Customer Reviews


450 Reviews
5 star:
 (326)
4 star:
 (92)
3 star:
 (18)
2 star:
 (10)
1 star:
 (4)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review


250 of 257 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "These are the times that try men's souls."
It is with no small amount of irony that the words Thomas Paine used to rail against a Britain who had an "army to enforce her tyranny" so aptly describes the aura captured in Lynne Olson's "Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood With Britain in its Darkest, Finest, Hour." But it is must be no coincidence to Ms. Olson that those few U.S. citizens who did stand with...
Published on January 9, 2010 by Leonard Fleisig

versus
127 of 154 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dissenting opinion - Unfocused, secondary references, not much new
Lynne Olson is a very talented writer; however, she is not a talented historian. As a journalist, Olson can write and keeps the story moving at a very good pace through the first part of the book and again at the end. The primary topic as described on the jacket had my interest in that Olson chose to write with the focus on three very important people during WWII in...
Published on February 3, 2010 by Burgmicester


‹ Previous | 1 246 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

250 of 257 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "These are the times that try men's souls.", January 9, 2010
By 
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
It is with no small amount of irony that the words Thomas Paine used to rail against a Britain who had an "army to enforce her tyranny" so aptly describes the aura captured in Lynne Olson's "Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood With Britain in its Darkest, Finest, Hour." But it is must be no coincidence to Ms. Olson that those few U.S. citizens who did stand with Britain during the dark days of the fall of France, the 57 consecutive nights of the bombing of London (and cities throughout the UK) from September 7, 1940 through May 10, 1941, and the evisceration of British merchant shipping by U-Boats in the North Atlantic richly deserve Paine's view that those "that stand by it now, deserve[s] the love and thanks of man and woman."

In Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England, Olson told the story of the small group of Conservative MPs who opposed Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement toward Hitler's Germany from the mid-1930s until Churchill's accession to power. Olson's focus on a small group of relative unknowns (at least as far as an American audience is concerned) provided a valuable perspective of the era of appeasement and the premiership of Neville Chamberlain. Similarly, in "Citizens of London", Olson focuses on a small group of U.S. citizens resident in the U.K. who saw earlier than their compatriots that Britain's battle would soon be their own and who found it within themselves to do everything possible to aid a nation on the brink of starvation and despair. In so doing she provides valuable perspective on U.S.-British relations which are often cast(like the policy of appeasement) in the most superficial way.

The three `Yank' citizens were Averell Harriman, Edward R. Murrow, and John Gilbert Winant. Of the three, Harriman and Murrow's stories were known to me. Harriman, a child of wealth and privilege, was by all-accounts up to his time in the U.K. something of a cavalier playboy. He wasn't known for his substance at all but did manage to secure the position as the director of the U.S. lend-lease program in England. Murrow rose from relatively lowly beginnings to become the man whose radio broadcasts during the Blitz helped transform U.S. popular opinion from its isolationist base and in so doing created a remarkable news organization. Gilbert's story was unknown to me. A prep-school and Princeton graduate Gilbert succeeded Joe Kennedy as U.S. ambassador to England. Taken together the lives of these three men and the story of how their time in London resulted in the substantial transformation of their lives as well as the lives of the peoples they shared a war with constitute a pretty remarkable story.

Olson's book works admirably well. Although impeccably researched it remains an easily-read and digested work of history. I think the strongest aspect of the book is the fact that despite its rather heroic title this is no hagiographic treatment of three men on a white horse coming to rescues a helpless nation. Similarly, Olson's treatment of the overriding relationship between the U.S. and Britain is not cast in the light of the firm and eternal `special relationship' in which there was no tension or conflict. The relationship was no easy thing and Olson discusses the flaws and troubles that flowed from that relationship with a critical, even-handed eye.

On the (slightly) negative side I think there is some small loss of focus in the latter third of the book. The story of three men `standing with Britain' gets a bit swallowed up once the U.S. enters the war and millions of men and tons of materiel begin to flood Britain. Needless to say I think that diffusion reflects accurately what happened but the respect and admiration that these men obtained (particularly Winant) did endure. Despite that the book holds up throughout and by the time I was finished I felt I had gained a fuller understanding of the times that tried Britain's soul.

