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Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England

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A riveting history of the daring politicians who challenged the disastrous policies of the British government on the eve of World War II   On May 7, 1940, the House of Commons began perhaps the most crucial debate in British parliamentary history. On its outcome hung the future of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's government and also of Britain--indeed, perhaps, the world A riveting history of the daring politicians who challenged the disastrous policies of the British government on the eve of World War II   On May 7, 1940, the House of Commons began perhaps the most crucial debate in British parliamentary history. On its outcome hung the future of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's government and also of Britain--indeed, perhaps, the world. Troublesome Young Men is Lynne Olson's fascinating account of how a small group of rebellious Tory MPs defied the Chamberlain government's defeatist policies that aimed to appease Europe's tyrants and eventually forced the prime minister's resignation. Some historians dismiss the "phony war" that preceded this turning point--from September 1939, when Britain and France declared war on Germany, to May 1940, when Winston Churchill became prime minister--as a time of waiting and inaction, but Olson makes no such mistake, and describes in dramatic detail the public unrest that spread through Britain then, as people realized how poorly prepared the nation was to confront Hitler, how their basic civil liberties were being jeopardized, and also that there were intrepid politicians willing to risk political suicide to spearhead the opposition to Chamberlain--Harold Macmillan, Robert Boothby, Leo Amery, Ronald Cartland, and Lord Robert Cranborne among them. The political and personal dramas that played out in Parliament and in the nation as Britain faced the threat of fascism virtually on its own are extraordinary--and, in Olson's hands, downright inspiring.


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A riveting history of the daring politicians who challenged the disastrous policies of the British government on the eve of World War II   On May 7, 1940, the House of Commons began perhaps the most crucial debate in British parliamentary history. On its outcome hung the future of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's government and also of Britain--indeed, perhaps, the world A riveting history of the daring politicians who challenged the disastrous policies of the British government on the eve of World War II   On May 7, 1940, the House of Commons began perhaps the most crucial debate in British parliamentary history. On its outcome hung the future of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's government and also of Britain--indeed, perhaps, the world. Troublesome Young Men is Lynne Olson's fascinating account of how a small group of rebellious Tory MPs defied the Chamberlain government's defeatist policies that aimed to appease Europe's tyrants and eventually forced the prime minister's resignation. Some historians dismiss the "phony war" that preceded this turning point--from September 1939, when Britain and France declared war on Germany, to May 1940, when Winston Churchill became prime minister--as a time of waiting and inaction, but Olson makes no such mistake, and describes in dramatic detail the public unrest that spread through Britain then, as people realized how poorly prepared the nation was to confront Hitler, how their basic civil liberties were being jeopardized, and also that there were intrepid politicians willing to risk political suicide to spearhead the opposition to Chamberlain--Harold Macmillan, Robert Boothby, Leo Amery, Ronald Cartland, and Lord Robert Cranborne among them. The political and personal dramas that played out in Parliament and in the nation as Britain faced the threat of fascism virtually on its own are extraordinary--and, in Olson's hands, downright inspiring.

30 review for Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jean

    This book tells the familiar story of the countdown to 1939. Olson has chosen to tell the story using interconnected biographies of Harold Macmillan, Anthony Eden, Duff Cooper, Bob Boothby, Bobbety Cranbourne, Ronald Cortland, Harold Nicolson and Leo Amery. Each of these had their own political ambitions and rarely agreed with one another. But from 1937 onwards, they worked together to oppose the policies of appeasement, depose Chamberlain as Prime Minister and install Winston Churchill in his p This book tells the familiar story of the countdown to 1939. Olson has chosen to tell the story using interconnected biographies of Harold Macmillan, Anthony Eden, Duff Cooper, Bob Boothby, Bobbety Cranbourne, Ronald Cortland, Harold Nicolson and Leo Amery. Each of these had their own political ambitions and rarely agreed with one another. But from 1937 onwards, they worked together to oppose the policies of appeasement, depose Chamberlain as Prime Minister and install Winston Churchill in his place. The book is well written and researched. The author does a good job in bringing to life the political milieu. Olson also tosses in the extraordinary thirty-year affair between Dorothy Macmillan and Boothby, and its effect on Harold Macmillan. Olson’s description of each of the people involved is detailed, as is her description of Churchill with all his strength and weakness. The book is easy to read and understand. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I read this as an audiobook downloaded from Audible. The book is fourteen hours and forty-two minutes. The book was first published in 2007. Dennis Kleinman does a good job narrating the book. Kleinman is a British voice actor. In 2016 he was a Voice Arts nominee for Best Narrator for Biography.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    An outstanding history that focuses primarily on a number of second tier historical figures (almost all of who are British MPs) that were instrumental in bringing Churchill to power. Of course, bringing Churchill to power meant bringing down Mr. Peace-In-Our-Time, Neville Chamberlain. It's a story I thought I knew, but didn't. Usually the story is told in other books in historical shorthand, as events hurtle along to bigger things. Olson walks you through the difficult process of getting rid of An outstanding history that focuses primarily on a number of second tier historical figures (almost all of who are British MPs) that were instrumental in bringing Churchill to power. Of course, bringing Churchill to power meant bringing down Mr. Peace-In-Our-Time, Neville Chamberlain. It's a story I thought I knew, but didn't. Usually the story is told in other books in historical shorthand, as events hurtle along to bigger things. Olson walks you through the difficult process of getting rid of a prime minister who didn't want to give up power, and who had the overwhelming backing of his party. Chamberlain comes across as a really vain worm in this book, and it's his vanity that nearly sinks the country. But Churchill also comes across as, well, odd. His coldness toward those who lifted him to power leaves a bad taste in your mouth, especially so since many of the appeasers were left in power. Olson also does a good job of creating a context for why appeasement took root in England, but in doing so she never gives it a moral pass. Olson understands appeasement, but she refuses to accept it. Good for her.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Bluenose

