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Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England Hardcover – April 17, 2007

4.6 out of 5 stars 133 customer reviews

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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.)
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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 Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (April 17, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374179549
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374179540
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.5 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (133 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #681,912 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Lonya VINE VOICE on June 25, 2007
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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A useful corrective for the commonly held view that Winston Churchill was alone in fighting against the official policy of appeasement in the years leading up to World War II.

Lynne Olson has written a very good work on the social and political background to the ultimate shift in Parliament from the peace-at-any-price leadership provided by Chamberlain to that of the more robust and winning Churchill.

While focused of the late 1930s and early 1940s, the book is useful for those with an interest in understanding British politics of the 1950s (Eden/Suez) to the early 60s (the resignation of Harold Macmillan.)

Also, as a result of this book, I am now an admirer of Ronald Cartland, who was one of the best of the troublesome young men.
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