From Publishers Weekly
In her debut nonfiction account, British historian Gaskin spotlights the heart of London on the night of December 29, 1940, when Adolf Hitler tried to convince Britain the war was lost by burning London to the ground. Gaskin draws on published and unpublished interviews, letters, diaries and memoirs to reconstruct that night from the words of those who experienced it. Observers like American correspondent Edward R. Murrow, BBC announcers and Fleet Street journalists, played their parts, as did RAF fighter pilots and army antiaircraft crews. But the heart and soul of Gaskin's story comes from the ordinary Londoners who endured the raid in improvised shelters, defying prognostications of mass panic, and those who took to the streets, fighting fires, driving ambulances and rescuing survivors. Air raid defense was still in the stage of improvisation, and its men and women learned-and died-on the job. From the recollections of one terrifying night of the London Blitz, Gaskin fashions a refreshing, dramatic narrative that brings to life a city's wartime heroism and stoicism.
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One of World War II's iconic photographs silhouettes London's St. Paul's Cathedral against a sea of fire, which invites the image of Britain standing alone and defiant. Gaskin digs into the person-in-the-street experience of the German air raid during which the picture was taken to gauge what the popular mood was under air attack. She finds in diaries and memoirs a spectrum of sentiments from fatalism to fear, but she also finds much to support the impression that solidarity was genuine, with people doing their best to withstand Hitler by carrying on with ordinary life. For instance, as the bombs fall, moviegoers continue watching The Great Dictator
. Where did such imperturbability come from? Perhaps from an appreciation of history, of London as the center of a global empire: the author develops that notion with historical allusions to venerable buildings and their fire wardens, for the German target was the 2,000-year-old center of the metropolis, the City of London. With block-by-block detail, Gaskin richly portrays London's civic personality during one terrible night in wartime. Gilbert TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved