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Washington Post Book World Bestseller   “Customers are raving about Five Days in London.”—Amazon.com   “Gripping. . . . Lucaks’s story is not new . . . but [he] has transformed it into a memorable drama.”—M.F. Perutz, New York Review of Books   The days from May 24 to May 28, 1940 altered the course of the history of this century, as the members of the British War Cabinet de Washington Post Book World Bestseller   “Customers are raving about Five Days in London.”—Amazon.com   “Gripping. . . . Lucaks’s story is not new . . . but [he] has transformed it into a memorable drama.”—M.F. Perutz, New York Review of Books   The days from May 24 to May 28, 1940 altered the course of the history of this century, as the members of the British War Cabinet debated whether to negotiate with Hitler or to continue what became known as the Second World War. The decisive importance of these five days is the focus of John Lukacs’s magisterial new book.   Lukacs takes us hour by hour into the critical unfolding of events at 10 Downing Street, where Churchill and the members of his cabinet were painfully considering their war responsibilities. We see how the military disasters taking place on the Continent—particularly the plight of the nearly 400,000 British soldiers bottled up in Dunkirk—affected Churchill’s fragile political situation, for he had been prime minister only a fortnight and was regarded as impetuous and hotheaded even by many of his own party. Lukacs also investigates the mood of the British people, drawing on newspaper and Mass-Observation reports that show how the citizenry, though only partly informed about the dangers that faced them, nevertheless began to support Churchill’s determination to stand fast.   Other historians have dealt with Churchill’s difficulties during this period, using the partial revelations of certain memoirs and private and public papers. But Lukacs is the first to convey the drama and importance of these days, and he does so in a compelling narrative that combines deep knowledge with high literary style.


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Washington Post Book World Bestseller   “Customers are raving about Five Days in London.”—Amazon.com   “Gripping. . . . Lucaks’s story is not new . . . but [he] has transformed it into a memorable drama.”—M.F. Perutz, New York Review of Books   The days from May 24 to May 28, 1940 altered the course of the history of this century, as the members of the British War Cabinet de Washington Post Book World Bestseller   “Customers are raving about Five Days in London.”—Amazon.com   “Gripping. . . . Lucaks’s story is not new . . . but [he] has transformed it into a memorable drama.”—M.F. Perutz, New York Review of Books   The days from May 24 to May 28, 1940 altered the course of the history of this century, as the members of the British War Cabinet debated whether to negotiate with Hitler or to continue what became known as the Second World War. The decisive importance of these five days is the focus of John Lukacs’s magisterial new book.   Lukacs takes us hour by hour into the critical unfolding of events at 10 Downing Street, where Churchill and the members of his cabinet were painfully considering their war responsibilities. We see how the military disasters taking place on the Continent—particularly the plight of the nearly 400,000 British soldiers bottled up in Dunkirk—affected Churchill’s fragile political situation, for he had been prime minister only a fortnight and was regarded as impetuous and hotheaded even by many of his own party. Lukacs also investigates the mood of the British people, drawing on newspaper and Mass-Observation reports that show how the citizenry, though only partly informed about the dangers that faced them, nevertheless began to support Churchill’s determination to stand fast.   Other historians have dealt with Churchill’s difficulties during this period, using the partial revelations of certain memoirs and private and public papers. But Lukacs is the first to convey the drama and importance of these days, and he does so in a compelling narrative that combines deep knowledge with high literary style.

30 review for Five Days in London, May 1940

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    I took this book off my shelves to re-read, having just seen the film “Darkest Hour” which was fantastic - Churchillian! In his Memoirs of the Second World War (Their Finest Hour) Churchill, when he assumed the helm of Prime Minister-ship in May of 1940, makes it seem as if all in the British War Cabinet were unanimous in their determination to fight on against Nazi Germany. Not so! Halifax, who Churchill had appointed as Foreign Secretary, made inquiries to approach Italy as an intermediary for I took this book off my shelves to re-read, having just seen the film “Darkest Hour” which was fantastic - Churchillian! In his Memoirs of the Second World War (Their Finest Hour) Churchill, when he assumed the helm of Prime Minister-ship in May of 1940, makes it seem as if all in the British War Cabinet were unanimous in their determination to fight on against Nazi Germany. Not so! Halifax, who Churchill had appointed as Foreign Secretary, made inquiries to approach Italy as an intermediary for peace negotiations with Nazi Germany. Initially Churchill reluctantly agreed to this, but by the fourth day of the five days under scrutiny in this book, he overcame his reluctance to confront Halifax and proclaimed that “England must fight on regardless of the cost”. To enter negotiations would be embarking onto a slippery slope. This book examines these critical five days of confrontation between Churchill and Halifax, with Chamberlain somewhat in the middle between the two. As the author points out this is a key period of history. If Halifax had had his way, England, in some form could have capitulated and ceased fighting. History would have been entirely different. Interestingly, Halifax vetted his diary to try to remove all evidence of his disagreement with Churchill. The author, John Lukacs, gives us wonderful portraits of the men involved. I only wished he would have emphasized Churchill as a renegade, rather than constantly referring to his conservative outlook. Churchill was a rule-breaker, not one to follow procedures. John Lukacs also explains well Churchill’s tenuous hold on the Prime Minister-ship at that time in May. He had only just assumed it on May 10. Europe was crashing down, with French and British armies collapsing in front of German armor. There were some in the Conservative Party who loathed Churchill. Churchill’s charismatic hold on leadership had yet to be attained. Mr. Lukacs is very opinionated and his writing style can be long-winded (he is in love with his words); but at just over 200 pages it’s a thrilling read.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Very competent historical analysis of a five day period in May 1940 (24th to 28th). This was early in Churchill's premiership, the BEF was in retreat and had reached Dunkirk, France was about to fall and Churchill had opposition within the cabinet from those who wanted to explore whether peace terms were possible. This is history in detail and Lukacs does it rather well. The relationships between Churchill, Chamberlain and Halifax are examined in detail. Churchill was by no means secure at this t Very competent historical analysis of a five day period in May 1940 (24th to 28th). This was early in Churchill's premiership, the BEF was in retreat and had reached Dunkirk, France was about to fall and Churchill had opposition within the cabinet from those who wanted to explore whether peace terms were possible. This is history in detail and Lukacs does it rather well. The relationships between Churchill, Chamberlain and Halifax are examined in detail. Churchill was by no means secure at this time; most of the conservatives were supporters of Chamberlain and hated Churchill. Many pundits expected him to be a temporary PM. There was also stong feeling in the war cabinet that if peace negotiations were possible they should be pursued. This was a pivotal time, which Churchill survived, strengthening his position. Lukacs, whilst a Churchill fan, is not blind to his faults and Halifax, always painted as an arch-appeaser, is also given a fair hearing. The point is again made thet whilst Russia and the US won the war, Churchill ensured Britain did not lose it. Lukacs is a historian I often disagree with, but here he does a good job marshalling all the detail and presenting his case. He also does a good line in sideswipes at other historians and commentators when he demolishes their arguments.

