From Publishers Weekly
In 1930s England, faced with the gathering menace of fascism, 30 or so junior members of Parliament understood that Hitler would not be dissuaded by Prime Minister Chamberlain's policy of appeasement. Their rebellion against their leader and the "elderly mediocrities" of their own Conservative Party is the subject of Olson's absorbing book. The forces opposed to Chamberlain were initially inhibited by party loyalty and the ferocious reprisals threatened against anyone who challenged the prime minister. Olson traces how Hitler's continuing depredations (Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland) served to recruit more insurgents in the House of Commons and galvanize those shamed by England's inaction. Olson's story picks up energy as she reviews the events of 1940, when at long last Chamberlain was replaced by Churchill. Olson is interested in the moral imperatives driving her protagonists. The dominant figure in the narrative, of course, is Churchill, who despised Chamberlain's defeatism but served loyally in his cabinet until Chamberlain's forced resignation. Infused with the sense of urgency felt by the young Tories, Olson's vivid narrative of a critical generational clash leaves the reader wondering what might have happened had they prevailed earlier on. (Apr.)
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Historians have attacked the problem of explaining Britain's appeasement policy of the late 1930s from every conceivable angle; Olson approaches it through the House of Commons. She integrates an expression of its parliamentary customs with a narrative of the political maneuvers of a small number of Tories who opposed placating Nazi Germany. Through biographical sketches of the antiappeasers, several of whom contemporary opinion tipped as future prime ministers (as three became in fact: Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden, and Harold Macmillan), Olson develops at least one difficulty they faced in challenging Neville Chamberlain: to get along one had to go along, and the price of opposition could be political ruination. The instances of such retribution by Chamberlain's lieutenants illuminate a degree of caution in the antiappeasers' actions, which Olson plentifully details in their parliamentary speeches. Their calculations of when to strike animate her account, and her well-organized research into this crucial background to Churchill's elevation to the premiership in May 1940 should gain readers interested in this fateful period in history. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved