LONDON AT WAR by Philip Ziegler


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 In the hands of a skillful historian like Ziegler, the reader emerges from this account of London's wartime experiences in at least as benevolent a spirit as the Londoner sweeping away debris at the height of the blitz who remarked that ``if that feller 'Itler keeps on like this, 'e'll get 'isself disliked''. Ziegler (King Edward VIII, 1991, etc.) does not tell us anything very new or modify our perceptions much, but he has the gift of using contemporary records, diaries, letters, and newspapers to tell hundreds of little stories that illustrate the mood and experiences of a people at war. He writes, for example, of the Reverend A. Halfpenny, a parson in Clapham, who was so carried away by his owm sermon that he did not hear the air-raid siren; his audience, who did hear it, shuffled uneasily in their pews but stuck it out. Ziegler also gives us a greater appreciation of the British capital's importance: At that time it was the greatest city in the world and the most populous, with the City of London financing more than half the world's international trade. London had previous experience of aerial warfare, during WW I, which killed only 690 people but had a great psychological impact. In WW II, there were 147,000 fatal or serious casualties in the British Isles during the whole war, 80,000 in London. Eighty thousand buildings were wrecked beyond repair, 700,000 suffered more than minor damage. While Ziegler notes that every story of courage could be matched by one of selfishness, he still comes down on the side of the generally accepted interpretation: that ``no one looking back on those dreadful years can doubt that the test had been passed with honor.'' As good a history as we are likely to see of what it meant to be alive in London during the war. (32 pages photos, not seen)

Pub Date: May 24th, 1995
ISBN: 0-679-43298-1
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1995


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