  3. 5 out of 5

    John Houghton

    A poorly organised and written history, that only retains two stars because the story - the five days during which Churchill's war cabinet debated whether to negotiate with Hitler - is inherently fascinating. This made my frustration with Lukacs' rendering of his material all the greater. There are many examples of bad habits and stylistic foibles that both slow down and mangle the narrative. Writing style is a matter of personal taste, but surely 'it would not develop' is a simpler and less pompo A poorly organised and written history, that only retains two stars because the story - the five days during which Churchill's war cabinet debated whether to negotiate with Hitler - is inherently fascinating. This made my frustration with Lukacs' rendering of his material all the greater. There are many examples of bad habits and stylistic foibles that both slow down and mangle the narrative. Writing style is a matter of personal taste, but surely 'it would not develop' is a simpler and less pompous way of writing than 'and develop it would not.' The author switches between referring to himself as 'I' and the royal 'we'. He / they tell us that 'this is not the place to explore x', then proceed to explore x over several pages. Page after page of diaries, government minutes and Mass Observation are pasted wholesale, further bogging down the narrative. The number of typos, including one on the first page, add to the frustration. 'British' becomes 'Bntish'; 'morale' is rendered as 'morak'; 'relendless could be 'endless' or 'relentless'. The reader has to get to the meaning despite the archaic writing style and misspellings, instead of being carried along by a bold and clear narrative thrust. It ends on a randomly evangelical note. After all the political, personal, historical factors, we are told that Churchill succeeded: "because of God's will, of which, like every human being, he was but an instrument." What was the point of all the previous analysis if Churchill's victory was part of a divinely-ordained pattern? I'm fine with people offering this kind of religious interpretation, but make that clear up front, instead of dropping it in at the end. An incredibly frustrating read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    William

    Picked this up after seeing "Dunkirk." Lukacs' case is that Churchill understood intuitively at the fall of France that Hitler could not be negotiated with, and that capitulation would have ultimately meant the end of Western Civilization. Though I've read that elsewhere, Lukacs gives a picture of meetings inside the British War Cabinet over those five days, when Churchill, newly installed as PM, had to seriously confront the idea of a negotiated peace with the threat of invasion and the disaste Picked this up after seeing "Dunkirk." Lukacs' case is that Churchill understood intuitively at the fall of France that Hitler could not be negotiated with, and that capitulation would have ultimately meant the end of Western Civilization. Though I've read that elsewhere, Lukacs gives a picture of meetings inside the British War Cabinet over those five days, when Churchill, newly installed as PM, had to seriously confront the idea of a negotiated peace with the threat of invasion and the disaster at Dunkirk brewing. He sketches out the personalities of Chamberlain and Halifax, and puts in stark terms what Hitler was considering at that moment. A very good, intense read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Horza

    Spotted this secondhand and grabbed it in the expectation that it'd be a bit juicier than Kershaw's treatment of the Five Days in Fateful Choices. Not so much, though Lukacs has some interesting skerricks on the depth of sympathies for appeasement inside Westminster and Whitehall, and the extents senior politicians and civil servants *coughHalifaxRABButlerHoraceWilsoncough* went to clean up their papers after the fact. Apart from some archival work, Lukacs leans heavily on Andrew Roberts' Halifa Spotted this secondhand and grabbed it in the expectation that it'd be a bit juicier than Kershaw's treatment of the Five Days in Fateful Choices. Not so much, though Lukacs has some interesting skerricks on the depth of sympathies for appeasement inside Westminster and Whitehall, and the extents senior politicians and civil servants *coughHalifaxRABButlerHoraceWilsoncough* went to clean up their papers after the fact. Apart from some archival work, Lukacs leans heavily on Andrew Roberts' Halifax bio and Mass Observation, and while his analyses of the latter's surveys on each of the days in question were adroit, his tendency to treat them as the sole vox populi played off against the diaries and memoirs of the great figures of the day serve to underline his background in high politics. The book is written in a conversational (rambling) style, peppered with magisterial judgements, including editorial asides in primary source quotations [Yeah, really]. This is in keeping with Lukacs' overall tone of sweeping retrospective [old man yells at century], which sometimes strays into national stereotyping and end-of-history grandstanding. For all this, his characterisation of the Halifax-Churchill showdown is compelling [though the material is just really interesting] and his argument that nationalism, and fascism were the defining forces of the 20th century probably sounds more convincing now than it did at the end of the century.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sassa

    “Five Days in London May 1940” is a well-written, historical analysis of five very important days in May 1940 as Churchill and the British War Cabinet debated steps to be undertaken concerning Hitler, Nazi Germany and the approaching invasion of England. How close we were to a completely different ending! The details will amaze you on how things hung by the most slender of threads. “At the end of May 1940 and for some time thereafter, not only the end of a European war but the end of Western civi “Five Days in London May 1940” is a well-written, historical analysis of five very important days in May 1940 as Churchill and the British War Cabinet debated steps to be undertaken concerning Hitler, Nazi Germany and the approaching invasion of England. How close we were to a completely different ending! The details will amaze you on how things hung by the most slender of threads. “At the end of May 1940 and for some time thereafter, not only the end of a European war but the end of Western civilization was near. Churchill knew that...” It was amazing to read the details. I am not a history major so this was intense reading for me but I would think this writing is valuable for history professionals and lay members alike. I do forewarn: this does not read like a novel. It is non-fiction in the truest sense. I AM REREADING MY NOTES. I learned so much from this book!

  7. 4 out of 5

    James Murphy

    The well-known Phony War (Lukacs calls it the Reluctant War) followed Germany's invasion of Poland in September 1939 and the subsequent declarations of war by Britain and France. The following May Germany ended the Phony War by invading Belgium. French, British and Belgian forces were quickly overwhelmed by the new German tank-forward, airplane-supported tactics. Belgium capitulated. The beleaguered French and British retreated to the coat where 300,000+ troops were eventually evacuated from Dun The well-known Phony War (Lukacs calls it the Reluctant War) followed Germany's invasion of Poland in September 1939 and the subsequent declarations of war by Britain and France. The following May Germany ended the Phony War by invading Belgium. French, British and Belgian forces were quickly overwhelmed by the new German tank-forward, airplane-supported tactics. Belgium capitulated. The beleaguered French and British retreated to the coat where 300,000+ troops were eventually evacuated from Dunkirk. In the five May days Lukacs is concerned with, the British debated whether to continue fighting or seek the most favorable terms they could wring from Hitler. The crux of this history concerns the debate between Churchill, who'd become prime minister the day the Germans bolted through the Ardennes, Lord Halifax, the foreign secretary, and the rest of the War Cabinet. Halifax, with the British Expeditionary Force backed against the Channel and facing defeat, with Britain possibly facing a subsequent invasion by the Germans, and with France almost certainly to be overrun, encouraged seeking terms with Germany to prevent total defeat. Churchill argued against negotiations with Hitler because the British would essentially get the same terms by going ahead and fighting it out. Plus they would avoid becoming a puppet government for Hitler and would be able to save the fleet, almost certainly part of the terms. Churchill's views prevailed. The British continued the war, Hitler was unable to gain a favorable enough military position--air superiority--for a move across the Channel, and he eventually turned his attentions to the Soviet Union, whose vast European landscape was his primary goal in the war. Lukacs' main point is that this period in May 1940 was the most decisive of the war. Hitler came very close to winning the war at that time but eventually lost because Churchill refused to give in when the overall picture looked the bleakest. Hitler failed to win because Churchill refused to lose. Much of the book is simply recounting what the record is, those War Cabinet meetings where Churchill finally persuaded the government he was right. Lukacs also refers to diaries, letters, and personal memoirs of those days. What makes the book such a valuable read is his interpretations of those events in the brighter light of the war and the 50-year ripples affecting Europe and the world. And in his cogent thoughts on history as a whole. He says 2 of the most important elements in history are understanding and knowing. He gives weight to the distinction that understanding of a historical event or process may precede our knowing all the facts and how we can see how this works by our following the news of our day. He explains how this is important in the decisions made by the British during May 1940 and how we're today still awash in the reverberations from those decisions made when understanding preceded knowledge. Lukacs' ideas are convincing, especially because we can see, as he states, how Churchill's vision encompassed and sought a future for all of Europe rather than being concerned only with Britain. Becuse Churchill refused to allow defeatism Hitler couldn't neutralize them as an enemy and left a base for the Allies buildup and from which the counterattack would come.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jens Hansen

