Listeners of Citizens of London are guided by the strong, steady voice of Arthur Morey as he details the tenacity of three Americans, who, prior to 1941, implored the United States to come to Britain’s aid in holding off German encroachment. Lynne Olson’s book reveals how the lives of broadcaster Edward R. Murrow, businessman Averell Harriman, and politician John Gilbert “Gil” Winant were woven together by their unabashed love for the English people and their respect for Britain. Even if you thought you knew just about everything there is to know about the Second World War, you’ll be enthralled to learn how closely the lives of Murrow, Harriman, and Winant intertwined through their personal connections to President Franklin Roosevelt and English Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
Prior to America’s entrance into the war, Edward R. Murrow, in his CBS radio broadcasts from London, detailed the human cost of nightly German bombing blitzes of the city. U.S. Ambassador “Gil” Winant, anxious to dispel the vocal anti-British sentiment of his diplomatic predecessor, Joseph P. Kennedy, walked the debris-strewn streets asking shaken and dazed London citizens how he could be of help. When Averell Harriman arrived on the scene to control the distribution of Lend-Lease Act goods, his jovial camaraderie with Churchill served as ballast to the ever-shifting diplomatic signals FDR sent Churchill in the years leading up to Pearl Harbor. Murrow, Winant, and Harriman all became unofficial confidants to both Churchill and FDR. Morey’s classic narrator’s voice moves easily from the historical wartime details of negotiations and battles to descriptions of the toll the years in London took on the personal lives of Murrow, Winant, and Harriman. It was not all grim days and nightly shattered nerves, since at one time or another during the war years all three married gentlemen were romantically involved with Churchill women, which more tightly braided together the men’s lives.
Morey’s subtle changes in tone seamlessly blend the fatalistic hedonism of wartime London with the political gamesmanship that marked the relationships between Churchill and FDR and between English and American military leaders. Once countries banded together to become the Allies against the Germans, friction between FDR, Churchill, and military and diplomatic leaders was a constant. Morey’s even delivery expresses the gravitas of Olson’s writing as military missteps and diplomatic misunderstandings marked the Allied collaboration.
The lives of Edward R. Murrow, John “Gil” Winant, and Averell Harriman were so defined by their wartime experiences that the end of the war left all three searching for work that would be as meaningful to their lives. Listeners will appreciate Morey’s deliberate yet sympathetic style as he gives voice to how dramatically life after WWII especially affected Winant and Murrow. The material in Citizens of London, and Morey’s even narration, keeps listeners engaged and further informed about WWII and how repercussions of that event continue to affect our world today. Carole Chouinard
In Citizens of London, Lynne Olson has written a work of World War II history even more relevant and revealing than her acclaimed Troublesome Young Men.
Here is the behind-the-scenes story of how the United States forged its wartime alliance with Britain, told from the perspective of three key American players in London: Edward R. Murrow, Averell Harriman, and John Gilbert Winant. Drawing from a variety of primary sources, Olson skillfully depicts the dramatic personal journeys of these men who, determined to save Britain from Hitler, helped convince a cautious Franklin Roosevelt and a reluctant American public to support the British at a critical time. The three---Murrow, the handsome, chain-smoking head of CBS News in Europe; Harriman, the hard-driving millionaire who ran FDR's Lend-Lease program in London; and Winant, the shy, idealistic U.S. ambassador to Britain---formed close ties with Winston Churchill and were drawn into Churchill's official and personal circles. So intense were their relationships with the Churchills that they all became romantically involved with members of the prime minister's family: Harriman and Murrow with Churchill's daughter-in-law, Pamela, and Winant with his favorite daughter, Sarah.
Others were honorary "citizens of London" as well, including the gregarious, fiercely ambitious Dwight D. Eisenhower, an obscure general who, as the first commander of American forces in Britain, was determined to do everything in his power to make the alliance a success, and Tommy Hitchcock, a world-famous polo player and World War I fighter pilot who helped save the Allies' bombing campaign against Germany. Citizens of London, however, is more than just the story of these Americans and the world leaders they aided and influenced.
©2010 Lynne Olson (P)2010 Tantor
"Ingenious history.... Olson's absorbing narrative does [Winant, Murrow, and Harriman] justice." (Publishers Weekly)
While there was some great historical information in the book I felt that it was quite a lot to slog through. I love history books and I love long history books, as long as they are well organized and engaging. This one took me 3 weeks to get through.
