A few months after Winston Churchill took office as prime minister, the German military began an eight month-long bombing campaign on the United Kingdom which became known as the Blitz. The bombing, which lasted for 57 consecutive days and nights, killed 45,000 Britons. What was life like for the people who experienced the Blitz? My guest today zoomed in on this question by looking at the lives of Winston Churchill and his inner circle during this precarious year of the war.
His name is Erik Larson, and in his latest book The Splendid and the Vile, he shows readers how the Blitz could be absolutely terrifying, unexpectedly normal, and strangely beautiful at the same time, and does so by profiling how Churchill, as well as his family members and advisers, handled both the unexpected horrors of war and the predictable pickles of interpersonal drama. We begin our conversation discussing the extent of the Blitz, and then spend the rest of our conversation discussing key members in what Churchill called his “sacred circle.” We learn how Churchill’s wife Clementine supported her husband during the Blitz, how his son Randolph created trouble with his gambling and affairs, how his teenage daughter Mary managed to keep doing typically adolescent activities even while bombs fell on England, and how his advisors contributed to his leadership. These characters offer a great lesson in how life goes on even in the midst of a crisis, and how one can be fearless even in the face of a threat.
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- Why Erik decided to focus on the Blitz for this book and what sets it apart from other Churchill biographies
- The strange way life carried on during those 57 days
- Where the name “The Splendid and the Vile” came from
- Clementine’s role in the Blitz
- The drama that Randolph Churchill brought to Winston’s life during WWII
- The numerous ways Churchill’s inner circle helped him in this time period
- Why Mary Churchill was Erik’s favorite character
- The numerous intersections between Churchill’s private life and the war efforts
- Learning the art of fearlessness
- The tremendous front-facing leadership of Churchill
- What Erik hopes this book provides for the reader
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- My interview with Candace Millard about the making of Winston Churchill
- Churchill’s Charge to Young Men
- The Winston Churchill Guide to Public Speaking
- The Churchill School of Adulthood
- The Last Lion trilogy by William Manchester and Paul Reid
- The Blitz
- Mary Churchill
- Jock Colville
- The Fringes of Power by Colville
- Lord Beaverbrook
- Averell Harriman
- My interview with Andrew Roberts about Churchill
- My interview with Roberts about leadership during war
- Dresden bombings
Connect With Erik
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