    A serious disappointment. But I also had fairly high expectations. The structure of the book was incoherent. The author sometimes travelled a bit too far in time and space. Certainly his remarks about the peace of Amiens should have been kept out of this book. And when the author expects that his readers understand what he means by Foxite and Hollandite Whigs then he certainly overestimates me. But I'm of course a simpleton who only graduated from Oxbridge. In a few places the author states a fac A serious disappointment. But I also had fairly high expectations. The structure of the book was incoherent. The author sometimes travelled a bit too far in time and space. Certainly his remarks about the peace of Amiens should have been kept out of this book. And when the author expects that his readers understand what he means by Foxite and Hollandite Whigs then he certainly overestimates me. But I'm of course a simpleton who only graduated from Oxbridge. In a few places the author states a fact in order to support his views, where to the best of my judgment it does the opposite. I noted 2 such sentences, but I won't browse the whole book again to find them again. It is also quite clear that the author has ploughed this field before and that he tends to forget that readers may not have read his previous works. But what really annoyed me was statements about a person being 'a disater' in a certain position (e.g. Stafford Cripps as ambassador to Moscow). It may be true, but I read books to be told why.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Todd Stockslager

    Review title: Saving civilization While Lukacs doesn't use the term "civilization" to describe what Churchill saved during those five crucial, eventful, and exhausting days in May 1940, it is the closest one word to describe the object of his efforts. For it was then, says Lukacs, that Hitler came closest to winning the war he wanted (p. 188), which would have meant, quoting Churchill, 'we should be reduced to the status of vassals forever.' (p. 217). This little book is a historical essay on the Review title: Saving civilization While Lukacs doesn't use the term "civilization" to describe what Churchill saved during those five crucial, eventful, and exhausting days in May 1940, it is the closest one word to describe the object of his efforts. For it was then, says Lukacs, that Hitler came closest to winning the war he wanted (p. 188), which would have meant, quoting Churchill, 'we should be reduced to the status of vassals forever.' (p. 217). This little book is a historical essay on the events and outcomes of those days. I just reviewed the new and much longer and more widely read narrative history by Erik Larson of the full year beginning May 1940, including the five days Lukacs documents here in a different style and with a different purpose. The Splendid and the Vile tells the story of how Churchill survived the first year of his Prime Ministership with his personal and political extended families. Lukacs focuses on his political, military, and leadership actions in the crucial five days May 24 to 28 when, just two weeks into his role and still doubted by both friends and does alike, Churchill had to navigate and negotiate the potential capitulation of France to the on-rushing German attack, the entrapment and improbable evacuation of the British army from Dunkirk, the call for negotiations with Hitler either directly or through the offices of Mussolini, and the splintering of his own infant government along the fault lines attendant with all those crises. Lukacs writes this short treatise not only with a different purpose (in earlier books he had already covered the war years 1939-1941, and then the 80 days from May 10 to the end of July) but with a different style. While the bibliography documents the published and primary sources Lukacs referenced, he writes in essay style on the broad topics of those days with footnotes in which he often disagrees with the source's conclusions or cites multiple sources to synthesize what he believes is the most historically accurate view within the context of those multivariate and rapidly evolving crises. While it is easy (and thus often done) to identify the period as Churchill versus Hitler, in fact Lukacs documents the many variables and combinations facing England and Churchill: how to best use the British forces in France (fight to the last man or evacuate to fight another day); how to honor treaties and support France without sacrificing British chances to fight on if France fell; whether or how to keep Mussolini out of the war on the German side or let him negotiate French or British terms; how to preserve the national government utilizing the best of conservatives, liberals, Tories, Whigs, and Labor; how and how much to communicate to the British public. These decisions and communications were complicated by how rapidly the crises evolved and how often the communications even to the key participants were hours behind the actual events. This was especially true about Dunkirk, where Churchill's War Cabinet was often debating actions based on data that was eight hours old and already overcome by events not yet known in London. While information clearly didn't travel at the speed of the Internet in 1940, it seems shocking that well into the telegraph, telephone, and radio eras communications could be as chaotic as they were. One of Lukac's most interesting and insightful threats of discussion is the trend of British public opinion (and public sentiment, as Lukacs points out two separate things) during those days and how it responded to the available news and trended or lagged actual events; like Larson, Lukacs relied on the invaluable information gathered by the national Mass Observation organization for collecting and analyzing commercial data. It is a fascinating source of information and the story of the Mass Observation is worth further reading. In the end, we now know as no one in government or out, in England, Germany, the United States, or the rest of the world did then, that Churchill did what needed to be done to save civilization in those five days. Lukacs concludes with a short chapter entitled "Survival" (p. 187ff) in which he summarizes the hinge points then and later (the air Battle for Britain, the German invasion of Russia, the siege of Stalingrad, the D Day landing) when Hitler might have succeeded--but didn't. His arguments are plausible if sometimes densely worded, his conclusions are valid if sometimes couched too indirectly. More readers will read and enjoy Larson's Churchill over the full year; but Lukacs takes readers further inside the corridors of power and Churchill's mind those fateful five days in May.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Donna

    There was a good deal of info in this pre-war narrative. I’ve read and listened to many of the “during the war” books, but never pre-war. The discussions and comments about Churchill before he became Prime Minister was interesting. He wasn’t too popular….and yet he was just what the country needed. I had recently viewed the movie Churchill… it portrayed him as very human, his positive and negative qualities. He’ll always be my idol…adore his sense of humor. I also found the early opinion polls cu There was a good deal of info in this pre-war narrative. I’ve read and listened to many of the “during the war” books, but never pre-war. The discussions and comments about Churchill before he became Prime Minister was interesting. He wasn’t too popular….and yet he was just what the country needed. I had recently viewed the movie Churchill… it portrayed him as very human, his positive and negative qualities. He’ll always be my idol…adore his sense of humor. I also found the early opinion polls curious. They were so simplistic; the common people really didn’t know what was coming. What a nerve wracking time for some and a shock it must have been for others when war came. Since I’m clearly a neophyte on war strategy and all the “what if” type scenarios… the discussions overwhelmed my feeble thinking. The diary comments are my favorites. Personal and candid thoughts.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Nolan

