the leader and interworking of his whole family. This year holds the surrender of the French, the beginning of The Blitz, and calls to isolationist America for help.
Even though the book is weighty at just over 600 pages, the chapters are on the smaller size and are balanced well between the British side of the war and other points of view. The descriptions of the places are excellent and drew me in immediately to each scene. Another thing is Larson’s use of diary entries. Some are derived from the public who took part in a government project to get firsthand knowledge of the war.
Personal Note: I have like now read all of Larson’s books, and while I love his writing style, I just liked the subjects of a couple of his pieces a better than others. The Devil and the While City and Thunderstruck were excellent books that contained little-known true crime mysteries. And his last three books (Dead Wake, In the Garden of Beasts, and The Splendid and the Vile) have been without much mystery and their topics have covered parts of history that one can readily find. His writing is always good and he certainly picks out smaller characters to highlight in the overall scenes of history, but I just liked the other books for their singular subjects.
The Splendid and the Vile is an excellent piece of history. Perfect for that WW2 buff who is looking to expand their knowledge of one of the great leaders of the war.
4 out of 5 stars
Thank you to NetGalley, Crown Publishing, and the author for an advanced copy for review.