If I had to pick one aspect of the book that will stay with me the longest though it will not be that of the big picture painted by Olson. Rather, it will be of the portrait of the one man, John Gilbert Winant, whose story was totally unknown to me. His story astonished me and moved me as his life played out in the book and I was saddened by the fact that his story seems to have faded from our collective consciousness. For that alone (although there are other reasons to be sure) I hope this book is read and enjoyed by a broad audience. Highly recommended. L. Fleisig
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


66 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars London at war, January 10, 2010
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This extremely well-written book details the lives and careers of three Americans, Edward R. Morrow, W. Averell Harriman and John Gilbert Winant, who went to London during the height of Britain's struggle to survive, and details how each man contributed to the forging of the Anglo-American alliance.

Of the three, Winant is by far the most important, as he was the U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James and came in almost constant contact with high British officials, including Churchill. In fact, all three become great friends of Churchill and his family, to the extent that each had an affair with one of Churchill's daughters.

London at the time of the Blitz was a city in danger, with bomber attacks almost nightly, and death and destruction all around. The people lived a very precarious lifestyle, with rationing and deprivation on every side. Of course, as with any situation of that type, it seems that only the common people were deprived. The upper classes and the diplomats, officials, and military men had very little deprivation. Thay had access to private clubs and plush hotels, not to mention very filling meals that wreren't available to everyone. They also played "musical beds", even the ones who were already married.

When it comes to the political side of things, FDR does not come off very well. He is seen as a cool and calculating politician, more concerned with how he could rearrange Europe to his taste, and caring nothing for the small countries, such as Poland, which he was very ready to surrender to Stalion's tender mercies. He's a much more venal figure than we usually read about, but it seems to be much truer to the man than the worshipful biographies about him that abound.

There's a lot in this book that I didn't know before, and I enjoyed every page of it. If you are interested in World War II and want to learn something new, I highly recommend this work.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


55 of 60 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding New Book on WWII, January 10, 2010
By 
LA (United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Congrats to Lynne Olson for a wonderful new book on World War II. This book focuses on the relationship between England and the United States during World II. More specifically, it examines the influence of three Americans: Edward R. Murrow, John Gilbert Winant, and Averell Harriman.

The strength of the book is the research. Wow. I don't know how long it took Olsen to finish this book, but I was blown away by her hard work. It doesn't appear that anything escaped her attention.

The writing is also very good. I'm a history buff, but I also want a good story. The content is compelling, and I expect someone will buy the film rights. It's got it all. War, romance, conflict, intrigue, tragedy, heroic actions, and suspense.

Olson also makes real the horror the people of England faced during World War II. Some of the passages are heartbreaking to read.

This a fine effort, and one I will be recommending.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Really outstanding, but could have been a 6 star book, January 13, 2010
By 
Jeff (Northern California) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I liked this book a lot, but it really is 3 books in one. It's a 6 star book for how well 2 of them turn out and a 4 star for the other.

The first 40% of the book follows three American's who moved to London and were essential in tying the two countries together: Edward R. Murrow, Averill Harriman, and John Winant, respectively the great CBS radio correspondent, the presidential special envoy on Lend Lease, and the American Ambassador who replaced the wrong-headed Joseph Kennedy. Lynne Olson has done excellent research on this period and she includes interesting (and sometimes saucy) anecdotes about which are very informative.

This part of the book is history writing at its best. She has a wonderful narrative style and she also got a very good editor. This part of the book flies by and is exceptional for its prose and the tale it tells.

The focus then shifts to a host of other characters who also helped on one side or the other and well as tracks Harriman after he was posted to Moscow as ambassador over his strenuous objections. The focus also shifts to telling us more about the progress of the war and the campaigns.

When the secondary characters are interesting, this part of the book is as good as the part referenced above. The section about Tommy Hitchcock who single mindedly drove adoption of the P-51 by the Army Air Force over the objections of senior staff because it had a British engine tells a seldom told tale and tells it very well.

However, the general narrative of the war and all of the squabbles really loses a lot of energy from the first part. This tale has been done before, and done better (see John Keegan's History of World War II as an example.) The shift in narrative focus was jarring for me as she shifted off Murrow/Harriman/Winant.

Finally, there is the 'color' section of the book that really tries to look at the experience of living in England from the points of view of many people, such as the African American soldiers stationed in England or the East Anglican farmers who lost their land to bomber bases whom history has passed over. These stories are also very unique and very compelling. Olsen is strongest when she is telling us about the experiences of people inside the larger context of the war. She's less strong on the pure 'Here is what was happening' narrative of the war itself.