    This book is a cracking read, just as the blurbs describe it. I read it in 2 days. I found it eye opening and even startling both in what it had to say about Churchill and about the period. It describes in some detail the events between the British general election of 1935 and 1940 and the machinations in Parliament that brought Churchill to power. It is a book of history but mainly of personality. The obscure and the famous are equally and thoroughly described. This does not take away from the This book is a cracking read, just as the blurbs describe it. I read it in 2 days. I found it eye opening and even startling both in what it had to say about Churchill and about the period. It describes in some detail the events between the British general election of 1935 and 1940 and the machinations in Parliament that brought Churchill to power. It is a book of history but mainly of personality. The obscure and the famous are equally and thoroughly described. This does not take away from the historical drama and enormous tension that the writer creates. Though we know how things turned out in the end, it is shocking to see how fine a line there was between victory and defeat. Chamberlin and the Tory majority of appeasers (of Hitler) had little concept of the danger to Britain and western style democracy. The upper classes were rife with Nazi sympathizers, the press was largely a tool of the government and the vast majority of the population was hopelessly ill-informed - not by choice but through longstanding and traditional manipulation by the wealthy and powerful. It’s a frightening book. I’ve read quite a bit about Churchill and the war (though never any of Churchill’s books which I think after reading this one must be pretty self-serving) but I had no idea how iffy the whole thing was. If a small group of MPs and prominent men had not agitated for Chamberlin’s removal against overwhelming odds and powerful instincts to just go along with the appeasers, Churchill - who wasn’t their champion until very late in the game - would not have had his opportunity. That he took that opportunity and made the very best of it for all concerned is well known. That he had such a small part in the events of the time is not something that I was aware of even after reading several of his biographies. In these books he has always been at the centre of the action and the inevitable leader. This was not the case. He was the right man at the right time but events were moved more by others to get him there. After he became Prime Minister he had little use for many of those involved in the parliamentary revolution that brought him to power. He was a one man show and he never let them forget it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Steven Harbin

    Author Lynne Olson has done an excellent job of telling what the late Paul Harvey used to call "the rest of the story" in this narrative of a group of Tory party Members of Parliament who lead the initial opposition to the appeasement policies of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in the years both the years preceding World War II and then the first year of that conflict. Reading this book brought home to me the fact that Winston Churchill becoming Prime Minister in May, 1940 was by no means a " Author Lynne Olson has done an excellent job of telling what the late Paul Harvey used to call "the rest of the story" in this narrative of a group of Tory party Members of Parliament who lead the initial opposition to the appeasement policies of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in the years both the years preceding World War II and then the first year of that conflict. Reading this book brought home to me the fact that Winston Churchill becoming Prime Minister in May, 1940 was by no means a "done deal" right up until the moment that Chamberlain stepped down and Churchill succeeded him. While the sometime friends (of a sort) and almost always rivals Chamberlain and Churchill are central to the story, the book is actually about those "Troublesome Young Men" of the title who finally brought down Chamberlain, basically without help from Churchill, who refused to work against Chamberlain once he accepted the Admiralty position in the British Cabinet. Focusing on some of the leaders of this group of outsiders in their own party, such as Harold Macmillan (a future Prime Minister decades later), Harold Nicolson (remembered now for being the husband of writer Vita Sackville-West), and Ronald Cartwright (brother of romance novelist Barbara Cartwright) Olson tells what I thought was a compelling and interesting story, showing how history sometimes changes on the courage and decisions of a few persistent individuals. I recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading history, particularly those readers interested in the years leading up to the start of World War II in Europe.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Pam Walter

    Lynne Olson never disappoints. I was, however, not far into the book before realizing that it would have helped immensely had I known something of the workings of the British Parliament. I have struggled with trying to understand the rationale for the United States and Great Britain's hesitancy in declaring war on Germany. Olson answered my question as to why the United States delayed entering the war in her book Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight Over World War II, 1939 Lynne Olson never disappoints. I was, however, not far into the book before realizing that it would have helped immensely had I known something of the workings of the British Parliament. I have struggled with trying to understand the rationale for the United States and Great Britain's hesitancy in declaring war on Germany. Olson answered my question as to why the United States delayed entering the war in her book Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941 Now she explains Great Britain's hesitancy in "Troublesome Young Men." The fault lay squarely on the shoulders of the vainglorious, faint-hearted Neville Chamberlain who insistently reassured the public of "Peace in our time." Chamberlain demurred following the Anschluss. He made light of the invasion of Poland, to encourage Great Brittain's concessions to Hitler, and went on to concede the Sudetenland. I was surprised to learn how authoritarian the British government had become by 1939. The Members of Parliament (MPs) had to toe the ruling party line (toe the line) lest that member be seen as a rabble rouser and a trouble maker. Most of the time MPs had to vote with Chamberlain and the Tories to retain their seats. The Tory majority also controlled the press. (The Tory majority supported Chamberlain and appeasement). The British populace knew little if nothing of what was actually happening in Germany and in much of Western Europe. The "Troublesome Young Men" were a group of young Tories who recognized the danger to their country and indeed to the rest of the civilized world. The parliament called them the "backbenchers." They formed into a few cells and met secretly lest they be seen as dissidents. They were spied upon and their phones were tapped by the "old school" (appeasement) Tory Chamberlain supporters, and indeed still fell within the minority. Although Chamberlain was forced to declare war on Germany on September 3, 1939, it was, snidely (by the anti-appeasement Tories) called the "bore-war", and by the Americans called the "phony war." No move was made to act. The numbers of the troublemakers grew over the winter of 1939 and spring of 1940 to include Labourites and Liberals. Finally at a meeting of parliament in early June 1940 following many heated speeches, Chamberlain was ousted. He tried to remain in power - "like chewing gum on the bottom of a dining chair", but was forced to resign on June 10, 1940. King George VI named Winston Churchill as his successor at the urging of Chamberlain himself. Through it all, I couldn't help drawing parallels to the current administration in the United States. Simliarites include: ​t​he muzzling of the press, members of congress being forced to vote in ways to keep them in office ​(and in money​)​ rather then in accordance with democratic ideals and human values. No one has the courage to vote his heart and soul. We need some "Troublesome Young Men."

