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The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 06, 2019

Splendid Vile

For me, Erik Larson is one of the best nonfiction storytellers around. I loved both The Devil in the White City (about the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893) and In the Garden of Beasts. So when his new book, The Splendid and the Vile, comes out in February, I’m gonna hop on it right away. As the subtitle says, the book is about Winston Churchill and Britain during the the Blitz.

In The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson shows, in cinematic detail, how Churchill taught the British people “the art of being fearless.” It is a story of political brinkmanship, but it’s also an intimate domestic drama, set against the backdrop of Churchill’s prime-ministerial country home, Chequers; his wartime retreat, Ditchley, where he and his entourage go when the moon is brightest and the bombing threat is highest; and of course 10 Downing Street in London.

Drawing on diaries, original archival documents, and once-secret intelligence reports — some released only recently — Larson provides a new lens on London’s darkest year through the day-to-day experience of Churchill and his family: his wife, Clementine; their youngest daughter, Mary, who chafes against her parents’ wartime protectiveness; their son, Randolph, and his beautiful, unhappy wife, Pamela; Pamela’s illicit lover, a dashing American emissary; and the advisers in Churchill’s “Secret Circle,” to whom he turns in the hardest moments.

(via Maria Konnikova, who is doing an event w/ Larson in February at Greenlight Books in Brooklyn)