‘The Splendid and the Vile’ by Erik Larson – The Battle of Britain and the Blitz


‘The Splendid and the Vile’ by Erik Larson (2020) – 503 pages


I generally don’t read a work of non-fiction like I do a novel. For non-fiction, I usually skip around looking for interesting parts. However, for the non-fiction works of Erik Larson, I read them straight through from beginning to end.

Erik Larson is a popularizer of history, not an original source. His works are not original or rigorous or deep. Larson writes for enthusiastic novices like me.

It helps that in ‘The Splendid and the Vile’, he is writing about one of my own personal heroes, Winston Churchill, during the time of the Battle of Britain and the Blitz when England was under severe attack by Nazi Germany’s air force. Larson does write about all the major players, but the emphasis always returns to Winston Churchill.

Here, as in other speeches , Churchill demonstrated a striking trait: his knack for making people feel loftier, stronger, and, above all more courageous.”

Besides the war coverage, the book covers many personal scenes of Churchill and his family and his friends such as Lord Beaverbrook, Minister of Aircraft Production, and Frederick Lindemann, Churchill’s scientific advisor. Larson captures the vivid personalities of the major players.

Embarrassed officials would often encounter Winston, robed like a Roman emperor in his bath towel, proceeding dripping from his bathroom across the main highway to his bedroom…Churchill strutting about in his gold-dragon nightclothes and jabbing the air with a dead cigar, savoring the sound and feel of words. ”

We have the horrific results of the German bombing raids in London and other places in England juxtaposed with idyllic garden scenes of “sunny loveliness and perfect peace”.

Midst the havoc, life goes on. We get party scenes, one where Churchill’s daughter Mary dances with a Frenchman, Jean Pierre Montaigne.

I felt incredibly gay – I waltzed with Jean Pierre incovertly, wildly and very fast – great fun. I missed only a few dances.”

It helps to capture the spirit that quite a few individuals kept personal diaries during that time.

So much for the splendid; Larson also captures the vile, the Nazi leaders such as Herman Göring, chief of the German Luftwaffe, and Rudolf Hess, the Deputy Fuhrer.

But we always come back to Winston Churchill, “his vast knowledge of history, his power of expression, and his huge energy”.

Somehow, through it all, Churchill had taught them the art of being fearless.”


Grade:    A


3 responses to this post.

  1. It’s sobering to think what the world might have become had he not roused the fighting of the Brits…

    Liked by 1 person


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