  6. 4 out of 5

    Anmiryam

    Since a high school history class on World War II, I have known and condemned Neville Chamberlin for acting as the chief architect of Britain's policy of appeasement towards Adolf Hitler. If Britain had held firm against Nazi demands far earlier, if the British Government had moved towards rearmament in face of the growing threat from Germany, the course of the 20th century would have been vastly different. While abandoning appeasement, or even just aggressively responding to German actions in t Since a high school history class on World War II, I have known and condemned Neville Chamberlin for acting as the chief architect of Britain's policy of appeasement towards Adolf Hitler. If Britain had held firm against Nazi demands far earlier, if the British Government had moved towards rearmament in face of the growing threat from Germany, the course of the 20th century would have been vastly different. While abandoning appeasement, or even just aggressively responding to German actions in the first eight months of the war, might have resulted in a shorter, less devastating war are discussed at length in survey courses, what is often ignored is how things might have gone disastrously worse. In the traditional telling, a miracle, in the form of Winston Churchill's elevation to Prime Minister, saves England just as the Phony War comes to its abrupt conclusion. With indomitable will, Churchill rallies the British to fight valiantly and stoically for survival. The bit that is glossed over in this mythic version is that Churchill's elevation was far from certain. Nor is it made clear that Chamberlin, for all of his gentlemanly stance towards diplomacy was ruthless in protecting his own position at the head of government suppressing political dissension within the Conservative party for years to retain power, even going so far as to tap phones of those he perceived to be scheming against him and controlling, if never outright censoring, press coverage of the government. Lynne Olson's "Troublesome Young Men" tells the story behind the fairy tale, to shed light on the small band of dissident Torys, some familiar names to readers of British history (Harold MacMillan, Harold Nicholson, Anthony Eden) and some virtually unknown today, that worked and waited for the right time to mount the coup that brought Churchill into the top job. She takes what could be a dry recitation of back room dealing and gives it dramatic sweep, revealing the complex, and often conflicted characters that succeeded despite long odds, misplaced loyalties, and deep seated animosities. Olson adroitly stages her historical narrative to make political history epic, cinematic and thrilling. This is a fun book to read. Despite its entertainment value, "Troublesome Young Men" is more than just a diverting elucidation of an earlier era. Ultimately it is a reminder that a democratic government relies upon elected officials to serve as more than mouthpieces for popular opinion and individual ambition. The rebels finally broke out of the cage built by long schooling in a culture of obedience and loyalty by summoning the strength to vote for what was best for the country and according to personal conscience. It is a lesson that resonates in modern democracies, particularly here in the United States where Congress stymies action more often than not by demanding adherence to partisan lines. One can only hope that when the United States is confronted with a crisis that enough members of Congress discover they too can break from the demands of party machines to think independently, clearly and selflessly.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Chaitra

    I don't read much non-fiction, but whatever I read tends to center around World War II, and its various component pieces. The birth of Churchill (as a PM and a war-leader) isn't something I've read in detail. I do know that Churchill changed the shape of the war, and that he was the one who gave England and the Allies a fighting chance. I didn't know that the maneuvering that went on behind the scenes to get him to that position was so extensive. And from a book and plot perspective, tense and e I don't read much non-fiction, but whatever I read tends to center around World War II, and its various component pieces. The birth of Churchill (as a PM and a war-leader) isn't something I've read in detail. I do know that Churchill changed the shape of the war, and that he was the one who gave England and the Allies a fighting chance. I didn't know that the maneuvering that went on behind the scenes to get him to that position was so extensive. And from a book and plot perspective, tense and edge of the seat. This was a great book to have read. I do wonder sometimes, would Chamberlain have been persecuted for war crimes had he lived to see the end of the war? His gross negligence and arrogance did cost a lot of lives... It would have been fair. I only knew him as a weak PM from history lessons, not as a righteous and stubborn man he plainly was. History (at least the kind taught in school) is way too kind to him. Anyway, this is a great book, eminently readable, and a must read for anyone interested in World War II or English politics. 5 stars.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Alec Rogers

    Lynne Olson's Troublesome Young Men provides a nice recounting of the story of those parliamentarians, particular in the Conservative Party, who opposed their party's leadership in its policy of appeasement. The book is best understood as a series of mini-portraits of those men who stood both apart from PM Chamberlain and Winston Churchill in their opposition (i.e., they were acting on their own instincts rather than under Churchill's direct leadership). Olson's thesis as expressed on the book ja Lynne Olson's Troublesome Young Men provides a nice recounting of the story of those parliamentarians, particular in the Conservative Party, who opposed their party's leadership in its policy of appeasement. The book is best understood as a series of mini-portraits of those men who stood both apart from PM Chamberlain and Winston Churchill in their opposition (i.e., they were acting on their own instincts rather than under Churchill's direct leadership). Olson's thesis as expressed on the book jacket and subtitle "The Rebels who brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England" is really not justified. In fact the "Troublesome Young Men" really were little more than just that - troublesome. Churchill was not brought to power by Conservative back benchers, but rather a Labour Party that expressly declared that it would not participate in a coalition government under the leadership of any Tory save Churchill. Further, Churchill himself is really portrayed as more of a Hamlet type figure, unsure about whether to confront Chamberlain or join him. One would think that he merely found himself in the PM's chair due to the work of others rather than as the fruits of his own labor. Perhaps Olson assumes we all know what Churchill did during the 1930s and doesn't think it bears repeating, but she runs the risk of leaving the wrong impression of a passive, ineffectual Churchill to readers less familiar with the Churchill story. The men portrayed by Olson deserve to be remembered for their clarity of conviction and their courage in withstanding the punishments and criticisms that could only really be visited upon them in a parliamentary system where the Prime Minister is the leading voice and figure of authority in the legislature, unlike the U.S. Olson is not a professional historian, though, and she clearly lacks an understanding of the bigger picture that would have led her to better assess the overall impact of the individuals portrayed.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Don