Two other complaints: one, discussing military campaigns without any maps in the book just makes no sense. The vast majority of readers do not know North African geography well enough to understand the North African campaign. In these desert battles, geography is everything, and for some reason no one felt compelled to put a single map into the book. That's an elementary oversight.

The other is the lack of pictures. For a book whose strength is in its depictions of people (often-photographed people as well), it is amazing that the only picture is on the front of the book, and that is not a very good one. Since Pamela Churchill is a very significant player due to her liaisons with both Harriman and Murrow, and since Churchill's biography (Reflected Glory, referenced as source material by Olsen in the bibliography) has well over a score of pictures, it doesn't make sense to me to have none in this fine volume.

So, read this book for the tales of the key characters (especially the not so well known John Winant, a towering, tragic figure of a man) and you'll be richly rewarded. This book is recommend most highly for anyone interested in WW II and who understands that strong players often stamp large moments in history to match their particular personality. That happened in spades here. Olsen writes as if she were on the spot, and it makes for very compelling reading.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


127 of 154 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dissenting opinion - Unfocused, secondary references, not much new, February 3, 2010
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Lynne Olson is a very talented writer; however, she is not a talented historian. As a journalist, Olson can write and keeps the story moving at a very good pace through the first part of the book and again at the end. The primary topic as described on the jacket had my interest in that Olson chose to write with the focus on three very important people during WWII in London: John Gilbert Winant, Edward R Murrow and W. Averrel Harriman. Since I had biographies of Murrow and Harriman on my desk waiting to be read, I thought that this would be a great place to start. But much to my chagrin, only the first several chapters concentrated on these characters and then again at the end of the book, but in between, Olson meanders through WWII. The book quickly becomes "No Ordinary Time" in London with the telling of very personal ditties about the Churchill family and the affairs of everyone mentioned above. While this was interesting, it was a little different than expected by the jacket description. But there is much to interest the reader in this gossip column section.

The second part of the book is where it begins to fall apart. The story drags and the history is told in a very partisan manner. Olson has no focus during the middle of this book and it shows. She continues to paint Winant as the most important person in London, but I'm not sure why. Harriman out maneuvered him continuously as a politician and Olson admits that Winant was not a very organized administrator. I'm not an expert on WWII, but I've read several books and clearly his deeds are not documented in very many other histories of WWII as one of the main individual in this time frame. He was a supreme progressive and maybe it is important for Olson, also a progressive, to "over tell" his accomplishments. Murrow was also somewhat of a progressive thinker, but Harriman was not and receives quite a thrashing from Olson in this telling of history.

Olson takes potshots at many individuals in order to setup her heroes of the war. She uses this book to berate decisions in hindsight and then makes no attempt to get to the underlying foundation for these decisions. The scope of the book is vast and told in less than 400 pages. Olson as a revisionist picks at the corners of history and adds her own flavor of importance. The problem with this approach is that only one side of the story is told and without any depth. This is from page 262: "The American effort was hardly more effective (re: bombing of Germany). Both Allied air forces dropped record amounts of explosives on Germany's heartland that summer and fall, with little tangible results to show for it other than the staggering number of casualties on the ground and in the air." Huh? Wasn't that the idea? (maybe not the "in the air casualties", but on the ground?).

Late in the book, Olson does again show her strength as a writer and story teller as she puts the reader into the middle of London near of the end of the War and when the V-1 and V-2's were hammering the Citizens when everyone already knew the outcome of the War. I wished she would have stuck with her focal points and written from there instead of becoming a "re-teller" of Max Hastings two books: Overlord and Armageddon.

Olson picks a direction and heads for it full speed, piling on quotes from one side of the argument only - mostly from newspaper articles where it is easy to find something that will support your story. While there is some history here, it is without depth. The bibliography is mostly a series of books and quite a few newspaper articles being quoted. There is little in the way of primary references and not much new that hasn't already been published. However, the Gil Winant angle was new for me and I enjoyed it while it lasted. It is a very lazy methodology to quote someone but use only the secondary source of the quote without going to the primary reference - especially when the secondary source is one of Olson's own books. This is something that Olson does often.

All that said, I would recommend this book to anyone that is interested in looking at WWII from the British and Churchill side of the pond, but that doesn't want to get in too deep. If you are well read on the subject, there is nothing new here.