Had it been a biography of Winant, Harriman and Murrow, I think it would have been much more engaging but it veered off into many other directions. It's as if the author gathered much more research that she needed and was damned determined to fit it all in one book. It really needed some editing. Also, a good historical author should be able to leave her own political views out of historical text. She was completely unable to do that and I feel that it cheapened the value of the book overall.
It's not a horrible book and I learned a lot about all 3 of these men, but I don't think I could recommend it to anyone except a hard core history buff who has a lot of time and patience.
A transplanted Englishman, I spend my time on biography, history and military books. I appreciate good English and good narration.
Well written and thoroughly researched even if it suffers, as do so many historical works, from over exposition. Its three main characters, Harriman, Morrow and Linant, are brought into sharp focus with fascinating anecdotes and unabashed details of their private lives. I felt I could sit down to dinner with these three as if I knew them personally by the end of the book.
Inevitably, the book requires a deep context. Those who already know of the Churchill, Roosevelt and even Stalin relationships may find themselves re-reading; those who have read such experts as Ambrose and Keegan will not need the World War II historical episodes. However, the author relates such diversions to their diplomatic implications tightly and this distraction, if it occurs, will not irritate I suspect.
The reader is clear and relaxing as is needed for such a long treatise. However, as a small point...Lord Salisbury is "...Sauls-bury..."; Sandys is "...Sands..."; Cadogan is "...Kerr-DUGG-un..." I'll do you the favour of not trying to give you his pronunciation and even if Americans have a right to use their own language as they feel fit, proper names should be managed with respect.
I have edited 38 national best sellers and had a writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
If you like history, don't miss this book. It's one of the best I've read. It focuses on three influential Americans--Edward R. Murrow, Ambassador John Gilbert Winant, and Averell Harriman--in London in the years leading up the America's involvement in World War II and thereafter. They so empathized with the British and tried to get FDR unstuck, hoping he and Congress would realize the ramifications for the US if the Nazis defeated Britain.
I've read a lot about this period, but the book provides content I'd never seen before. I loved it.
An old broad that enjoys books of all types. Would rather read than write reviews though. I know what I like, and won't be bothered by crap.
I thoroughly enjoyed the audio version thanks to Arthur Morey's narration. I consider it an excellent method of getting the story told accurately. I don't know if the print version could be any better than this.
The story of Gil Winant, of which I had never before even heard of this heroic man. Why do we not hear of such heroes? He was a real man who did wonderful things. He is my new hero!
Morey's performance is terrific! He tells this story with such emphasis on everything I never knew about WWll. His diction and empathy is spot on.
Three men who brought America into WWll for our greatest hour!
This book tells so much more than any history or war movie ever had.
I am so disappointed in the way the United States acted in WWll and the fact that we really have learned so little since than in our arrogance and ability to live as if we are the only people to win the war. I hope that some day we Americans will learn that we don't have to rule the world to have a place in it.
This is not the most tightly conceived, scholarly, or even original treatment of the period but it's a great listen and wonderfully read (except for the mispronounciation of KEYNES, as in John Maynard). For anyone interested looking as much for entertainment as enlightenment, I say you can't go wrong.
i was not quite an enamoured by this as some of the reviewers.
first, while the 3 leading characters flow in and out of the narrative throughout, this is not a book about them. This is a book about the alliance between england and the US. I agree with many other reviewers that, although i have read many books on this period of history, i have never had one that brings as much appreciation to this particular relationship between two countries. Its especially timely now, given the ongoing struggles to maintain unity amongst the democracies against common foes. And the three protagonists are all very compelling figures, as is the description of war time London/Europe, which really comes to life. While we think of the greatest generation here as a unique one. what they went through is nothing compared to the suffering in Europe.
The bad...I found to author's tone soporific. The book is a little morose, and perhaps the author is well suited, but at times i found my attention drifting. This is epsecially true in the middle. At this point I really felt the book was overrated, however, the ending is outstanding and really puts the entire period in perspective.
Overall I recommend this very highly, and I would have given it 5 stars if it were not a little bit of a struggle in the middle.