    I'm constantly surprised to discover (and it's one of the reasons why I read histories as frequently as I do) what I know about a particular event or period turns out to be just the tip of the iceberg. We are all generally familiar with the basic facts of this book--how Neville Chamberlain, as Prime Minister of England, appeased Hitler by sacrificing Czechoslovakia in the vain hope that Hitler would honor his agreements and stop his aggression, how World War II started and that Churchill replaced I'm constantly surprised to discover (and it's one of the reasons why I read histories as frequently as I do) what I know about a particular event or period turns out to be just the tip of the iceberg. We are all generally familiar with the basic facts of this book--how Neville Chamberlain, as Prime Minister of England, appeased Hitler by sacrificing Czechoslovakia in the vain hope that Hitler would honor his agreements and stop his aggression, how World War II started and that Churchill replaced Chamberlain. What I didn't know, until I read this well-written and engrossing book, is how difficult it was for the small group of anti-appeasement Conservative Party members of Parliament to dethrone Chamberlain, how long it took and how devastating to England's ability to wage war the Chamberlain government was. It's a fascinating story of what the author in the final chapter calls "resoluteness and moral courage". Nearly every foreign entanglement or potential entanglement is compared by someone to Munich; it's an overused and almost always highly misleading comparison. However, one of the fascinating things about reading this book near the end of the Bush II administration is that there are a number of parallels between the Chamberlain government and this administration. The MPs who are the subject of this book exhibited moral courage because, by voicing opposition to the leader of their party, they truly risked (and in a few cases forfeited) their political careers. Chamberlain was an authoritarian personality, who ruled the Conservative Party with an iron fist, did not tolerate dissent, and treated disagreement as a personal affront. Sound familiar?

  10. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    Really interesting book, and I learned a lot. I didn't realize how sooo many countries dragged their feet for sooo long in getting into it with Germany. The book featured a lot of intriguing people that I want to learn about more (hello, Dorothy Macmillan, wow, she had something going on. Actually a lot of the women in the book were really interesting). The only frustrating part of the book was that it sometimes dragged with too many details, though I do appreciate the author wanting to fit in e Really interesting book, and I learned a lot. I didn't realize how sooo many countries dragged their feet for sooo long in getting into it with Germany. The book featured a lot of intriguing people that I want to learn about more (hello, Dorothy Macmillan, wow, she had something going on. Actually a lot of the women in the book were really interesting). The only frustrating part of the book was that it sometimes dragged with too many details, though I do appreciate the author wanting to fit in everything so we get the clearest possible picture. Okay, also frustrating was just reading about Germany and Hitler time and again being completely horrible and everybody sat around twiddling their thumbs, not wanting to offend them, wanting to give them another chance, not wanting to mess up their own lives, yaddayadda. Oh, gracious, the whole Rhineland part repeatedly had me slapping my forehead, feeling like, AHHHH, are you kidding me?! Read it to get more history about WWII, especially if you're wondering about England's part in it.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Natasha

    Great book. I never understood how hard it was to get Chamberlain out of power and fight Hitler.

  12. 4 out of 5

    George Siehl

    Lynne Olson conducts monumental research, finds telling material, and deploys it expertly to bring to life an era and the people of whom she writes. That era is WWII and the depression years that preceded it, especially in Britain and the United States. The people are the political figures from those years, many of them familiar to readers, as well as journalists, businessmen, and other lesser known figures who played key, if unrecognized roles. Here, the Troublesome Young Men, are drawn largely Lynne Olson conducts monumental research, finds telling material, and deploys it expertly to bring to life an era and the people of whom she writes. That era is WWII and the depression years that preceded it, especially in Britain and the United States. The people are the political figures from those years, many of them familiar to readers, as well as journalists, businessmen, and other lesser known figures who played key, if unrecognized roles. Here, the Troublesome Young Men, are drawn largely from that latter category. They are the Young Turks of the Conservative party in Parliament who chafed under Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's continuing appeasement while Hitler appropriated territory and nations in Europe. The great adventure of these Young Men lay in their effort to replace Chamberlain with a leader who understood the risks to Britain and who would challenge Hitler to avoid those existential risks. It is often said that civil wars are the bitterest of wars; the Troublesome Young Men learned that applies to politics as much as to nations. Chamberlain's controllers and friends in the Conservative party fought against their realist colleagues with every means available to them: withholding party offices and ministry appointments, defamation campaigns, threatening to replace them with other candidates at the next election, and resorting to illegal means such as wiretapping. If Chamberlain had applied such vigor to opposing Hitler, the geography and history of Europe might have been much different. Olson details how close ties between Chamberlain and his allies with the press, coupled with government control or pressure in other cases, such as the BBC, kept the people unaware of what was happening. Both the very slow pace of British rearmament and the rapid growth of German military strength, for instance were not made public. She makes this point tellingly with a limerick circulating at the time: An elderly statesman with gout When asked what the war was about, Replied with a sigh My colleagues and I Are doing our best to find out. Her overall portrait of Chamberlain, drawn from many diverse sources, is devastating. From his harsh use of party power and illegal methods to survive, through his meaningless promises to rearm at home and come to the aid of other nations, such as Czechoslovakia and Poland when they were attacked by Germany, Chamberlain's image is ugly. She writes, for instance, "Despite abundant evidence to the contrary and despite the fact that he never met Hitler or Mussolini until 1938 and did not know much about them or their countries, Chamberlain could never bring himself to believe that they wanted to go to war. Clinging to the security of his ignorance, he created a peace-loving image of them that defied reality. Olson describes the long effort by the Troublesome Young Men on their anti-appeasement campaign. It started with the concerns of Member of Parliament Bob Boothby who met Hitler in 1932 and became alarmed when the man became the head of German government in 1933. After years of surges and wavering the group succeeded in bringing down the Chamberlain government in May 1940, after which Winston Churchill became Prime Minister. The group was never large over those years. It had a core of abut a dozen rising from time to time to 20 or 30. The leadership was sporadic. From time to time Harold Macmillan and Anthony Eden were looked to, but others such as Leo Amery, Harold Nicolson, and Ronald Cartland (brother of novelist Barbara Cartland), all played roles in this long campaign while serving in Parliament. Surprisingly, Churchill as Prime Minister kept many of the appeasers, including Chamberlain, as members of his War Cabinet. He was perhaps following the sage advice to keep your friends close, but your enemies closer. His friends, however, the young men who gained him the position were initially given more minor roles, or none at all. With time, some of them did well in government; both Eden and Macmillan would eventually become Prime Minister after Winston left office. While many readers are familiar with the major points in this history, Olson's many details make it suspenseful and, in the end, far more comprehensible. The book is highly recommended for those with an interest in the history of the WWII period, and for those who might gain insights by acquiring such an interest. It is hard to imagine a Lynne Olson book that is not bountifully rewarding. More to follow, but the book is highly recommended.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    If you are interested in British politics or Britain in the days running up to the onset of WWII, Olson’s book is a must read: it’s an unvarnished look at the strengths and foibles of the members of Parliament who played a role in bringing Churchill to power.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lawrence Jakows

