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Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England Paperback – April 29, 2008

4.6 out of 5 stars 127 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. 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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

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 Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reprint edition (April 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374531331
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374531331
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (127 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #149,992 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Before Lynne Olson began writing books full time, she worked more than ten years as a journalist, including stints as Moscow correspondent for the Associated Press and White House correspondent for the Baltimore Sun. She has written six books of history, including the national bestseller "Citizens of London." Her latest book, "Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight for World War II," tells the story of the brutal, no-holds-barred debate that raged in America over what its role should be in the Second World War. Olson has won the Christopher Award and has been shortlisted for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in history. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband, Stan Cloud. Visit Lynne Olson at http://lynneolson.com.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!"

With those words to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain on May 7, 1940 (quoting a speech of Oliver Cromwell to Parliament in 1653), Conservative Member of Parliament (MP), Leo Amery stunned Parliament and Britain and sounded the death knell for Chamberlain's term as Prime Minister. Three days later, on May 10, 1940, Neville Chamberlain resigned and Winston Churchill took office. Chamberlain's resignation marks the emotional climax of Lynne Olson's compelling popular history, "Troublesome Young Men". "Troublesome Young Men" tells 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 book is a valuable piece of work for a number of reasons. During the premiership of Neville Chamberlain it was not Winston Churchill who stood out as the primary threat to Chamberlain's appeasement policies but the young MPS who are the subject of Olson's book. Those MPs included future Prime Ministers in Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan and others including Robert Boothby, Ronald Cartland, Bobbety Cranborne (the future Lord Salisbury) and Violet Bonham Carter. Leo Amery was certainly not young, he was a schoolmate of Churchill's at Harrow, but was just as `troublesome'. Olson does an admirable job of taking this cast of characters and providing the reader with information as to who they were and why they took a political stand in the face of fierce opposition from a fierce and vindictive Conservative Party leadership.
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Format: Hardcover
In a well-known cartoon by Sydney Harris, a mathematician works at a blackboard. A complex mass of equations is labeled "Step One," while on the other side of the board, a simple syllogism is "Step Three." In between, for "Step Two," he has written "And then a miracle occurs."

In some ways, this idea represents the conventional understanding of Winston Churchill's rise to power in 1940. For his "wilderness years," WSC was on the outside looking in, railing against appeasement and warning of the impending Nazi threat. The war begins and things look dark for the British. But then "a miracle occurs" and Churchill becomes PM, he and the British experience their Finest Hour, and Hitler is vanquished. High-fives all around.

As Lynne Olson's fine book demonstrates, Churchill's becoming prime minister was no miracle at all. Instead, it was (like most so-called "miracles") the product of some very hard work by a number of people who never got the recognition and thanks they deserved -- least of all by Churchill himself. As some reviewers have noted, "Troublesome Young Men" is not heavy on analysis or original research. It is, however, an excellent example of storytelling and characterization, and shines some much-needed light on men (and some women) who have been eclipsed by Churchill's immense shadow for too long.

This is not primarily a book about Churchill, though -- typically and inevitably -- his gravity bends and shapes the universe around him. The picture we get of The Man of the (Twentieth) Century is far from flattering: Olson notes that in spite of his independent spirit and periods of political radicalism, he was fundamentally a conservative man, and had the conservative's typical monarchical sentiment.
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Format: Hardcover
As the most famous voice against the appeasement polices of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in the 1930's, Winston Churchill drowns out the myriad of other voices who spoke out at great personal and political cost. "Troublesome Young Men" is the story of those voices who "brought Churchill to power" against a powerful establishment that brooked no dissent.

Prime Minister Chamberlain was detemined to avoid the slaughter of World World I by buying peace at any price and was supported by the English people. He also resembled Richard Nixon with his use of dirty tricks, including taping phone conversations. To oppose a popular PM who could ruin your career was a hard choice for Leo Amery, Ronald Cartland, Harold Nicolson and others. To support Churchill was not a sure thing as he was viewed as being over the hill (he had been in public view for nearly 40 years since the Boer War). These rebels were eloquent in their opposition and courageous in their public convictions. This is a book about politics at its best, when nothing less than the best would save the world.
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I like Lynne Olson's writing, especially the character descriptions, and I very much enjoyed Troublesome Young Men, as far as it goes. Chamberlain's fall and Churchill's rise to the Premiership in May 1940 was, however, a much more complex, multi step event involving a number of players, most of whom she does not cover adequately in this story. I guess I'd give the book a 5 for writing style and a 2 or so for the history, hence my rating of 3.

This was a two step process--first, Chamberlain had to fall, then Churchill had to become his replacement. These were two separate events and the Troublesome Young Men had virtually nothing to do with the second.

What is well established is the following:

While Olson's featured characters were early anti-appeasers along with Churchill, Chamberlain did not fall because his appeasement policy had failed. In fact, polls showed his popularity at an all time high in late 1939, well after the invasion of Poland and the declaration of war. He fell because of 1) widening dissatisfaction with his government's lack of purpose, organization and energy in pursuing the war effort and organizing the economy for war; and, 2) his intransigent, offensive personal nature.

Chamberlain's offensive personality both alienated the Labour Party leaders and left concerned Tories with no option but to vote against his government or abstain in the Norway Debate division. More moderate, but concerned Tories (eg., The "Watching Committee" organized by Bobbety Cranborne's father, the 4th Marquess of Salisbury) were rudely rebuffed by Chamberlain in attempts to speak with him privately about their concerns. This left them no alternative but to vote against the government in order to send "Neville" a message.
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