Another enthralling Hastings must-read.

OPERATION PEDESTAL

THE FLEET THAT BATTLED TO MALTA, 1942

Veteran military historian Hastings’ first full-length narrative of war at sea measures up to his usual high standards.

The author reminds readers that summer 1942 marked the low point of the war for Britain. “The British people were weary,” writes Hastings, “especially of the defeats that seemed to be all that their bellicose prime minister could contrive.” Particularly humiliating were the surrenders of Singapore and Tobruk to inferior forces. Britain’s 8th Army remained on the defensive in Egypt, menaced by Rommel’s Afrika Korps, whose major difficulty was obtaining enough supplies from Europe. As Britain’s sole military possession between Gibraltar and Alexandria, Malta was vital, and its planes and submarines wreaked havoc on Axis merchant ships. Efforts to neutralize the island accelerated in 1942 when the Luftwaffe arrived to join Italy’s air force, dropping more bombs than it had on London during the Blitz. By summer, the island was devastated. British leaders debated whether or not Malta was worth defending, but Churchill had no doubts. As a result, on Aug. 10, 1942, 20,000 men and “the largest fleet the Royal Navy had committed to action since Jutland in 1916 entered the Mediterranean to fight an epic four-day battle.” Named Operation Pedestal, the mission aimed to protect 14 merchant vessels carrying desperately needed food and fuel. Vividly chronicling the sinking of the aircraft carrier Eagle, Hastings initiates 250 pages of gripping fireworks and insights that continue well past Aug. 15, when five battered merchantmen limped into Malta’s harbor. Real-world war is sloppier than the Hollywood version, even more so under the author’s gimlet eye. Heroism was in abundant supply but not universal. Through Hastings’ keen analysis we see how commanders on both sides showed as much bad judgment as intelligence. Belying Italy’s reputation for incompetence, its naval fleet inflicted more damage than Germany’s. Two months later, El Alamein and America’s North Africa landing took the pressure off Malta, again calling Pedestal’s sacrifices into question.

Another enthralling Hastings must-read.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-298015-1

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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Tragedy as well as triumph in this meticulous, fascinating tale of three generations of Churchills.

CHURCHILL & SON

Churchill as family man.

In addition to being the subject of countless biographies, Churchill published hundreds of articles and more than 40 books of his own. In this detailed, engaging narrative, Ireland demonstrates that there is more to be learned about one of the most written-about political figures in history. Exploring the statesman’s relationship with his son, Randolph, the author begins with Churchill’s own famously unhappy childhood, chronicling his parents’ “almost comically detached method of care.” Churchill overcompensated for his father’s neglect by spoiling his son, a poorly behaved boy who became a profligate student and undisciplined adult. For all his gifts and achievements, Randolph led a chaotic life. In one two-week period in 1939, anxious for an heir lest he be killed in the war, he proposed to eight different women, all of whom turned him down. The ninth, Pamela Digby, accepted, and a year later, she became mother to his son, also named Winston. Shortly after, she was forced to rent out their home and take a job to pay down his gambling debts. On the positive side, Randolph was a gifted extempore speaker, effective journalist, and influential counselor to his father—and, later, his biographer. While recounting their relationship, Ireland draws unforgettable sketches of life in the Churchill circle, much like Erik Larson did in The Splendid and the Vile. For example, the family home at Chartwell required nearly 20 servants, as celebrities, politicians, and other “extraordinary people” came and went on a daily basis. Throughout, Ireland is generous with the bijou details: Churchill hated whistling and banned it. When dining alone, he would sometimes have a place set for his cat. His valet would select his clothes, “even pulling on his socks.” After retiring to Pratt’s club after Parliament ended its evening session, he would sometimes “take over the grill and cook the food himself.”

Tragedy as well as triumph in this meticulous, fascinating tale of three generations of Churchills.

Pub Date: March 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4445-8

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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A valuable contribution to our understanding of one of history’s most vital figures.

THE PRISON LETTERS OF NELSON MANDELA

An epistolary memoir of Nelson Mandela’s prison years.

From August 1962 to February 1990, Mandela (1918-2013) was imprisoned by the apartheid state of South Africa. During his more than 27 years in prison, the bulk of which he served on the notorious Robben Island prison off the shores of Cape Town, he wrote thousands of letters to family and friends, lawyers and fellow African National Congress members, prison officials, and members of the government. Heavily censored for both content and length, letters from Robben Island and South Africa’s other political prisons did not always reach their intended targets; when they did, the censorship could make them virtually unintelligible. To assemble this vitally important collection, Venter (A Free Mind: Ahmed Kathrada's Notebook from Robben Island, 2006, etc.), a longtime Johannesburg-based editor and journalist, pored through these letters in various public and private archives across South Africa and beyond as well as Mandela’s own notebooks, in which he transcribed versions of these letters. The result is a necessary, intimate portrait of the great leader. The man who emerges is warm and intelligent and a savvy, persuasive, and strategic thinker. During his life, Mandela was a loving husband and father, a devotee of the ANC’s struggle, and capable of interacting with prominent statesmen and the ANC’s rank and file. He was not above flattery or hard-nosed steeliness toward his captors as suited his needs, and he was always yearning for freedom, not only—or even primarily—for himself, but rather for his people, a goal that is the constant theme of this collection and was the consuming vision of his entire time as a prisoner. Venter adds tremendous value with his annotations and introductions to the work as a whole and to the book’s various sections.

A valuable contribution to our understanding of one of history’s most vital figures.

Pub Date: July 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63149-117-7

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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