The Splendid and the Vile

A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz

Nonfiction by Erik Larson

I’ve always liked Churchill’s larger-than-life persona. This story of Churchill’s first year as prime minister reaffirmed my faith in the importance of good government and smart, strong leadership. It reads like a novel, so much so that I couldn’t wait to get back to the book each evening. Even the strongest leaders don’t know what’s coming next, are besieged by constant setbacks, have to assemble and unify really smart ambitious-minded people around them, and then surmount those who would oppose them. They have to inspire even when everything looks bleak. They need humility to ask for help, good humor to diffuse difficult moments, a command of the detail, a measure of heavy-handedness when required, combined with kindness that turns out to be required even more often. Churchill saw London and many of England’s cities devastated by the German Air Force. He went from a much-doubted figure to unquestionably one of the finest leaders humanity has known in a war that was anything but pre-ordained in its outcome. The book relies heavily on diaries kept by many of those involved at the time, giving a wonderful insight into what people were thinking and feeling through Churchill’s first defining year of WWII. Churchill’s story may be well-known, but as this book shows, it’s worth retelling. A great read.