Martin's Must Reads: 'The Splendid and the Vile'

Jun 16, 2020

“On Winston Churchill’s first day as prime minister, Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium.  Poland and Czechoslovakia had already fallen, and the Dunkirk evacuation was just two weeks away.  For the next twelve months, Hitler would wage a relentless bombing campaign, killing 45,000 Britons.  It was up to Churchill to hold the country together.”

I’m Mark Martin with "Martin’s Must Reads."  The Splendid and The Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson tells the story of the British Empire from May 10, 1940 to May 11, 1941 especially focusing on her new prime minister, Winston Churchill.  These 366 days were the worst for Churchill and the British people as they stood alone against Hitler, fascism and hatred.  Wave upon wave of bad news was surpassed only by the relentless bombing by Hitler’s planes and the death and destruction that followed.

Larson shows us both the height of Churchill’s leadership and his defiance of Hitler and the depths of depression he fought his way through. Churchill was a master of the English language, and Larson explains the context of many of Churchill’s best-known speeches. Churchill understood that while words matter,  what matters more is the inner character of the leader.

Ian Jacob, part of the War Cabinet under Churchill wrote, “What we know is the Prime Minister provided leadership of such outstanding quality that people almost reveled in the dangers of the situation and gloried in standing alone. Only he had the power to make the nation believe it could win.”

Erik Larson’s The Splendid and The Vile is not only a great book on a part of World War II we Americans don’t know much about, but also on the character of a great leader.