    I’m always a bit skittish with books that claim that a specific small time period became a hinge on which all of human history swung thereafter. I always get a bit suspicious that this is someone’s thesis desperately seeking importance in an information-saturated world. So I approached this with some care; indeed, it has been on a to-read pile for years. My skittishness was replace by fascination once I got into the book. Winston Churchill is just hours into his prime ministership as the book beg I’m always a bit skittish with books that claim that a specific small time period became a hinge on which all of human history swung thereafter. I always get a bit suspicious that this is someone’s thesis desperately seeking importance in an information-saturated world. So I approached this with some care; indeed, it has been on a to-read pile for years. My skittishness was replace by fascination once I got into the book. Winston Churchill is just hours into his prime ministership as the book begins. All of Europe is at the very crossroads of oppression. Hitler’s forces are poised to push farther into territory Britain had hoped to defend. Its expeditionary force was literally on the run, and the stark existential question Churchill and others had to face was whether to fight Hitler or scramble to negotiate and get the best terms possible. Churchill argued that by staying in the fight, Britain may well lose, but it would at least get the opportunity to save much or all of its fleet by sending it to Canada. Lord Halifax argued that rather than face total humiliation, Britain needed to negotiate some kind of peace. This book, then, is essentially the record of those five days in late May when Britain had to decide whether it wanted peace or victory. The country’s leaders were bright enough to know that they wouldn’t likely achieve full-on victory, but they could fight and perhaps garner better terms from Hitler than they would have gotten from rapid capitulation. As one excellent reviewer on Goodreats explained, Hitler failed to win because Churchill refused to lose. Hitler ultimately didn’t have the air superiority necessary to cross the channel decisively, and he was in some ways more interested in capturing the resource-rich land that would become the Soviet Union. You not only get a look at the debates here within the war cabinet, you get letters and diary entries that support the author’s contentions. He asserts that those five days created echoes that reverberated through much of the remainder of the twentieth century. A worthy thoughtful read for anyone interested in World War II history.

  12. 5 out of 5

    John

    Questions of when the Second World War became an inevitable Allied victory usually center around titanic battles like Midway, El Alamein, Stalingrad, Kursk, D-Day, or the Bulge, to name a few. All of these are viable candidates, but framing them as the solution begs the question of was it actually a battle that turned the tide? Lukacs predicates this book around the idea that the most crucial phase of the war was before December 7, 1941, that the summer of 1940 was the central period of that phas Questions of when the Second World War became an inevitable Allied victory usually center around titanic battles like Midway, El Alamein, Stalingrad, Kursk, D-Day, or the Bulge, to name a few. All of these are viable candidates, but framing them as the solution begs the question of was it actually a battle that turned the tide? Lukacs predicates this book around the idea that the most crucial phase of the war was before December 7, 1941, that the summer of 1940 was the central period of that phase, and that the days of May 24-28 were the defining pin on which the war’s ultimate conclusion turned. That’s a bold statement, but not, as Lukacs shows, one without reason. When one considers the months following Winston Churchill’s assumption of the Premiership, one is drawn towards his speeches, or towards the miracle at Dunkirk, or the bravery and skill of the RAF during the Battle of Britain, or the fortitude of the British people during the Blitz. What is extraordinary about the five days of Friday the 24th to Tuesday the 28th is that they possess virtually none of those. Except for the early stages of the Dunkirk evacuation, none of the highlights of that summer are present during this crucial passage of time. So what makes those days so important? In short, it was by fighting through opposition within in his own War Cabinet that Churchill came to the conclusion that Britain, no matter what befell it or its allies, would not and could not surrender, that to do so would mean the end of Western Civilization, and that it would be dooming Europe and perhaps much more to wanton tyranny of a kind hardly imaginable. From this resolve, which was not solidified on Friday but as night fell on Tuesday was the official position of His Majesty’s Government, flowed a refusal to hear peace terms brokered by Italy and a decision to not doom the BEF to disaster in France, among others. Much of Lukacs’s narrative takes place in War Cabinet meetings, where Churchill battled it out with his peace-above-all-else Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax. As the 5-day period began, Churchill was optimistic about the French Army’s changes against the Wehrmacht and full of confidence in France’s government to continue the fight. He was also not entirely opposed to a brokered peace initiated by Mussolini. One enormous factor changed this calculation: the complete inability of the French Army and the British Expeditionary Force to withstand blitzkrieg. With the French government falling apart under the shocks of the German army making it farther in 1 week than it had in four years just 25 years prior, Halifax forcefully made the case that only by pursuing peace could Britain save any part of itself. The central contention of these five days was Churchill steadily hardening his position, grounded in the now indisputable fact that a British Empire that made Hitler tear her piece by piece would at worst buy time for the Commonwealth, and at best withstand the brunt and provide a fortress for a free and liberal world to win back Europe. But on the other hand an Empire that capitulated and allowed a German overlordship of Europe would never stand, and any allies would be hard pressed to aid her and when they did her society, her government, and her economy would be incapable of sustaining a war effort. While his speech to the Commons on June 4 occurred after the dates of this history, his promise, not even to the British people but to the free world, laid bare this resolution. His confidence in the British people to provide space for the "Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, [to] carry on the struggle, until, in God's good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old,” was the same confidence that propelled him to refuse Halifax’s urging and commit to outliving Hitler, if necessary for years, if necessary alone. This was the central resolve of Churchill, and his victory over Halifax, not won by overpowering him with oratory in private, but my slowly internalizing the support of his larger coalition government and the British people, is one of the remarkable achievements of his long life and career. It was, purely put, his stubborn bravery and love for that ‘royal seat of kings and precious stone in the silver sea’ as Shakespeare described England that compelled him to withstand the temptation of striking a devil’s bargain. There are parts of the Churchill legacy that are hyperbolic, that do not withstand scrutiny. But his actions in May 1940, and his tenacious refusal to squander the legacy of his home to a inherently unquenchable evil was a moment of divinely-inspired leadership perhaps unmatched in modern history. Indeed, Churchill could not win the war, but he was perhaps the only one who could lose it. As he made clear in his speech to the House of Commons after assuming the Prime Ministership, his only aim was victory. In the end, after a long, hard road, it was achieved.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Don