    An impressive research effort which delivers a history of this era well beyond what you would read or see elsewhere.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Doris

    I had never given much thought to how Churchill came to power in World War II. I knew about Neville Chamberlain (he of appeasement, Munich and "peace in our time" fame), but it had never really occurred to me to wonder how England got from Chamberlain to Churchill. If you had asked me, I probably would have speculated that there had been an election, without ever realizing that I was thinking in American terms. As I said, the subtitle gives the whole story: Chamberlain and Churchill were both mem I had never given much thought to how Churchill came to power in World War II. I knew about Neville Chamberlain (he of appeasement, Munich and "peace in our time" fame), but it had never really occurred to me to wonder how England got from Chamberlain to Churchill. If you had asked me, I probably would have speculated that there had been an election, without ever realizing that I was thinking in American terms. As I said, the subtitle gives the whole story: Chamberlain and Churchill were both members of the same party, and Chamberlain was ousted by rebels within that party who were dissatisfied with his appeasement policy and later lackadaisical approach to prosecuting the war. For all that the outcome is known, the author manages a real nailbiter here. The author doesn’t have much fondness for Churchill, whom she depicts as being ungrateful and even hostile to the Conservatives who broke party ranks to bring him to power and stubbornly loyal to Chamberlain even after becoming Prime Minister. She brings into the light names I had previously not known, or known only in different contexts: Harold Macmillan (who would be Prime Minister in the 60s), Leo Amery, Alfred Duff Cooper, Robert Boothby, Lady Violet Bonham Carter, Harold Nicholson, and the author’s particular hero, Ronald Cartland. And while the author doesn’t particular like Churchill, she reserves her greatest scorn for Chamberlain. He rejected any opposition to his policies as "disloyalty" (gee, where have we heard that one recently), punished party members who disagreed with him, and criminally failed to defend Britain’s interests. Olson brilliantly violates Philip Roth’s dictum that "History is where everything unexpected in its own time is chronicled on the page as inevitable" and makes it clear just how far from inevitable were Churchill’s rise to power and Hitler’s subsequent defeat.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    One of those rare books I read straight through in a short time. (I'm a slow reader.) An excellent reprise of that critical period between 1933 and 1940 when Britain was slowly realizing Hitler was an evil man determined to rule the world and exterminate much of its population. It's a period most of us are familiar with seeing through Churchill's eyes, but there were other clear-eyed men and women who saw what Churchill saw, some of whom didn't have his negative baggage and mercurial personality One of those rare books I read straight through in a short time. (I'm a slow reader.) An excellent reprise of that critical period between 1933 and 1940 when Britain was slowly realizing Hitler was an evil man determined to rule the world and exterminate much of its population. It's a period most of us are familiar with seeing through Churchill's eyes, but there were other clear-eyed men and women who saw what Churchill saw, some of whom didn't have his negative baggage and mercurial personality. To interpret the waking up of Britain as an individual effort would be like crediting American independence to Washington or Jefferson alone. I found this especially relevant reading because of many Americans' wilful blindness to the fascist tendencies of the Republican Party these days, and the accompanying blindness to the great existential danger of our era, global climate change. When later generations write our history (if they have a civilization to write for) it will be about how America woke up and repudiated the dangerous and greedy crowd of climate change denialists and the fossil fuel billionaires who pay their salaries and underwrite their air time.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Russel Polk

    This was a very good read. It took from diaries and journals that were done contemporaneously, as well as reflections people had later about that critical time in the 1930s and 40s when Germany was preparing for, and starting, what was to be the second world war. It made me want to read some of Churchill's autobiographies, as some of his actions were most puzzling, if somewhat explained in the book. For instance, his keeping many of the appeasers in his cabinet, including Chamberlain himself. Tha This was a very good read. It took from diaries and journals that were done contemporaneously, as well as reflections people had later about that critical time in the 1930s and 40s when Germany was preparing for, and starting, what was to be the second world war. It made me want to read some of Churchill's autobiographies, as some of his actions were most puzzling, if somewhat explained in the book. For instance, his keeping many of the appeasers in his cabinet, including Chamberlain himself. That was not as inexplicable as his a) actually listening to their advice, but b) his specifically excluding the anti-appeasers that put him in power from the positions of power they seemingly should have had. Alls well that ends well, but I would like to find out more.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Converse

