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Five Days in London: May 1940 Paperback – September 1, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In his six-volume history of World War II, Winston Churchill deemed the year 1942 as "the hinge of fate," the year in which the German and Japanese armies began to be turned back. John Lukacs suggests that the last days of May 1940 were more important still in turning the tide of war in democracy's favor, for it was in those few days that Churchill convinced his cabinet that Britain should fight on, alone, if need be, against Adolf Hitler's regime. Even as a quarter of a million British troops were being evacuated from Dunkirk, Churchill struggled to reverse the British government's policy of appeasement. In this, he faced opposition from several quarters, including prominent figures within his own Conservative Party. Writing with evident admiration for Churchill--who, he points out, was not well liked, and who had been prime minister for only two weeks when war broke out--Lukacs gives his readers a fly-on-the-wall view of the heated conferences between such well-known participants as Harold Nicholson, Lord Halifax, Neville Chamberlain, and Alexander Cadogan.

"Churchill understood something that not many people understand even now," Lukacs writes in the closing pages of his book. "The greatest threat to Western civilization was not Communism. It was National Socialism. The greatest and most dynamic power in the world was not Soviet Russia. It was the Third Reich of Germany. The greatest revolutionary of the twentieth century was not Lenin or Stalin. It was Hitler." By convincing his government that his view was correct, Churchill afforded Western civilization a slim chance at survival--no small achievement, and one well worth honoring with this fine study. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Eminent historian Lukacs (Thread of Years, etc.) delivers the crown jewel to his long and distinguished career with this account of five daysAMay 24-28, 1940A"that could have changed the world." Lukacs posits that it was during those five days in London "that Western civilization, not to mention the Allied cause in WWII, was saved from Hitler's tyranny." A grand view, to be sure, but the consequences are not in dispute: "Had Britain stopped fighting in May 1940, Hitler would have won his war," writes Lukacs. "Thus he was never closer to victory than during those five days in May 1940." A quarter-million British troops were trapped by the Germans at Dunkirk. The British public, ill-informed about this reality, remained apathetic, and the War Cabinet was divided over what action to take. Neither the United States nor the Soviet Union had yet entered the war, but Churchill resolved to fight "till Hitler is beat or we cease to be a state." Lukacs draws heavily on newspapers and public opinion research of the time to re-create the rapid series of events that turned the tide, swaying both the citizenry and the War Cabinet to rally behind Churchill. Though Churchill did not win the war in May 1940, as Lukacs puts it, he "did not lose it" then. Lukacs covered some of the same turf in The Duel, yet this new work focuses on these five days with a microscopic view. It is the work of a man who lives and breathes history, whose knowledge is limitless and tuned to a pitch that rings true. (Oct.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: Yale Nota Bene
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; (3rd) edition (September 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300084668
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300084665
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (100 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #94,347 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book is a thrill to read: the crucial five day period during which a very small group of determined people, led by one particularly - determined man, persuaded England and The West to hold the line against Hitler, and at least arguably saved The World...
The story is not new, but this presentation of it is. A generation -- or so, now -- raised on Wheeler - Bennett and AJP Taylor, and Nicolson and Namier and all the very many others, knows very well the story of Winston Churchill and his country's lonely stand against the Axis just following the Fall of France.
What never has been presented as dramatically as John Lukacs now presents it are the machinations, and the political follies and wisdom, and the ultimately very personal story of just how Churchill and a few others convinced the British at the time to do what they did: not in broad brushstrokes -- those are far easier to paint, as so many have on this topic -- but in the meticulous details which, alone, can show the individual frustrations, fears, jealousies, and uncertainties which characterize any truly historic human situation.
Detailed and meticulous as it is, however -- Lukacs is a well - respected historian -- the book is very short, and very dramatic, not at all pedantic or defensive as books about the period increasingly tend to be. His writing style flows smoothly. His aim, the author says in his Preface, is to explore an idea he has held for "forty, perhaps even fifty, years" that the five days specified in the title were critical not only because of the Fall of France but also because, "Churchill's situation within the War Cabinet was much more difficult than most people, including historians at that time, thought".
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The author's premise, correctly stated from the book, is that Hitler never came closer to winning his European war than at the end of May, 1940.
A newly installed Prime Minister, Churchill, was presented with: France on the verge of defeat, the BEF bottled up on the coast at Dunkirk, no allies on the horizon once France was gone, an aristocracy that had some members who admired and/or feared Hitler, and a Conservative majority in Parliament which at that point tolerated is presence rather than enthusiastically embracing him.
The War Cabinet, Churchill and four other senior members of the cabinet, had to decide whether or not to fight it out no matter what, or inquire of Hitler upon what terms he would allow England to survive. That is at least how Lord Halifax saw the options. Churchill was resolute from the beginning -- any hint try at accommodation would lead to the eventual destruction of Britain and cement the Nazi map of Europe in place.
The five days in question follow a long debate among the cabinet, or chiefly among Churchill and Halifax, regarding the issue of whether or not to advance an overture to Hitler. Chamberlain played some role, usually siding with Churchill as the discussions progresssed, but holding the balance of power none the less.
Why is this debate important? Well, with the clarity offered by hindsight, it is now easy to appreciate that any attempt at purchasing peace from Hitler would have only meant a thus weakened Britain would have been added to the Third Reich later. In the spring of 1940, serious people seriously discussed this acquiescence strategy in London. If that strategy had been followed, it is possible that the English government of the time could have lost the war for civilization. Thus, the author's important point is correct.
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Format: Hardcover
"But in May 1940 Churchill was the one who did not loose it" This is the theme of a compact, extraordinary 5 days that decided the outcome of WWII. This is certainly not the only event that brought the allies victory, however Mr. Lukacs demonstrates that while England was never in a position to win the war alone, she was in a position to loose it, and Churchill was the individual who saw that it was not lost. I don't believe he overstates Churchill's role in the slightest. Had the War gone the other way Churchill certainly would have been given all the blame. Churchill was flawed, but during the decade of 1930, in what are often referred to as "His Wilderness Years" the same men who would later owe their existence and that of their Country's continuance to him rejected him out of hand. When he finally became Prime Minister it was when all the disasters had begun or had been completed. Churchill was given the mess that he inherited from Chamberlein and others; Alsace Lorraine gone, Austria gone, Czechoslovakia given away with Chamberlain's active participation punctuated by the "Peace In Our Time" debacle. Further, France was quickly falling apart, as were the Low Countries, Dunkirk loomed, and what is worse, Churchill had to cope with members of his own Cabinet that wanted to negotiate with Hitler as he was storming across Europe. Churchill managed to bring those in government and the public to his side, and the rest as they say is History. Mr. Lukacs provides great additional information, footnotes that are as informative as the body of the text, and an even handed description of those players involved including Churchill. Brilliantly written History, that is also readable, and demonstrates that what we may have thought of as an event that actually did take years to finish, may well have been decided in 5 days. Buy the book you will not be disappointed.
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