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Their Finest Hour
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One of the most fascinating works of history ever written, Winston's Churchill's monumental The Second World War is a six-volume account of the struggle of the Allied powers in Europe against Germany and the Axis. Told through the eyes of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, The Second World War is also the story of one nation's singular, heroic role in the fight against tyranny. Pride and patriotism are evident everywhere in Churchill's dramatic account and for good reason. Having learned a lesson at Munich that they would never forget, the British refused to make peace with Hitler, defying him even after France had fallen and after it seemed as though the Nazis were unstoppable. Churchill remained unbowed throughout, as did the people of Britain in whose determination and courage he placed his confidence. Patriotic as Churchill was, he managed to maintain a balanced impartiality in his description of the war. What is perhaps most interesting, and what lends the work its tension and emotion, is Churchill's inclusion of a significant amount of primary material. We hear his retrospective analysis of the war, to be sure, but we are also presented with memos, letters, orders, speeches, and telegrams that give a day-by-day account of the reactions-both mistaken and justified-to the unfolding drama. Strategies and counterstrategies develop to respond to Hitler's ruthless conquest of Europe, his planned invasion of England, and his treacherous assault on Russia. It is a mesmerizing account of the crucial decisions that have to be made with imperfect knowledge and an awareness that the fate of the world hangs in the balance. In Their Finest Hour, the second volume of this work, Churchill describes the German invasion of France and the growing sense of dismay on the part of the British and French leadership as it becomes clear that the German war machine is simply too overpowering. As the French defenses begin to crumble, Churchill faces some bleak options: should the British meet France's desperate pleas for reinforcements of troops, ships, and aircraft in the hopes of turning the tide, or should they husband their resources in preparation for the inevitable German assault if France falls? In the book's second half, entitled "Alone," Churchill discusses Great Britain's position as the last stronghold of resistance against the German conquest. The expected events are all included in fascinating detail: the battle for control of the skies over Britain, the bombing of London, the diplomatic efforts to draw the United States into the war, and the spread of the conflict into Africa and the Middle East. But we also hear of the contingency plans, the speculations about what will happen should Britain fall to Hitler, and how the far-flung reaches of its Empire could turn to rescue the mother country. The behind-the-scenes deliberations, the fears expressed, and the possibilities considered continually remind us of exactly what was at stake and how grim the situation often seemed. Churchill won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953 due in no small part to this awe-inspiring work.
RosettaBooks; October 2002
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