Additionally, Olson gets into the middle of the war planning strategies and is completely lost in her brief analysis. I think that she had a good idea and should have stuck to the plan. Telling a tale and writing about history are two different worlds and Olson tries to play in both, but just cannot execute.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I WAS THERE AND SHE MADE IT LIVE AGAIN, December 11, 2010
By 
D. W. Chisholm (Arcata, California) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
London bleak and terrifying for me at that time and Lynne Olson describes it so well. We listened to Churchill urging us all to go forward with courage and never give up, we listened and laughed at Lord Haha who told us that we were starving and sinking in defeat. Yes, we were shabby, we were constantly tired,we hated the bad air in the air raid shelters, we stumbled around on blacked-out streets,our bodies yearned so much for food treats that where ever there was a queue outside a shop we joined it to buy whatever was being sold, hoping always that it was a bar of chocolate, we waited for the nightly rumble of the bombers bringing death; however, it was a day time buzz bomb that destroyed my place in Regent Street.
And Olson is right when she writes that London became more lively after the Americans came. They came, with their enthusiasm and cocky assurance that they could save us all. We even came to like them.
Olson's writing of the growth of the British-American partnership, Winant, Harriman and Edward Murrow, usually boring with too many cold facts and figures is very well developed and interestingly written. It is a great history of my past.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fresh Subject, February 1, 2010
By 
Walter P. Sheppard (Arlington, VA United States) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
One might think that no fresh subject can still be found for a book about the Second World War, but Lynne Olson has found an excellent one. In "Citizens of London" she brings together the stories of how three Americans supported Britain's stand against Hitler and Nazi Germany before Pearl Harbor. The three were John Gilbert Winant, the US ambassador, Averell Harriman, FDR's lend-lease program representative, and Edward R. Murrow, the great broadcast reporter. What they did can be found piecemeal in other books, but this one brings them together and makes an important and moving contribution to our understanding of how truly perilous the future was for democracy at that time. Added to these three principals are the young Americans who made up the Eagle Squadron in the RAF and others who went to Britain just to help in any way they could.

The book appears thoroughly grounded in careful and exhaustive research, and the writing is clear and vivid. Some may object to the amount of personal and private information Olson includes about Winant, Harrison, and Murrow, but I think it helps the reader understand them more and also shows what the strains of living in London in wartime did to people.

My only criticism is that Olson doesn't stick to her title topic. She describes exiled Polish pilots' service in the air war, which is really extraneous to her subject. A much more serious and lengthy distraction is her discussion of the (sometimes strained) relations between British and American leaders once the US was in the war, including their relations with Stalin and the negative opinions British and American military leaders had of each other's abilities. None of this is new. It is all covered in detail in more than one other history of the war. Olson gets back to her main subject in the end but the inclusion of this divergent material weakens the book's impact and made this reader mutter, "Yes, yes, we know all that. Get back to your real subject," which is described in the book's subtitle: "The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour."
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Americans we can be proud of!, January 11, 2011
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I've taken to reading books about World War II lately. I just finished Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship by Jon Meacham and wanted to know more about not just the relationship between these two great men but also of the relationship between our two countries at a time when so much of the world depended upon that relationship. What I read in this very well written book both amazed me and to extent, embarrassed me. Three very different men were the main focus of the author: the ambassador to Britain, Winant; the major American journalist of that time, Ed Murrow, and a very arrogant businessman-dash-wantabe diplomat Averell Harriman. They all were in London at the beginning of the War, and went through the Blitz with British. They saw the incredible courage with which the British handle the onslaught of the Germans, the constant bombing, the way the U-boats drew such a tight net around the British Isles that no food or supplies could get into the ports so the people were on starvation rations throughout the war (and afterwards thanks to Truman's canceling of the Lend Lease program). Winant and Murrow found their second homes in London and became good friends with not just Churchhill but many of the other British with whom they worked. They risked their lives, and they risked their livelihoods too, standing up to their bosses when it wasn't 'convenient' to do the right thing. That was part of the problem, not with this book, but with what the author wrote of Franklin and other Americans at that time period...I was embarrased at their behavior, embarrased that we waited so long to come into the war, appalled at the isolationists, appalled at the 'know-nothing' attitudes of people who chose not to pay attention to the Jewish problem in Europe. Roosevelt was an excellent president for the U.S. in many ways during the Great Depression...but as a man he left much to be desired. He was vain, and wanted attention on himself. As he got older, his problems got worse. They can be forgiven in the last couple of years of his life to an extent because he was so sick (and you have to wonder if new drugs for high blood pressure and heart problems could have made him less miserable and saved his life)...but at the same time, his behavior in his fourth term cost lives and led to permanent problems with the French because of his treatment of DeGaulle.