    (From my Blog) A few posts back, I compared the present upheavals in the Middle East to the dramatic events of October-November 1956 -- both being critical moments in history with future consequences that weren't, or won't be, fully realized until much later. Even better, I now realize, I might have called to mind the brief but critical period between May 24 to 28, 1940. I've just finished reading Five Days in London, May 1940, by the American historian John Lukacs. Lukacs has views that seem som (From my Blog) A few posts back, I compared the present upheavals in the Middle East to the dramatic events of October-November 1956 -- both being critical moments in history with future consequences that weren't, or won't be, fully realized until much later. Even better, I now realize, I might have called to mind the brief but critical period between May 24 to 28, 1940. I've just finished reading Five Days in London, May 1940, by the American historian John Lukacs. Lukacs has views that seem somewhat eccentric -- he is a self-described "reactionary," who describes Hitler as a "populist." A basic premise of most of his books is that the fact that "populist" regimes have replaced governments guided by aristocrats ("elitists") over the past half century is the greatest threat facing civilization today. Nevertheless -- keeping in mind his biases, which help explain his strong attachment to Churchill -- his book is a fascinating read. He relies heavily not only on governmental and diplomatic archives, personal memoirs by officials and other persons living at the time, and newspaper accounts, but also on contemporary assessments from day to day of British public opinion and morale. Lukacs makes a strong case that those five days in May 1940 were a turning point, more important in certain respects than the dramatic military events that transpired later. Critical decisions were made by the British government, decisions that did not themselves ensure Germany's defeat but that did ensure that Hitler could not achieve his fundamental war aim -- i.e., total domination of continental Europe. The essential struggle within Britain's five-man War Cabinet was between Churchill, who had just been appointed prime minister, and Lord Halifax, the foreign secretary. Both were Conservatives. But Lukacs describes Churchill as a fellow reactionary, and Halifax as a rational and balanced conservative, an apparently desirable characteristic which, in the context of the world of 1940, resulted in his being an appeaser. Churchill won the argument, helped in great part, surprisingly, by the critical support of the still highly influential Neville Chamberlain, whom he had just replaced and who now served as Lord President of the Council and a member of the War Cabinet. When the critical five days began, few of the British people outside the government realized the peril that the nation faced. France was on the verge of surrender. Just under a half million British and French troops were rapidly pulling back toward Dunkirk, with no hope of holding back the German forces that were pushing them toward the sea. No one in the British government believed that more than a small fraction could be evacuated before they were captured, along with all their equipment, or killed. Italy was clearly on the verge of declaring war against France, although many in the British government, including Lord Halifax, held to the misguided belief that Mussolini was afraid of German domination in Europe and would assist Britain in negotiating a settlement upholding a balance of power. Then, during the five ensuing days, King Leopold surrendered Belgium to the Nazis, despite the opposition of his government, making the position of the troops at Dunkirk even more untenable. Moreover, for years, there had been a general feeling throughout Europe, including within Britain itself, that parliamentary democracy was an old, stale form of government. Hitler seemed to offer the world a new sort of leadership, one that seemed vigorous, dynamic, highly competent. (And absolutely no one questioned the superiority of Germany's military forces and equipment.) Moreover, Naziism was based on a form of populism -- a Führer who embodied and enacted the will of the people (der Volk) -- rather than one based on fusty old aristocratic institutions and interminable parliamentary squabbling. Lord Halifax weighed all these facts rationally. He came to the conclusion that Britain would be invaded within weeks, and utterly defeated. To him, it appeared clear that Hitler's essential war aim was the domination of continental Europe -- not the securing of colonies overseas or the occupation of England. Britain, by having declared war the prior September and by remaining in the war, was an obstacle to that domination. By temperament and interests, Halifax was not particularly concerned with the European continent; he urged that Britain should come to terms with Hitler, offer him no opposition in Europe, and thus preserve the British Empire. Churchill was hardly more optimistic about the future. But he was convinced that Hitler would agree to such a settlement only if he secured Britain's surrender of its fleet, obtained possession of certain critical British island possessions, and forced the Kingdom into general disarmament -- in other words, Britain would have to accept a new status as an "independent" state in name only, one that was, in effect, a German vassal. Churchill was a romantic. He was also a student of history. Nations that are utterly defeated often rise again, he noted; nations that surrender without a struggle are doomed forever. Better to go down swinging, even in the face of impossible odds. Churchill won his argument within the cabinet, and the rest is history -- victory for Britain and the Allies, a victory secured much more easily by the odd failure of Germany in the next couple of weeks to prevent the British evacuation from Dunkirk, and by the subsequent decision of Hitler -- finding himself confronted by Churchill's irritating obstinacy -- to attack the Soviet Union rather than to invade Britain. Lukacs agrees that there were to be many critical turning points in the years ahead -- but failure at none of those points would necessarily have been fatal to Britain -- and to Western civilization. If Lord Halifax had prevailed during those five days of cabinet meetings, however, we would be living in a far different world. But the triumph was temporary: Lukacs is morosely convinced that Churchill simply won the West another fifty years; he idiosyncratically believes that "populism" finally triumphed about twenty years ago, and that the values for which Britain fought are more or less doomed. [Churchill] helped to give us -- especially those of us who are no longer young but who were young then -- fifty years. Fifty years before the rise of new kinds of barbarism not incarnated by the armed might of Germans or Russians, before the clouds of a new Dark Age may darken the lives of our children and grandchildren. Fifty years! Perhaps that was enough.I was chagrined, as I read the book, to realize that essentially I'm a Halifaxian, a damnably rational Halifaxian -- and that had I been a member of the War Cabinet in 1940, I would have made the same arguments as did Lord Halifax. I suspect I would have shared Halifax's opinion that Churchill was mad -- not literally, of course, but with the lunacy of an irrational romantic.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Christopher Taylor

    This is an analysis of what Lukacs refers to as a "hinge" of history, where certain events have very significant results on the unfolding of history. He contends, with significant academic and historical support, that the days in may during the Dunkirk evacuation and Belgium's surrender in WW2 the Churchill government was on a knife's edge and could easily have collapsed, leaving Hallifax in charge. Earl Hallifax had the King's support but was an appeaser who wanted peace and saw no outcome of w This is an analysis of what Lukacs refers to as a "hinge" of history, where certain events have very significant results on the unfolding of history. He contends, with significant academic and historical support, that the days in may during the Dunkirk evacuation and Belgium's surrender in WW2 the Churchill government was on a knife's edge and could easily have collapsed, leaving Hallifax in charge. Earl Hallifax had the King's support but was an appeaser who wanted peace and saw no outcome of war that would defeat the Germans. He supported an immediate peace deal with the Germans to end their brief war, which would have been not only a sign of weakness to Hitler, but would have put the UK in a very weak position for negotiations, putting them under the German thumb. The book has a rather impressive amount of detail and documentation about the events of those days, background maneuvering, various factions within the British government and culture, and the mood and morale of the nation. It also has more interestingly quite a bit of information on the French government's reactions and thoughts during those days. If only things had gone slightly different, what could have been?

