There are so many books and movies about the second world war. The Splendid and the Vile is unique in its research and detail. Sourced from the diaries of Churchill’s secretary, his daughter Mary, and other documents, Larson takes us into hidden corners of English society during the Blitz.
As I read the book, I was amazed at the vibrant London social life even during such a devastating time. It felt like I was reading a novel, learning about people’s thoughts, sometimes mundane and sometimes clandestine while the world teetered at the edge.
In addition to Larson’s excellent research, he paints a vivid picture of Churchill for the reader. I enjoyed the author’s understated humor “Clemmie dropped on him like a jaguar out of a tree,” and the visual of Churchill blocking the chimney on a rooftop with his large presence as he watched the bombs fall.
It is a fascinating read, as we gain insights into Churchill’s family and the demons he must have struggled with as he sought to convince President Roosevelt to join the war.
It was amusing to read about the endless cups of tea that people made during the blitz. “As long as there is tea there is England.” As I think about the ceremonial high tea at the Dorchester, it is hard to think of it as a bomb shelter.
The book is a celebration of a complex man–“We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”