One specific incident in the book really bothered me. One young American in England was being smart-mouth to a young British woman serving him in their women's military servce back then. She was asking him how he liked things over there. His friend was polite, but he wasn't and disparaged their food and other things. They found out later that he had said those things to the future Queen Elizabeth. I'm sure there were many young men who went over there and did the right things and said the right things, and behaved themselves. But I'm also sure there were many who didn't. My grandfather was a commander in the Pacific in WWII, my father served in WWII and in Korea. I'm very proud of both of them for what they did. I know they handled themselves well. We lost a lot of men in all the theatres of Europe, but the British lost many more than we did, and they lost civilians...we never did. We had it easy in comparison to Europe in both World Wars, and we seem to forget that. The British were so admirable through this war...and this book shows that while many American in London did the right thing, and eventually America did come to the rescue of the world...we did it too late and with way too many strings attached, and oftentimes for the wrong reasons. Not just because it was the right thing to do.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars History done right, March 29, 2010
By 
Kendrick (Lopez Island, WA USA) - See all my reviews
I'd long thought Churchill to be the man of the 20th Century. This book re-confirmed my opinion.

I had never even heard (that I remember) the name John Gilbert Winant prior to this book; a major and outrageous lapse in any of the American history courses I ever took. He was a NE Republican that would not recognize the contemporary Republican Party.

The other major revelation to me is Tommy Hitchcock. There should be USAF facilities named after him, at the very least.

I found this book to be very emotional at many times; unusual for a history book. Highly recommended.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superlatives fail me., January 13, 2010
By 
Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
To call this book a masterpiece is not giving it enough credit. This book sets the bar for nonfiction. Kudos to author Lynne Olson, the editor, publisher, and everyone else involved in putting together one of the best books to emerge in recent times.

I don't have negative comments on this book.

Factual errors drive me up the wall, and if this book had any I didn't spot them. I can predict the likely occurrence of errors, just by looking at the bibliography. Most authors use tertiary sources or worse. Olson used a mind-boggling quantity of primary sources.

The author pushes no personal agenda or the agenda of any particular group or affiliation. The book is what the title, subtitle, and jacket blurb say it is--but better.

It's refreshing to feel, after the first chapter, that you can trust the author. That's a huge plus, but combine that with a writing style that is silky smooth and you just go through 400 pages in what seems like very little time.

So much for the gushing praise. What's in the book?

It consists of 22 chapters in 397 pages. It has a 50-page bibliography--can you say "well researched?" The chapters provide vivid accounts of American citizens working in London to help pull Britain through World War II. It does that in chronological order, so a chapter by chapter analysis isn't necessary here. The Americans followed by the book are:

*John Gilbert Winant. The American ambassador in London.
*Averell Harriman. The wealthy businessman who ran the Lend-Lease program in Britain.
*Edward R. Murrow. The head of CBS news in Europe.
In this book, we read about affairs, political intrigues, personal despair, personal triumph, desperation, sacrifice, cunning, and generosity.

The United States was very slow to emerge from its isolationist cocoon and assist Britain, which was the last European nation left standing between Hitler and complete domination of Europe (and much of Asia). Had Britain fallen, the United States probably would not have been able to defeat Hitler on its own.

This point wasn't acknowledged in the USA, and Britain was facing a sure end without an alliance. Winant, Harriman, and Murrow were instrumental in getting the USA to assist Britain to begin with. They were further instrumental in making the alliance work after the USA declared war on Germany.

In the telling of the story, Olson gives us "behind the scenes" views of other key Americans such as FDR, Eisenhower, and Truman. We don't get just a mention of Winston Churchill, we get introduced to much of his family and see how they dealt with the war as well. And we get an understanding of just how rough the British had it as their six years of World War II dragged on and on.

The interplay between FDR and Churchill is especially interesting. FDR was arrogant (the cousins who were the Teddy Roosevelt heirs did not like him--the rancor was rather strong), and his treatment of Churchill was shabby at best. I was pleased to see Olson didn't gloss over this, but just told it like it was.

You can't go wrong by adding this book to your history collection. If you don't already have such a collection, I can't think of a better book with which to start one.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


‹ Previous | 1 246 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

Details

Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour
$17.00 $11.05
In Stock
Add to cart Add to wishlist
Search these reviews only
Rate and Discover Movies
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.