The Splendid And The Vile follows Prime Minister Winston Churchill in his first year in power as he worked tirelessly to fend off the invading forces of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany during the Second World War.
Given this is an Erik Larson book, you can guarantee it is exhaustive in its research. Having tackled a variety of subjects over his long writing career, his focus turned to legendary British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Rather than writing a biography of the acclaimed politician’s career, he instead chose to narrow in on his first year in office – a year that coincided with 57 consecutive nights of bombing and a further 6 months of air raids.
You have to ask yourself – how can a man under such pressure find the courage to lead so convincingly? The answer being – he had help. You get a detailed look at Churchill’s inner circle – the men and women who surrounded him lending both personal and professional support. Larson had noted in an interview recently that “it’s these little corners of history that most appeal to me” and it shows. Larson wants to bring to the reader the man behind the public figure. If you’re purely just interested in the big moments and the drama of it all, it’s likely these intricacies will not interest you much. I have to admit, I did find my attention waning at times. I had this issue too often in his last book, Dead Wake.
Larson also explores Roosevelt and the United States’ reluctance to join in on the conflict in Europe (something that he believed needed to happen in order to defeat the enemy) as well as the decisions and attacks made by the enemy, Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime. There is a moment in the book where Larson recounts the Luftwaffe’s (German Air Force) initial large-scale attack on London on September 7, 1940. He pulled descriptions from diaries to help describe what at the time felt indescribable. This worked extremely well and helped add to the despair and hopelessness of the citizens of London. You had nearly one thousand planes soaring over Britain, darkening the sky prior to attack. The mayhem that rained down upon the British people from the bombers brought about complete and total devastation.
It goes without saying that Churchill was perhaps one of history’s greatest orators. The man was gifted in his ability to both inspire a nation while at the same time firmly grounding it in reality. After reading this book, I can’t imagine a better fit than “Winnie” during this tumultuous period. Larson’s incredible drive to continue digging for information is unparalleled giving his readers the best possible look at any period in time – The Splendid and the Vile is no exception.