Five Days in London.

By John Lukacs

Printed: 1999

Publisher: Yale University Press. London

Dimensions 15 × 23 × 3 cm

Language: English

Size (cminches): 15 x 23 x 3

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In the original dustsheet. Green cloth spine with silver title. Grey cloth boards.

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“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.

Review: Lukacs is an interesting historian with a distinctive style. He shines another light on why Churchill decided against negotiating a peace agreement with Germany, although Poland could not be rescued and Britain’s own defences were far from secure, especially after the unexpectedly rapid collapse of France. He reveals however that Churchill briefly considered the Hitler-fan Lloyd George as a possible peace leader as an alternative to Oswald Mosley, who was then imprisoned without charge or trial just after stating that his British Union in the event of an enemy landing would be at the disposal of the government in driving in the Nazi invaders from our soil! One would like to see Lukacs, who has also written a good book on the sad outcome of WW2, examine the long forgotten and largely unknown efforts to impede the Allied war effort made by the Communists in Britain, America, France, Belgium and China during the Russo-German Pact. Churchill ruefully remarked after the war that we faced “even worse” perils from the USSR and “perhaps we had killed the wrong pig”.

John Lukacs was professor of history at Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia, until his recent retirement and has been visiting professor at many universities. He is the author of twenty-one books, among them The Hitler of History, The Duel, The End of the Twentieth Century and The End of the Modern Age (which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize), and the most recent, A Thread of Years, also published by Yale University Press. He is the recipient of numerous academic honors and awards.

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