  15. 4 out of 5

    Will Spohn

    Somewhat interesting, but the author’s reactionary tendencies and worship of Winston Churchill were distasteful. How someone can actually be proud of being a reactionary is beyond me. I also disagree with the significance he places on those 5 days, and how he uses the term “Western Civilization” and harks Churchill as its savior.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    A surprisingly slow, disorganized, meandering mess. The footnotes offer some interesting historical tidbits, but imagine your least interesting history professor holding court in a pub after far too many drinks, and you have an idea of what it is like as Lukacs rambles his sentences together in this shockingly short, yet interminably long read.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Christine Laquer

    When you buy a book from a garage sale, you're especially dependent on the reviews at the front. "Artfully constructed and elegantly narrated" raves the Philadelphia Inquirer. I’ll never trust the Philadelphia Inquirer again. As a relative newbie to WW2 history, I thought this sounded like an exciting narrative about a key moment in the war. Instead it felt like a rambling love letter to its own "compact" "(if that is the correct adjective)" (hint: it isn't) prose. Lukacs refers to his own writin When you buy a book from a garage sale, you're especially dependent on the reviews at the front. "Artfully constructed and elegantly narrated" raves the Philadelphia Inquirer. I’ll never trust the Philadelphia Inquirer again. As a relative newbie to WW2 history, I thought this sounded like an exciting narrative about a key moment in the war. Instead it felt like a rambling love letter to its own "compact" "(if that is the correct adjective)" (hint: it isn't) prose. Lukacs refers to his own writing constantly throughout the book. For example: "Churchill admitted (if that was the proper verb)...". And: “That accounts for much, perhaps everything -- including the saving grace (if that is what it was) of Dunkirk…". This distracting construction occurs every couple of chapters. You *wrote* the book. Why not just use the “proper verb” in the first place? Even when the writing doesn’t explicitly mention the writing, it definitely draws attention to itself: “There was, too, an almost universal expectation that Churchill's ministry was going to be short-lived. ‘Almost universal’ may be too much, but, again, it was not without serious substance.” Wait. What were we talking about? Or: "I began this last chapter, entitled ‘Survival,’ with this sentence: ‘Had Hitler won the Second World War we would be living in a different world.’ And now, at the end of this chapter, indeed of this small book, I must change its tone and end with a fortissimo." First of all, maybe I just don't know enough history, but that hardly seems like a compelling enough statement to quote oneself on. Second, the second sentence doesn't refer to the first here, except that both are just unnecessary references to the writing itself. (I assume the antecedent of “its” is “book”? Or is it the “world”?) Third, “a fortissimo” is just a *little* grand for what happens over the next few pages. Fourth, why are you making me reread this? You’d better have a good reason for making me reread a sentence I just read a few pages ago. Speaking of rereading, I noticed a couple of passages that were repeated almost verbatim a few pages apart, sans quotes. Just one example: Page 50: "... the willingness of many Conservatives and at least a portion of the upper classes to give some credit to the then-new types of authoritarian governments in Europe, largely owing to their seemingly *determined anti-Communism*." Page 54: "He, as indeed did many others (including Churchill), saw the new kind of order established by Mussolini (and, in Chamberlain's case, even the one by Hitler) as having certain positive features, especially their *determined anti-Communism*." It's hard to dig through all the clauses to find the points of the arguments on these two pages, but even those are essentially the same. Aside from these obvious mistakes (another reviewer points out that the writer switches from "I" to the royal "we" throughout), the narrative is incoherent, action is dully written, and characters are not developed. I know it’s a history book, but I was promised “...the power and sweep of Shakespeare’s chronicle plays” by the Boston Globe. I may not be the intended audience, as a simple non-WW2 buff, but the book seems to put forward very little historical argument. It seems to finally ramp up to the point that the five days in question were a more crucial turning point than other historians have generally acknowledged. A little navel gazing, but fair enough. But on the final page, it ends bizarrely with a reference to God's will as the ultimate motive of all history, which is mentioned nowhere else in the book. Maybe this is an understood part of Lukacs’ philosophy, known to those who’ve read the rest of his oeuvre, but he did not convince me. I kept reading in the hopes that the reviewers would be proven right. On its surface, the book seems so erudite that I kept thinking I must just not get this Important History. Maybe the self-referentiality is a critique of the writing of history itself? But good writing should bring readers along at least somewhat. When a book makes you feel nothing so much as defensive, that’s mainly the book's fault. The only saving grace is the very long footnotes, which mean you sometimes only have to read half or three quarters of a page before you can move on. Once I confirmed that it wouldn't get any better, I flipped back to the reviews inside the front cover, looking for any confirmation of my own understanding. I noticed the New York times quote was suspiciously poker-faced. Could it be a hidden signal from a real human buried in this academic morass?: "Historian John Lukacs, who has written widely on World War II and on Hitler and Churchill, comprehensively traces the events of that long weekend, which culminated in Churchill's decision on May 8th to fight on, no matter what happened to France." Yep, “comprehensive” is the best adjective for it. The clearest passage in the book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey P

    Thought I'd re-read this after finishing The Splendid and the Vile. Like that book, "Five Days" focuses on the days surrounding the British retreat in France in May 1940 and their subsequent evacuation at Dunkirk, and more importantly the intense pressure on Churchill to consider negotiating terms with Hitler. I found "Five Days" much less interesting this time around, with a lot of speculative stuff about Churchill and Halifax. "The Splendid and the Vile" has much more interesting period inform Thought I'd re-read this after finishing The Splendid and the Vile. Like that book, "Five Days" focuses on the days surrounding the British retreat in France in May 1940 and their subsequent evacuation at Dunkirk, and more importantly the intense pressure on Churchill to consider negotiating terms with Hitler. I found "Five Days" much less interesting this time around, with a lot of speculative stuff about Churchill and Halifax. "The Splendid and the Vile" has much more interesting period information about food, nightclubs, the blitz, attitudes toward sex (very lax).

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    I do not think in the history of the West, has it been as easy to point to such dramatic turning points, of the rising and falling of many, as the five days in London from May 24 through May 28th, 1940. From the perspective of over 70 years now, I think it is easy to just assume that the events that have happened since then - the winning over fascism, the ascendancy of the West over the communist bloc (led by America and Britain), even the lives that have lived in many cities and towns and their I do not think in the history of the West, has it been as easy to point to such dramatic turning points, of the rising and falling of many, as the five days in London from May 24 through May 28th, 1940. From the perspective of over 70 years now, I think it is easy to just assume that the events that have happened since then - the winning over fascism, the ascendancy of the West over the communist bloc (led by America and Britain), even the lives that have lived in many cities and towns and their countless opportunities and choices. But what Lukacs has done in this work is to show how decisions made by so few, in such a small space changed the world largely for the better. Five Days reads like a drama. Lukacs has an introduction, setting the scene in late May of 1940, the dire situation of so many continental European nations falling to NAZI Germany, leading to the march on Paris itself. He then spends a chapter on each day. He closes with a conclusion, showing the immediate effects of the decisions, particularly on morale and military achievement. What should strike the reader here is the very small geography of this book - essentially the City of Westminster, the high government offices in London, and the relatively small cast of characters. I think the author makes the case well that so few people were involved here, that the reader can grasp the personalities involved, and see the consequences of why people acted like they did. The reader will come away with the lingering wariness of conflict from the British Conservative party, particularly from the King's favorite, Lord Halifax. The real conflict of this drama is between Churchill, who had just surprisingly become Prime Minister and who was regarded with real wariness by the Conservative leadership, and Halifax. Also, the reader will understand a bit of the native, grassroots British character, and why it did not collapse in the face of real pressure from Germany. The reader should come away with a great lesson in how leadership, consensus and turning opinion are done, particularly at the high government level, through a fog of seemingly contradictory information. Understanding the real hinge of fate here, the reader should come away with why World War II was fought the way it was, from this point forward, and why an Empire stood against a new pagan tyranny, largely based on its character.