    Churchill didn't make himself prime minister in 1940; Leo Amery, leading a group of dissident Conservatives & allied with the Labor Party, did. This book tells of the struggles of this little band against Chamberlain & Baldwin Churchill didn't make himself prime minister in 1940; Leo Amery, leading a group of dissident Conservatives & allied with the Labor Party, did. This book tells of the struggles of this little band against Chamberlain & Baldwin

  19. 4 out of 5

    Glen

    This is an interesting book for those who have studied Churchill and also provides insight into the workings of the English Parliament.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Greg Logan

    Why do I insist on reading books that send my blood pressure up?? This is an infuriating story, mainly I think because it begs the question ‘Will we ever learn?’. Appeasement of Hitler was a blind policy involving mendacious denial of the facts, and was dictated by complacency, ego and self-interest (especially economic self-interest). There were no excuses for it (though some may be tried) and it very nearly meant disaster. I ask myself, Are Australian government policies on climate change of t Why do I insist on reading books that send my blood pressure up?? This is an infuriating story, mainly I think because it begs the question ‘Will we ever learn?’. Appeasement of Hitler was a blind policy involving mendacious denial of the facts, and was dictated by complacency, ego and self-interest (especially economic self-interest). There were no excuses for it (though some may be tried) and it very nearly meant disaster. I ask myself, Are Australian government policies on climate change of the same ilk? Are our own Tory politicians in the mould of Chamberlain, leading us inexorably towards disaster? In this connection, it was fascinating to read about Chamberlain’s cosy relationship with the Press, who for the most part totally supported his policies and firmly refused to publish dissenting views. Today, even greater control of the Australian media is exerted by Murdoch, and even greater support thus afforded to idiots like Angus Taylor. I had never really understood Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement. Probably that’s because, though dimly aware of British Nazis and Nazi sympathisers (like Oswald Mosley and Edward VIII), I had not realised how much support Chamberlain had - how much support there was within the English governing classes for Nazi Germany. This is partly explained by the traditional alignment of the ruling classes of Germany and Britain (World War I notwithstanding). But I suspect that the real reason was the fear in the English upper classes of Soviet Russia and communism and their view of Germany as a bulwark against this horror. In a very illuminating comment, three young peers once remarked to Harold Nicolson that ‘they would prefer to see Hitler in London than a [Labour] administration’ (p.66). This book has given me a new perspective on both Chamberlain and Churchill. I really knew little about Chamberlain, but always thought of him as kindly enough, but weak. Both impressions are correct, but I now understand that he was also authoritarian and manipulative. In fact there is a link between weakness and authoritarianism. A lot of ‘old-man’ fragile ego was involved: there was more than a hint of damaged ego in Chamberlain’s vindictive attacks on critics of appeasement. As for Churchill, I knew that his judgement was considered flawed (the big example being his championing of the Dardanelles expedition in 1915), but I did not appreciate how impulsive, emotional and generally unreliable his attitudes could be. I found his absolute, obstinate loyalty to Chamberlain during the phony war, when Britain sat on its hands, to be incomprehensible and bordering on irresponsible, as was his refusal as Prime Minister to oust the appeasers from his Cabinet and install some of the young men who had brought him to power. This is a great story, very dramatic, and told very well. But I find the method of footnoting to be infuriating. I am always consulting the footnotes (or endnotes as they are), and find the absence of a numbering system to be highly unfriendly. I understand the rationale – numbers in the text are supposed to make it ‘too academic’ – but disagree with it entirely.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Rick Burin

    If you think that Churchill’s accession to power in 1940 was inevitable and pre-ordained, then this book is a handy corrective, focusing on the small band of Tory rebels who worked for two years – against improbable odds and vicious opposition – to dethrone Neville Chamberlain. It’s not the whole story, but Olson makes a decent stab at making it stick. I’d always thought the ill-fated PM himself was decent if misguided, but he comes across here as arrogant, vindictive, self-pitying, myopic and di If you think that Churchill’s accession to power in 1940 was inevitable and pre-ordained, then this book is a handy corrective, focusing on the small band of Tory rebels who worked for two years – against improbable odds and vicious opposition – to dethrone Neville Chamberlain. It’s not the whole story, but Olson makes a decent stab at making it stick. I’d always thought the ill-fated PM himself was decent if misguided, but he comes across here as arrogant, vindictive, self-pitying, myopic and disastrous, refusing to fight a war as he betrays Britain’s allies, feeds disinformation to a compliant press, and relentlessly brownbeats his ‘enemies’ (not to mention tapping their phones). Those adversaries include two future prime ministers: the weak-willed Anthony Eden, apparently a major heartthrob back then, and sensitive publisher Harold Macmillan, as well as Macmillan’s cuckolder, Bob Boothby, the raffish, brilliant Duff Cooper, and Leo “Speak for England” Amery, an old rival of Churchill’s from their schooldays. There’s also young, idealistic Ronald Cartland (brother of Barbara), a rebel MP who enlisted in the TA, and whose story is particularly affecting. And their hero? Churchill is painted as being largely aloof from the politicking, remaining scrupulously loyal to Chamberlain from the moment he is appointed to the War Cabinet – and far beyond his eventual appointment as PM. Again, that’s more of a thesis than an incontestable fact, but it’s convincingly put. The earlier chapters here are muddled, leaping about through time rather confusingly and betraying the (American) background of the author, who laboriously explains quirks that will seem everyday and obvious to a British reader, while exhibiting a tourist’s fondness for socialities, Royalty and the Ritz. Once it settles down, though, it’s a good read: a fascinating, somewhat neglected story told pretty well, Olson drawing on diaries, letters, memoirs, archive newspapers, secondary sources and – perhaps somewhat excessively – weather reports. While the colourful pen portraits of the conspirators are somewhat artlessly shoved into the narrative, and a few sections plod (do we need another list of the same eight MPs?), the passages in Parliament are frequently electrifying, while a postscript about the debacle of Suez makes for a heartbreakingly ironic pay-off. What endures, though, is the spectacle of politicians who risked their careers – and their friendships, their reputations, in one instance their life – to save their country, and perhaps Western democracy itself. The story of those “troublesome young men” – or the “glamour boys”, as they were derisively tagged by their opponents – remains moving, humbling and genuinely inspiring.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Rhi Carter