This is a remarkable book which describes how some insightful, influential and forward thinking Americans came to the aid of Britain during WWII. It also exposes those whose aim was to bring Britain to her knees by taking advantage of the precarious situation Britain was in to bankrupt her and set the stage for a post-war takeover of her trade. "Lend-lease" which meant that the US sold the UK old and decrepit ships for wickedly inflated prices and kept Britain poor following the war when the US helped Germany and Japan rebuild and left Britain starving was only finally repaid a few years ago; this was a deliberate policy of Americans who hated Britain and envied her pre-war status. The skulduggery and malicious intentions of the US are laid bare in this book, and serve to heighten and illuminate the goodwill and precious help that these three men gave to Britain. Had Britain capitulated to Germany as the French had done, with no place in Europe to base an opposition to the Nazis, America would have been in no position to fight them and would (with the delighted collaboration of people like Joe Kennedy, Charles Lindberg and other American heroes) have been forced to get into bed with Hitler. This book should be read by all Americans, especially Hollywood which likes to portray the Americans riding in heroically to save the day, and steals the stories of other nations' heroes with their historically incorrect portrayal of the Great Escape, the Enigma rescue etc., which were due to the British, Poles, etc.. Considering what an important figure in all this the American ambassador was (no! not THAT self-serving despicable person!) - the name of John Gilbert Winant ought to be better known. This good man was an essential element in winning the war and should be more famous. If Britain owes a debt of gratitude to anyone, it is to this man. A statue in London to John Gilbert Winant, anyone?
While I was familiar with Murrow and Harriman, I admit to having zero knowledge of who Gil Winant was. The book was worth the read just to learn about him but it taught much more than that. The author conveyed what it was like to be in London during WWII and conveyed political realities that do not appear in the "social studies" books.
The narrator was terrific. I know it sounds like a dull subject but it wasn't and the narrator truly helped it to be showcased well. I learned a great deal and just might listen to it again in the future.
Our heroes are not always heroic. This may not be news, but seems to be the theme of this particular history. Purportedly a tale of three Americans who lived in London during the Battle of Britain and through the war, Citizens of London is really a larger story of how Britain came to find herself overshadowed by the ally she had so ardently courted. Few of the participants are treated kindly. Among the three primary figures, one came from poverty and the others from money.
Averell Harriman was the wealthiest. The son of railroad baron E. H. Harriman, he is characterized as having spent his early years growing his fortune and the war years using it to gain access to powerful people. It is difficult to believe that someone as shallow as the Harriman depicted here could grow into the statesman who later served with such distinction.
Born into a prosperous family, John G. Winant spent his entire life in public service. Harriman spent WW I building ships; Winant served as a fighter pilot. The consummate progressive, Winant left the Republican party to serve Roosevelt in 1935. While serving as Ambassador to England from 1941 to 1946, he eschewed the perquisites of his position and shared the hardships of the English people during the Battle of Britain. The author bestows no unkind word on Mr. Winant.
Edward R. Murrow fares almost as well, though his journalistic objectivity is often impugned and his affair with Pamela Churchill receives inordinate attention.
Churchill and Roosevelt are characterized as egotists more interested in dominating the conversation than in communicating. Churchill comes off a bit more positively, if only because he swallowed his pride to court Roosevelt - the leader of the only country capable of saving England from the Nazis. United States reluctance to enter the war is examined from the British perspective of desperately needing support, rather than from the American perspective of not wishing to enter yet another conflict arising from historical rivalries of which it was not a party. Roosevelt seems to be criticized both for wanting to meddle in European affairs (as in discussions of Belgian ethnic divisions) and not wanting to meddle (as in delaying discussions about Germany’s post-war future). Eisenhower is presented as a hayseed whose only positive virtue is his insistence on a unified command structure within the Allied Forces. Although the author eventually acknowledges the development of warm feelings between the British and the Americans who were staged there prior to Normandy, much more time is spent describing their efforts to keep apart from the local population and their relatively higher standard of living. Americans back home are also criticized for enjoying a higher standard of living than the populations of war-torn Europe.
This is an interesting book which reminds us that the people who lead us are, like the rest of us, neither whole heroic nor wholly ignoble. It also reminds us that important decisions are often made with incomplete information by people who are under considerable stress. For those who enjoy biography, Citizens of London is an interesting read. For those seeking a deeper understanding of history, I would recommend skepticism.
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