1942: Winston Churchill and Britain’s Darkest Hour

Pegasus Oct. 2022. 432p. ISBN 9781639362325. $29.95. HIST
Downing (Spies in the Sky; Churchill’s War Lab) offers a cogent book intended as a popular account of one year in the life of Winston Churchill, Britain’s much analyzed, controversial, and consequential World War II prime minister. Recently criticized in Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s Churchill’s Shadow for his views on imperialism, labor, and cultural differences, this looming figure in 1942 was often on the defensive in Parliament and the press because of a spotty record regarding domestic and military policies. Historians will appreciate the anecdotal musings of mostly middle-class people that the author unearthed in diaries and responses to questionnaires found in the largely digitized Mass Observation Archive social research project. Filling the position of defense minister as well, Churchill received blame for the fall of Singapore, Rangoon, and Tobruk. There was even a failed attempt to censure him. The author faults him for not preparing Britain for a postwar world as early since victory seemed possible. Downing challenges the idea that wartime Britain was unified and confident from May 1940 through mid-1945; there was the dire 1942, Britain’s temporary military nadir.
VERDICT For fans of military, social, and strategic history.
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