    A really interesting read both as a picture of history as well as a case study for situations we face now. It's interesting to see how far from reality the "Chamberlain was a dummy, then Churchill became Prime Minister and the good guys won the war" high school history story was. Chaimberlain and many in the government were at times downright jealous of and sympathetic to Hitler and Mussolini, and many of their opponents were, at least in the early days, quite inconsistent and not entirely egali A really interesting read both as a picture of history as well as a case study for situations we face now. It's interesting to see how far from reality the "Chamberlain was a dummy, then Churchill became Prime Minister and the good guys won the war" high school history story was. Chaimberlain and many in the government were at times downright jealous of and sympathetic to Hitler and Mussolini, and many of their opponents were, at least in the early days, quite inconsistent and not entirely egalitarian in their opposition to fascism. On top of that, I had just read "The Hitler Book", which has Hitler on record saying essentially "we are going to lie to the english and they will give us anything we want", which is nice to put up against to Neville in this book essentially saying "We can trust him, lets give him what he wants" Seeing how the government handled the evacuation of the UK at the start of the war (in many ways combining planning with refusing to publicly admit they were doing anything until the last second) is interesting to compare to how states are handling the COVID crisis. People never learn, it seems. The characters, despite their biographies given, are often hard to keep track of and tell apart. This inadvertently creates a telling picture of the British ruling classes. As always, the ones people were given the option of electing were all similar people, with similar backgrounds, with similar names and titles, who went to the same schools, were all related, and were all in affairs with each other. On top of that, the amount of backroom dealing, power peddling, and aggressive coercion within government doesn't show the state of democracy in the UK at this time in a great light. Lynne Olson is a good writer, and keeps fairly dull history interesting. It drags at times and probably could have been shorter, but all and all a good book if you're interested in this less known piece of WW2 history

  23. 4 out of 5

    Norman Smith

    This is a very interesting book, and somewhat timely, being about a group of members of a political party who decide that their current leader has to go for the good of the country. This could apply to a number of different countries these days! Overall, I really like the book, but docked it one star because of a couple of weaknesses in the prose. For one thing, this was a period when oratory was vital. Churchill's speeches will be remembered for a long time, as well as others from this period, s This is a very interesting book, and somewhat timely, being about a group of members of a political party who decide that their current leader has to go for the good of the country. This could apply to a number of different countries these days! Overall, I really like the book, but docked it one star because of a couple of weaknesses in the prose. For one thing, this was a period when oratory was vital. Churchill's speeches will be remembered for a long time, as well as others from this period, such as Leo Amery quoting Cromwell, in telling Chamberlain, "In the name of God, go!" Unfortunately Olson does not make the most of these speeches, which could have been quoted to more effect and drama. Churchill's "I can tell you in one word: Victory!" speech on May 13, 1940, would have been electrifying, but it is merely reported here, as is his "Never surrender" speech. These are lost opportunities rather than actual shortcomings in Olson's text, which otherwise is good. Another weakness, in my opinion, is that the story dribbles out with a report on what happened to a number of these troublesome young men in the years after the war. While somewhat interesting, it runs down the momentum of the book, and leaves a flat ending. This is a good book for those who are looking at the history of that time (John Lukacs's book, "Five Days in London, May 1940", is another but with a tighter focus on the transition from Chamberlain to Churchill), but it could have been a bit stronger.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Like all Lynne Olson's books, this is a good one. It covers a somewhat narrow time span, exploring how a group of men (and a few women) worked to get rid of appeasement-with-Hitler-minded British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and his associates and put Winston Churchill in as Prime Minister. This was made more difficult by some of Churchill's mistakes, but eventually was the basis of saving Britain and Western civilization from Nazi takeover. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but it should hav Like all Lynne Olson's books, this is a good one. It covers a somewhat narrow time span, exploring how a group of men (and a few women) worked to get rid of appeasement-with-Hitler-minded British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and his associates and put Winston Churchill in as Prime Minister. This was made more difficult by some of Churchill's mistakes, but eventually was the basis of saving Britain and Western civilization from Nazi takeover. Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but it should have been apparent that negotiating with Hitler was a stupid, futile idea--so soon after the First World War, Britain was completely averse to losing another generation of young men to yet another war with Germany. And if Chamberlain, and thus Britain, had acted sooner (such as when Hitler invaded the Rhineland), the war could possibly have been avoided, although the Third Reich might have flourished in Germany and Austria even longer than it did, which would have been terrible. One thing I didn't realize is that Churchill kept Chamberlain in a position of influence and the "peace at any price" people continued to work to get the latter back into power and undermine Churchill's government for some time. I'm glad I know how it all turned out or I would have panicked. Well-researched and written.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Celia Crotteau

    In 1940, a small group of British politicians dared to protest the current prime minister's weak stance against Nazi Germany. In protesting as they did, these men - and a few women - bucked hundreds of years of tradition, rebelling against national and class standards and expectations and so offered themselves as sacrificial lambs to save Britain, Europe, and, ultimately, Western Civilization. In the end they prevailed, Churchill became prime minister, and Britain dared to stand against the Nazi In 1940, a small group of British politicians dared to protest the current prime minister's weak stance against Nazi Germany. In protesting as they did, these men - and a few women - bucked hundreds of years of tradition, rebelling against national and class standards and expectations and so offered themselves as sacrificial lambs to save Britain, Europe, and, ultimately, Western Civilization. In the end they prevailed, Churchill became prime minister, and Britain dared to stand against the Nazis' march across Europe. In compact yet flowing prose, Olson relates this tale of a political struggle that truly determined the course of modern history and the fate of the world as we know it today. She paints fascinating character portrayals of the involved individuals and their interactions and often complicated relationships. (For example, two men, one a future prime minister, were in love with the same woman for decades.) Although the story ends in 1940, Olson does provide an epilogue so the reader learns about the participants' post-war lives. I found this an absorbing read that I had difficulty setting aside. This is the type of book that makes history come alive.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Greear