  20. 4 out of 5

    John Kaufmann

    Excellent, and short, read about the critical first days of Churchill's government in May 1940 when the British Expeditionary Force was in retreat from the Nazi invasion of France. The story focuses mostly on the deliberations of the British War Cabinet and the existential choices they faced. These questions included whether they should support the French or whether the French were going to quit the fight; whether to evacuate and how to do so; whether to send out feelers for a negotiated settlem Excellent, and short, read about the critical first days of Churchill's government in May 1940 when the British Expeditionary Force was in retreat from the Nazi invasion of France. The story focuses mostly on the deliberations of the British War Cabinet and the existential choices they faced. These questions included whether they should support the French or whether the French were going to quit the fight; whether to evacuate and how to do so; whether to send out feelers for a negotiated settlement, through whom, and what the implications would be; and so on. Includes quite a bit about some of the personalities involved, especially Lord Halifax and the challenge he and Chamberlain posed to Churchill's authority. At times the distinctions between positions seemed pretty subtle, which made the book read slower as I had to re-read parts to understand the distinctions. But mostly it moved pretty well.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    The author's writing style is difficult, but the subject was fascinating. The author's writing style is difficult, but the subject was fascinating.

  22. 4 out of 5

    John

    I don't know if "Five Days in London" was source material for the movie "Darkest Hour," but the book was mentioned in a review of the movie. So after I saw the movie (no extra charge for this review: It was quite good), I scurried over to the library to check out the book. I was hoping to find out what in the movie was history and what came from the movie makers' imagination. The book didn't really answer that question for me, although it's not really that hard to tell which sections of a movie b I don't know if "Five Days in London" was source material for the movie "Darkest Hour," but the book was mentioned in a review of the movie. So after I saw the movie (no extra charge for this review: It was quite good), I scurried over to the library to check out the book. I was hoping to find out what in the movie was history and what came from the movie makers' imagination. The book didn't really answer that question for me, although it's not really that hard to tell which sections of a movie based on a true story aren't true in themselves. None of this has anything to do with my tepid response to "Five Days." The book is informative and authoritative. But it lacks the narrative flow that the title led me to expect. The writing is clunky. It's characterized by commas, dashes, parenthetical information and footnotes.* Sentences meander for 40, 50 words or more without necessarily reaching a conclusion. An example, from a paragraph about Halifax: This does not mean that he was a hypocrite or an opportunist -- except in the habitual Anglo-Saxon way, which is not truly Machiavellian since the innate practice of that kind of English hypocrisy often serves purposes that are higher than either prestige or profit. I don't know what that sentence was trying to say. John Lukacs also displays author's hubris. He quotes from his own previous book. He claims to know his subjects' minds better than they did. As in this excerpt: Years after the war someone asked Churchill which year of his life he would like to relive. "1940," he said, "every time, every time." Yes -- and no. It's the author concluding that Churchill was only partly right in determining what year Churchill would like to have relived. The five days were hugely significant, Lukacs contends, because they mark the time when Hitler came closest to winning World War II. It was primarily Churchill who stood in his way. Those were five long days in London. The book seems long, too. After a while, I wanted it to be over, and I started skipping the footnotes. * Many of which simply could have been incorporated into the text.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Miles

    An excellent complement to my recent viewing of the movie, Dunkirk. This fine brief history discusses the critical five day period in British politics around the time of that evacuation. Lukacs makes a compelling argument that this five day period was a critical turning point in World War II and, by implication, in the history of democratic western civilization. It is during this time period that the recently named Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, both solidifies his authority over the cabinet An excellent complement to my recent viewing of the movie, Dunkirk. This fine brief history discusses the critical five day period in British politics around the time of that evacuation. Lukacs makes a compelling argument that this five day period was a critical turning point in World War II and, by implication, in the history of democratic western civilization. It is during this time period that the recently named Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, both solidifies his authority over the cabinet (at the expense of the more "defeatist" Lord Halifiax) and makes the critical decision that England will fight on until the very end, rather than enter into any peace discussions with the Germans. The author argues that this is the time period during which Churchill and England could have lost the war. Russia and the U.S. had not yet entered the fighting, and Germany would have had complete dominion over continental Europe and their colonies had Britain surrendered. I thought he made a fairly compelling argument. On a more general note, I did like the approach of a brief but detailed history of a critical turning point in history, presented by a clear expert in the topic. The one book that this reminded me of was Robert F. Kennedy's Thirteen Days, although that was written from the perspective of a principal rather than an historian. I also enjoyed Lukacs' willingness to take on, and disagree with, other scholars of the period. I heard about the book when it was recommended by Michael Davies on The Men in Blazers podcast. I would definitely recommend the book for anyone with an interest in WWII, in general, and the events surrounding the evacuation at Dunkirk, in particular.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rhuff

    Lukacs' day-by-day recounting of Churchill's stand at the gates of Fortress Britain in May, 1940, obviously inspired the film "Darkest Hour." But this is an unfair comparison in many ways. By its nature, film records physical movement and speech; it's a poor tool for reflective thought. (This is why reading has remained, folks, in spite of TV and your video devices.) There's no doubt that the great duel of that decisive year was between Churchill and Hitler for the "soul" of Europe, with all oth Lukacs' day-by-day recounting of Churchill's stand at the gates of Fortress Britain in May, 1940, obviously inspired the film "Darkest Hour." But this is an unfair comparison in many ways. By its nature, film records physical movement and speech; it's a poor tool for reflective thought. (This is why reading has remained, folks, in spite of TV and your video devices.) There's no doubt that the great duel of that decisive year was between Churchill and Hitler for the "soul" of Europe, with all others mere spectators. Both men were mavericks, both "conservatives" in their own way from a liberal-left point of view. It would take American and Russian might to bring Hitler down; but Churchill's lone stand on the high ground was beacon enough to draw the help to do so. Many critics hate Lukacs' rambling, intimate style. He does read like an old professor offering his final thoughts on a subject that's long teased his mind. This is a book for "those of us who are no longer young but who were young then (p. 219) - not for bright-eyed undergrads just learning the basics. Squareheads looking for an instruction manual on "what I need to know" deserve their disappointment. But Lukacs' approach does have a certain innate Brit smugness. His warning of the "rise of new kinds of barbarism", its "clouds of a New Dark Age darkening the lives of our children and grandchildren," sounds prophetic in light of 9/11 two years after publication. But it never occurs to him that the victors of WW II might have a good deal to do with that rising new barbarism; that a network of global bases to ensure "regional command and control" has more to do with Hitler than Churchill's back-to-the-wall defiance - even if Churchill's name is a symbol of lost empire.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kristi Thielen

