Veteran British journalist and historian Hastings (Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944–45, 2008, etc.) provides fresh, exciting insights into Winston Churchill’s wartime leadership.
When Churchill became prime minister in May 1940, the Nazi war machine had swept aside the British in Norway and were headed for France. The time for talk of appeasement and defeatism had passed. “I felt as if I were walking with destiny,” Churchill said later, “and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and this trial.” Marshalling an enormous wealth of sources and writing in beautifully lucid prose, Hastings emphasizes how the prime minister stood alone amid the panic and incredulity of the British nation, and that over the first decisive year of the war he had to prove himself as a leader and a warrior. He did—by his ringing rhetoric, powerful character and unflagging determination that the island nation could prevail. The author focuses on Churchill’s relationship with his generals and chiefs of staff as well as the British public through the major events of these wartime years: the early evacuation of British troops at Dunkirk (saving hundreds of thousands from assured annihilation); the Battle of Britain, waged in fighter planes over the Channel and London skies; the campaigns in Greece, the Aegean, Italy and Northern Africa; the aid to Russia, staving off Nazi siege and invasion; and the courting of President Roosevelt. Hastings encompasses viewpoints by other Churchill scholars, such as Roy Jenkins and David Reynolds, and delves into the archives of cultural history for some touchy revelations—specifically regarding the general disappointment in the British soldiers’ fighting spirit and the feeling that the United States should have been lending support (one British charity worker said that “Pearl Harbor served Americans right”). The indomitable character of Churchill comes alive on these pages, and Hastings forces the reader to ponder how the war might have turned out had the stalwart leader not been at the helm.
A magisterial, commanding, and immensely thought-provoking history.