    A riveting account of the men who brought Winston Churchill to power in Britain in 1940 as the country was collapsing under the failures of Neville Chamberlain’s government. These men truly saved Britain from making a bad peace with Hitler and thus helped preserve Western Civilization. I found the lives of Ronald Cartland, Leo Amery, and Harold Macmillan to be the most interesting, all of whom I knew very little about before reading this book. Cartland was killed in France in 1940 after Churchil A riveting account of the men who brought Winston Churchill to power in Britain in 1940 as the country was collapsing under the failures of Neville Chamberlain’s government. These men truly saved Britain from making a bad peace with Hitler and thus helped preserve Western Civilization. I found the lives of Ronald Cartland, Leo Amery, and Harold Macmillan to be the most interesting, all of whom I knew very little about before reading this book. Cartland was killed in France in 1940 after Churchill became PM, sort of becoming a martyr for not only Britain but for the movement that put Churchill in power as well. I’ve always found this period of time to be interesting, before America was in the war, with Britain backed up against the wall. Thank God for these men and their tenacity to put the eventual person who saved Britain in power, if not for them, the world would be a much darker place today.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ruthmarie

    It took me a while and I plodded along, but on the way I gained sobering and new insights into Churchill, of course, but also into Chamberlain, Boothby, Cartland, Eden, and others who were instrumental in Britain to take a forceful stance against Hitler. The feelings and positions of those who had fought in WWI varied, and Olson does a fine, balance job of presenting these. There are also gems that are seeded throughout the chapters that provide an American with a deeper understanding of the Bri It took me a while and I plodded along, but on the way I gained sobering and new insights into Churchill, of course, but also into Chamberlain, Boothby, Cartland, Eden, and others who were instrumental in Britain to take a forceful stance against Hitler. The feelings and positions of those who had fought in WWI varied, and Olson does a fine, balance job of presenting these. There are also gems that are seeded throughout the chapters that provide an American with a deeper understanding of the British WWII scene: the public school background that shaped so many, the ethics of loyalty and honor, the social and sociological consequences of the city children being sent out to the countryside--mixing the classes for the first time for so many, the paralyzing wishful thinking of so many politicians. All that and more.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    Lynne Olson delivers a classic look at Great Britain during the time of the phony war as Tory rebels intrigued against Chamberlin and the stage was being set for the rise of Churchill, Eden and MacMillan. She delves into the wide cast of characters who would eventually oppose Chamberlain and some patience is needed in the early part of the book to keep track of all the people she is trying to cover. There are whole chapters dedicated to the main cast of the ones mentioned above as well as Ronald Lynne Olson delivers a classic look at Great Britain during the time of the phony war as Tory rebels intrigued against Chamberlin and the stage was being set for the rise of Churchill, Eden and MacMillan. She delves into the wide cast of characters who would eventually oppose Chamberlain and some patience is needed in the early part of the book to keep track of all the people she is trying to cover. There are whole chapters dedicated to the main cast of the ones mentioned above as well as Ronald Cartland, David Lloyd George and Leo Amery as well as Robert Boothby and Lady Violet Bonham Carter. Overall you get a play by play and intense look at how Britian operated during this time form just before Munich until Churchill’s ascension in a way that Olson excels at delivering. A great addition to the historiography of Great Britain during World War II.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Virginia Henry

    This book provided the “back story” to Churchill’s rise to power, despite himself. He certainly came with baggage, from botched military campaigns and his relationship with King Edward VIII. A group of “troublesome young men” who shared Churchill’s anti-appeasement stance were pivotal in paving the way for him to become the P.M. It was shocking to read how unprepared England was for war, and how Chamberlain contributed to the indecision and paralysis that characterized the beginning of WW2. Chur This book provided the “back story” to Churchill’s rise to power, despite himself. He certainly came with baggage, from botched military campaigns and his relationship with King Edward VIII. A group of “troublesome young men” who shared Churchill’s anti-appeasement stance were pivotal in paving the way for him to become the P.M. It was shocking to read how unprepared England was for war, and how Chamberlain contributed to the indecision and paralysis that characterized the beginning of WW2. Churchill was the man for the job however, and his oratory, his positivity, and his absolutely embracing of all things war-related such as creating a map room, created the image of the hero that most people admire. This book is extremely well-done, and I found new information on every page.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Ferris Mx

    How little did I know about the events leading to Chamberlain's replacement? Really very little. This book examines them in thrilling detail. The Tory pressure to support Chamberlain at cost of losing their seat was eerily evocative of what happens to Republicans who grow a conscience and undermine Trump. I will say that the Tories were less pathetic about it. Much less. Today's Republicans could learn something from studying this period, but they won't. This book (with a female author) really hig How little did I know about the events leading to Chamberlain's replacement? Really very little. This book examines them in thrilling detail. The Tory pressure to support Chamberlain at cost of losing their seat was eerily evocative of what happens to Republicans who grow a conscience and undermine Trump. I will say that the Tories were less pathetic about it. Much less. Today's Republicans could learn something from studying this period, but they won't. This book (with a female author) really highlights the behind-the-scenes contributions of Violet Bonham Carter (Helena's grandmother!) that a male author would probably have missed. It also dwells on the difficulties arising from Dorothy Macmillan's three-decade "affair" (I think that's not accurate) with Boothby.

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