Larson’s book about Churchill standing up to Hitler and Nazi Germany’s determination to wipe Britain off the face of the earth is an inside-out telling. This story comes from diaries, journals, military memos, manufacturing statistics and personal memories. These are the voices of those who were there: Winston, his wife, his daughters, his military leaders, the firemen dowsing incendiary bomb fires, RAF pilots, factory workers and those who ran the factories, shopkeepers, grocers, air raid wardens, the most ordinary citizens.
Larson’s narrative includes similar personal papers from the German players so confounded by Churchill and Britain’s stubborn will to survive.
The wealthy and their families were not always safe while staying at palatial estates away from London. Even within London, one neighborhood could be bombed while another part of the city was left intact – where parties, love affairs, fine dining continued. The book shows the devastating randomness of the bombings throughout Great Britain with fresh eyes and a clarity that historical statistics lack.
Churchill was at his best at bringing courage to those hit hardest. His love for his countrymen was contagious. His complexity, as seen from those who kept diaries and letters, was fun to read because no matter how surprisingly outrageous and comical his behavior, from his daily baths to his at-home attire, we never lose sight of how he loved the people he led.
Everyone in Larson’s story is not noble, or honest or truthful, but they are brave, committed, inventive and oh, so very human. Why it took the United States so long to support Great Britain is another story entirely. This is the tale of Churchill, his family and his countrymen.
Reading of Churchill’s endless efforts to solicit U.S. support before Lend Lease or Pearl Harbor is heartbreaking and makes this story strangely compelling, relevant even 80 years later. Churchill is not a new character to me, nor is the Blitz, but there was something about “The Splendid and The Vile” that once I began reading, I could not put it down. Then one night, when watching the news, I heard it, the request for aid, not from Churchill on behalf of his countrymen and women, but from President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on behalf of his beloved Ukrainians.
Every day for more than a year, we have watched Russia attempt to bring Ukraine to its knees. We see film footage of its destroyed schools, hospitals, apartment buildings and neighborhoods. More film captures the people so devastated back on their streets, putting out fires, sweeping up glass, helping one another. We see their courage, their determination to survive.
I think they must draw from the confidence and forbearance of Zelenskyy, just as the British citizens did from Churchill. All of which makes Erick Larson’s “The Splendid and The Vile” such a good book to read right now.
Visit Sunny Solomon’s website at bookinwithsunny.com for her latest recommendations or just to ‘talk books.’
Sunny Solomon holds an MA in English/Creative Writing, San Francisco State University. She is a book reviewer for “The Clayton Pioneer” and her poetry and other writing has been published in literary journals, one chapbook, In the Company of Hope and the collection, Six Poets Sixty-six Poems. She was the happy manager of Bonanza Books, Clayton, CA and Clayton Books, Clayton, CA. She continues to moderate a thriving book club that survived the closure of the store from which it began. Sunny currently lives next to the Truckee in Reno, NV.