The audio version of Erik Larson’s The Splendid and the Vile is over seventeen hours long and I was bereft when it ended! The narration, by John Lee and the author, is just right for this oversized subject, the first year of Churchill’s tenure as prime minister at the start of WWII. The title, a quote from his secretary’s diary about watching an air raid, exactly captures the book—the war, the fear, the death, so vile, yet the response from the prime minister and the people of Britain, so splendid. And so splendid is the book itself-passages that move one to tears, and passages that are very funny, and a deeply engaging portrayal of everyday life in the midst of the blitz and the sacrifice. These folks descended into the shelters before dark, after securing the blackout curtains in their homes, and crowded together every night, often kept awake by the bombs crashing outside. In the morning they emerged, assisted with the dead and wounded, swept up glass, and went to work. And here we are fussing about wearing masks! At the moment, brave and selfless leadership seems a distant memory; I was glad to be reminded of what it looks like. Yet this is also a very intimate portrait of Churchill, his family, and his political circle. For example, from her diaries we learn all about daughter Mary Churchill, who at the start is 17 and consumed with teenage pastimes and passions, and by the end of the war was commanding a unit of 230 volunteer anti-aircraft gunners. Speaking of diaries and letters, this book reminded me again of what we are losing by not writing letters and keeping diaries. This book could not have been written without them.
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