Citizens Of London, by Lynne Olson (Hardcover, 2010)|
(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you
want a hardcopy)
Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
Superlatives fail me.
To call this book a masterpiece is not giving it enough
credit. This book sets the bar for nonfiction. Kudos to author Lynne
Olson, the editor, publisher, and everyone else involved in putting
together one of the best books to emerge in recent times.
I don't have negative comments on this book.
Factual errors drive me up the wall, and if this book
had any I didn't spot them. I can predict the likely occurrence of
errors, just by looking at the bibliography. Most authors use tertiary
sources or worse. Olson used a mind-boggling quantity of primary
The author pushes no personal agenda or the agenda of
any particular group or affiliation. The book is what the title,
subtitle, and jacket blurb say it is--but better.
It's refreshing to feel, after the first chapter, that
you can trust the author. That's a huge plus, but combine that with a
writing style that is silky smooth and you just go through 400 pages in
what seems like very little time.
So much for the gushing praise. What's in the book?
It consists of 22 chapters in 397 pages. It has a
50-page bibliography--can you say "well researched?" The chapters
provide vivid accounts of American citizens working in London to help
pull Britain through World War II. It does that in chronological order,
so a chapter by chapter analysis isn't necessary here. The Americans
followed by the book are:
- John Gilbert Winant. The American ambassador
- Averell Harriman. The wealthy businessman who
ran the Lend-Lease program in Britain.
- Edward R. Murrow. The head of CBS news in
In this book, we read about affairs, political
intrigues, personal despair, personal triumph, desperation, sacrifice,
cunning, and generosity.
The United States was very slow to emerge from its
isolationist cocoon and assist Britain, which was the last European
nation left standing between Hitler and complete domination of Europe
(and much of Asia). Had Britain fallen, the United States probably would
not have been able to defeat Hitler on its own.
This point wasn't acknowledged in the USA, and Britain
was facing a sure end without an alliance. Winant, Harriman, and Murrow
were instrumental in getting the USA to assist Britain to begin with.
They were further instrumental in making the alliance work after the USA
declared war on Germany.
In the telling of the story, Olson gives us "behind the scenes" views of
other key Americans such as FDR, Eisenhower, and Truman. We don't get
just a mention of Winston Churchill, we get introduced to much of his
family and see how they dealt with the war as well. And we get an
understanding of just how rough the British had it as their six years of
World War II dragged on and on.
The interplay between FDR and Churchill is especially interesting. FDR was
arrogant (the cousins who were the Teddy Roosevelt heirs did not like
him--the rancor was rather strong), and his treatment of Churchill was
shabby at best. I was pleased to see Olson didn't gloss over this, but
just told it like it was.
You can't go wrong by adding this book to your history
collection. If you don't already have such a collection, I can't think
of a better book with which to start one.