This is short book-length study of the series of early war cabinet meetings between the newly elected Churchill and his bipartison (national government) group of advisors in which Churchill held firm on his beliefs that a full-throated defense (and offense) against Hitler was necessary to preserve the United Kingdom and by extension the rest of the Western world. These meetings were tense in part because of the shaky ground Churchill’s installation as prime minister was founded–a compromised coalition without full support of his party; continued attempts to seek appeasement of fascists; actual fascists and fascist sympathizers with sway in the country; the precipice of a huge military disaster awaiting the British military in Dunkirk and Calais.
So the book treats Churchill in what feels like solid honesty on solid historiographic footing. Like the other Lukacs book I recently read about the “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” speech in which he lays out the peril England faces, this one looks to paint not just the events themselves, but to really capture the mood of the country. I think this is where this book shines. England sounds so much more familiar and realistic here, knowing that there were plenty of bickering, infighting, self-delusion, and self-interest. That human behavior doesn’t really change and that we’ve been lied to thoroughly by film, television, and novels to believe that England might have waivered, but ultimately chose right. And well, that’s just nonsense. Humans are absolutely lazy and terrible and self-interested, and Lukacs tells us in no uncertain terms that Churchill’s greatest early success was in not losing. It doesn’t make me feel he’s a hero, but we were all lucky to have him.