This is not a biography as much as a social history of the circle near Churchill during the Blitz, all taking place within one year. It highlights info gleaned from many diaries, some which have only recently come to light, and the author states in the introduction, that if he says Churchill raised his eyebrow, it is because someone documented seeing that. None of the details or dialogue here is imagined and superimposed, and it is just astonishing to consider the amount of seamless piecework this author achieved in this book. It is a triumph just in the telling, let alone in what it describes.
I’ve read a lot of historical fiction, but this volume filled in gaps, and really gave me a complete sense of the time in a memorable way. The Splendid and the Vile reads like a novel, with the advantage that it is all fact.
One comes away with a remarkable understanding of Churchill and the time, and how the two were inextricably woven together. Churchill’s courage, eloquence, and carefully chosen “carry on” attitude, led a whole country through a most difficult time, in a way you realize another leader may understandably have folded and surrendered. The pulling together described in this book is needed now in my own country (USA), and I can’t help wondering who will do it? While both being unique characters, Zelinsky in Ukraine is manifesting very much the same ability of marshaling against attack and incredible stamina for going forward that Churchill expressed. Were they made who they are by the time or for it?
I give this varied, chockfull book five stars. Everyone in my book group loved it too. If you know someone who enjoys exceptionally well written nonfiction or history, this would be a great gift. I listened to it on audio, which was wonderful as well. The print in the paperback is awfully small, so if you are going to buy a paper copy, I’d recommend the hardcover!