    As author John Lukacs states, World War II was won not by Great Britain, but by America and Russia. But Great Britain – in the formidable form of Winston Churchill – didn’t lose the war. It was a singularly important achievement. This book is about those five tense days in 1940 – May 24th to May 28th – in which Britain’s efforts to not lose the war were debated and decided upon. Short, but written with verve and penetrating insight, Lukacs details a nearly hour-by-hour retelling of the harrowing As author John Lukacs states, World War II was won not by Great Britain, but by America and Russia. But Great Britain – in the formidable form of Winston Churchill – didn’t lose the war. It was a singularly important achievement. This book is about those five tense days in 1940 – May 24th to May 28th – in which Britain’s efforts to not lose the war were debated and decided upon. Short, but written with verve and penetrating insight, Lukacs details a nearly hour-by-hour retelling of the harrowing times faced by the British government in that time period. The surrender of the Belgians. The French military’s waning ability to fight and the French government’s move toward capitulation. The speculation on Hitler’s technological ability to bring the war to Britain’s shores. The question of whether a plea for help should be sent to the President Roosevelt or Mussolini enlisted for diplomatic purposes. The movement of British forces to Dunkirk and the concern about just how many of them could be evacuated. All this, during the struggle for power between British appeasers and those who resisted appeasement, as well as those who were still not comfortable with the idea of Churchill taking the reins of power. Lukacs makes a strong case for the fact that the decisions reached in those five days, principally by Churchill himself, saved civilization. Read this book and see if you don’t agree.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Bela Gutman

    The days from May 24 to May 28, 1940 altered the course of the history of this century, as the members of the British War Cabinet debated whether to negotiate with Hitler or to continue what became known as the Second World War. The decisive importance of these five days is the focus of John Lukacs’s magisterial new book. Lukacs takes us hour by hour into the critical unfolding of events at 10 Downing Street, where Churchill and the members of his cabinet were painfully considering their war resp The days from May 24 to May 28, 1940 altered the course of the history of this century, as the members of the British War Cabinet debated whether to negotiate with Hitler or to continue what became known as the Second World War. The decisive importance of these five days is the focus of John Lukacs’s magisterial new book. Lukacs takes us hour by hour into the critical unfolding of events at 10 Downing Street, where Churchill and the members of his cabinet were painfully considering their war responsibilities. We see how the military disasters taking place on the Continent—particularly the plight of the nearly 400,000 British soldiers bottled up in Dunkirk—affected Churchill’s fragile political situation, for he had been prime minister only a fortnight and was regarded as impetuous and hotheaded even by many of his own party. Lukacs also investigates the mood of the British people, drawing on newspaper and Mass-Observation reports that show how the citizenry, though only partly informed about the dangers that faced them, nevertheless began to support Churchill’s determination to stand fast. Other historians have dealt with Churchill’s difficulties during this period, using the partial revelations of certain memoirs and private and public papers. But Lukacs is the first to convey the drama and importance of these days, and he does so in a compelling narrative that combines deep knowledge with high literary style.

  27. 4 out of 5

    John Dudley

    Thoughtful study of a critical period at the onset of World War Two. More academic than I anticipated, and at times the account bogs down in the minutiae of British politics and government operations, but the thesis wraps tightly and the key lesson was learned. Churchill and the British were not going to win the war during those 5 days in May, but they certainly could’ve lost it. Winston is not often thought of as a careful pragmatist, but his deft touch here, despite the constantly mounting pre Thoughtful study of a critical period at the onset of World War Two. More academic than I anticipated, and at times the account bogs down in the minutiae of British politics and government operations, but the thesis wraps tightly and the key lesson was learned. Churchill and the British were not going to win the war during those 5 days in May, but they certainly could’ve lost it. Winston is not often thought of as a careful pragmatist, but his deft touch here, despite the constantly mounting pressure, is impressively conveyed by Lukacs. The author also does a good job explaining Hitler’s non-invasion of Britain strategy and what the Fuhrer expected victory to look like. The experience of this book was like a good college class: I learned a lot even though I occasionally fell asleep during the lecture.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Crosby

    This study quotes primary sources extensively. I enjoyed the detail it provided, but it also made the flow of this interesting book choppy. Too often I had to stop and recap what I was learning. The perspective is interesting. Although I know better, I can get caught up in the Churchill legend. Lukacs does a solid job of establishing public opinion, sentiment and perception of Churchill and the war in 1940. The miracle of Dunkirk has not yet occurred and most Britains had no concept of the peril This study quotes primary sources extensively. I enjoyed the detail it provided, but it also made the flow of this interesting book choppy. Too often I had to stop and recap what I was learning. The perspective is interesting. Although I know better, I can get caught up in the Churchill legend. Lukacs does a solid job of establishing public opinion, sentiment and perception of Churchill and the war in 1940. The miracle of Dunkirk has not yet occurred and most Britains had no concept of the peril faced by the BEF. The book tries to illuminate the political crisis of the war cabinet as Churchill sought to chart a course forward from impending disaster. As the author notes: “Churchill and Britain could not have won the Second World War; in the end America and Russia did. But in May 1940 Churchill was the one who did not lose it.”

  29. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    I thought this book had many of the components of a real treasure. Britain, the spring of 1940, Holland and Belgium in German hands and France next to go, Winston Churchill, who had been warning the world about Hitler for years is named Prime Minister. A book covering the short period when England sets her course to make a fight. This is a pretty good book but it could have been much better. Editing would have made the difference between a cumbersome, disorganized replay of history and a great s I thought this book had many of the components of a real treasure. Britain, the spring of 1940, Holland and Belgium in German hands and France next to go, Winston Churchill, who had been warning the world about Hitler for years is named Prime Minister. A book covering the short period when England sets her course to make a fight. This is a pretty good book but it could have been much better. Editing would have made the difference between a cumbersome, disorganized replay of history and a great story. The use of footnotes that spread across several pages, arcane referrals and plugs for the author's other books take away from an otherwise important, well-researched story. If I pass this book to friends rather than dropping it the Goodwill it will be only after a few words of caution.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Todd

    I haven't read much war history at all, but if they are all this good, I will read more. It is an impressively short narrative while also providing such a rich background of references and counterpoints (often via the footnotes). This might take some getting used to, as it creates some choppiness of the story. But I enjoyed the nuance and scholarship, too. Some reviews here are critical of Lukacs's injection of opinion, especially the final Churchill as an "instrument of God", but give him leeway I haven't read much war history at all, but if they are all this good, I will read more. It is an impressively short narrative while also providing such a rich background of references and counterpoints (often via the footnotes). This might take some getting used to, as it creates some choppiness of the story. But I enjoyed the nuance and scholarship, too. Some reviews here are critical of Lukacs's injection of opinion, especially the final Churchill as an "instrument of God", but give him leeway for this. He is careful to make his case prior to stating his personal feeling. I want to go back and watch the movie Dunkirk again, as I have a far better understanding of the context now.

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