The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson

Rate: 4/5

Medium: ARC Book

Overview (Spoilers Abound):

Larson is one of my favorite nonfiction authors. Needless to say, I was beyond excited to find an ARC of his latest book, The Splendid and the Vile, in my mailbox after we got home from Egypt and Jordan in late February. Well, reading ground to a halt as the world fell apart the following week and due to working in Michigan’s Public Health Lab, I’m only just now getting to this fantastic read. The Splendid and the Vile contains so many of the elements I love in nonfiction, specifically when a read significantly broadens my knowledge of the subject at hand. The Splendid and the Vile is centered around the time period immediately before, during and after the Battle of Britain which takes place during World War II and how the English people valiantly survived nightly bombing by the Nazis from July 10th- October 31st, 1940. Their fortitude was remarkable and quite inspirational, especially considering the turbulent, historic times we are currently living through. Hearing what the English people endured for several years during the war makes our quibbles about staying at home and quarantining during this time period paltry in comparison.

Similar to How to Hide an Empire, this book left me constantly querying my husband with “Did you know…?” questions. The most startling for me was, “Did you know that the Nazi third in command flew to England with out telling Hitler to try to negotiate peace and was captured?” Seriously! After reading that section, Luke and I stayed up late reading all we could about Rudolf Hess, whose story seems pulled from a novel instead of from taking place in real life. Also, did you know that Winston Churchill hated whistling. There was an anecdote of him telling a boy he met along the street to stop that noise. The young boy retort to the Prime Minister, “Well, you can shut your ears, can’t you?” I’m still giggling at that sassy response, as did Churchill.

I find it fascinating when recent books I’ve read tend to start overlapping like random venn diagrams. In How to Hide an Empire changing the English language to Basic English was discussed, especially with Churchill being a big proponent of this movement. Reading Churchill’s many, many quotes and notes throughout The Splendid and Vile, I can’t imagine this verbose man wanting to handicap a language he seemed to enjoy using to the fullest. While this read didn’t specifically touch on Basic English, you could see the the breadcrumbs of this foundation in the time Churchill spent sending notes to his commanders about using concise language and maximizing the brevity of their messages. Another overlap centered around the origin of James Bond, which was covered thoroughly in How to Hide an Empire, and touched on here by Larson as an aside.

I’ve read countless WWII books, however I struggle to recall a nonfiction read I’ve picked up from the British perspective (Dunkirk does not count because that was just terrible), especially anything in detail prior to the US entering the war. As a result, I learned so much more about WWII, with regard to the British and the Nazi early war strategies throughout The Splendid and the Vile. As someone who loves details, Larson stuffed this read with so many anecdotes from diaries of individuals during this dangerous time, that he captures what daily life was like during these difficult circumstances. Interestingly, there seemed to be threads of normalcy to the daily routine weaved throughout the horrors of the bombings. Overall, The Splendid and the Vile was fascinating look at Churchill and his surrounding cast during a time at which so much was uncertain, from the survival of Britain to the outcome of the war.

Vocabulary Builder: When reading it is common that I encounter words that I’m not privy to the exact definition, however it is easy to infer the meaning of the aforementioned word based on the context of the sentence and story. As such, relatively new to the Critiquing Chemist, you’ll find an additional section that includes vocabulary words that I encounter upon reading the book being reviewed in which I would like to add to my repertoire. This endeavor is easier when in the Kindle format, and potentially impossible with audiobooks, however I’m going to attempt to continue this section for future book reviews. I’ll be using the definitions from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

Parlance: formal debate

Censoriousness: marked by or given to censure

Staid: marked by settled sedateness and often prim self-restraint

Fustiness: impaired by age or dampness

Miscellany: a mixture of various things

Espoused: to take up and support as a cause

Equanimity: evenness of mind especially under stress

Capitulate:  to surrender often after negotiation of terms

Ebullient: having or showing liveliness and enthusiasm; agitated

Bellicose:  favoring or inclined to start quarrels or wars

Ascetic: practicing strict self-denial as a measure of personal and especially spiritual discipline

Scarify: to break up, loosen, or roughen the surface of

Animus: a usually prejudiced and often spiteful or malevolent ill will

Antipode: the exact opposite or contrary

Flummoxed: completely unable to understand

Sangfroid: self-possession or imperturbability especially under strain

Bezique: a card game similar to pinochle that is played with a pack of 64 card

Aphorism: a concise statement of a principle

Obstreperous: stubbornly resistant to control

Puerile: childish; silly

Rostrum:  the curved end of a ship’s prow

Histrionics: deliberate display of emotion for effect

Niblick: an iron golf club with a wide deeply slanted face used for short shots out of sand or long grass or for shots where quick loft and little roll is desired

Sepulchral: suited to or suggestive of a place of burial or receptacle for religious relics especially in an altar



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