During World War II, Britain was guided by a group of talented, ambitious rivals who put aside their differences to defeat their common enemy. Here’s a look at how they worked together—and how it fell apart just as victory was in hand.
Schneer (History/Georgia Institute of Tech.; The Balfour Declaration, 2010) shows the inner workings of Winston Churchill’s cabinet during that critical period. After ousting Neville Chamberlain, whose appeasement of Hitler let the Germans gain momentum in their plans to dominate Europe, Churchill put together a coalition government. It combined fellow conservatives Anthony Eden, Lord Halifax and newspaper magnate Lord Beaverbrook with Labor Party leaders Clement Atlee, Ernest Bevin and Stafford Cripps. All saw themselves as capable of stepping into the top office, and several, even while the fight against Germany continued, made moves to seize that office. All three of the Labor ministers saw Churchill’s domestic policies as weaknesses; Cripps, in addition, argued for a stronger effort to relieve the Soviet Union after Hitler’s invasion. The Tories, for their part, never really trusted Churchill, and his concessions to Labor during the war did nothing to reassure them. Schneer details their maneuvers both in the cabinet meetings and in Parliament, along with their private thoughts, as revealed in letters, journals and other documents. Each of the major players is given a full turn in the spotlight as events brought him to the foreground. The result is a striking look inside the British government during a time when some of the most interesting characters of a challenging era were fighting for both the nation’s salvation and their own ambitions. Churchill’s role as a wartime leader is well-known from a myriad of histories, but this is one of the best recent treatments of his role as a head of government.
Clear, thoroughly entertaining and full of lively detail.