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)
What a spellbinding account of the struggle of Great Britain to survive the German onslaught! Although we Americans tend be self congratulatory about our role in WW II, all except the American heroes of this book PALE.
It puts a level of character to history that is mind boggling!
John Gilbert Winant, a new hero statesman brought to our consciousness yielding a previously untold story impacting the human content of the times.
John Gilbert Winant tending to beleaguered Londoners during the blitz.
The untold stories of front line efforts.
World War 2 and the lessons from it are not too far in the past that current events do not threaten to repeat this history. Nationalism. False sense of security. Greed. Weariness. How does one rise above these human weaknesses to see now what lies ahead?
I expected this book to be about 3 Americans in London during WWII (Edward R. Murrow, Averell Harriman and John Winant), but it ended up being more than that. Maybe too much more because, although I liked the book, at times it felt unfocused.
The stories about Murrow, Harriman and Winant are fascinating and well worth the listen--and if you like reading about London during WWII, you will probably enjoy this book. Just know that the book veers off course at times.
Gives a detailed history of what was going on during WWII and made me feel like my history classes cheated me out of so much history!!
There are to many to count - this book was so informative, interesting and brought so much to light. London during the war had so much to contend with and this book really digs into the relationship between key figures from the US and UK.
Yes - but don't want to spoil it if a reader doesn't know the facts.
Good read - all Americans should read this book.
Morey's narration brought wartime London, its citizens, and the most moral and noble Americans who stood with them to life. Made me realize why I love the English.
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.
Semi retired CPA, Sarah's mom, corgi mom, avid traveler, political junkie, somewhere north of ATL
First of all, let me say this is a well written, illuminating account of WWII London and the major players in the British/American alliance. It is a nonstop read, and a highly educational, enjoyable one. There is much to learn about the behind the scenes action from this author. Not to be missed are the in-house diplomatic/political/military rivalries and competitions that were a constant source of frustration to individuals and the war effort. The author brings to life the war struggles by focusing on the individuals and their personality traits. The American ambassador, Mr. John Gilbert Winant, was a tremendous asset to our country. His story is one that too few Americans (including me) know and this history does much to correct that. So much has been written about Joe Kennedy's missteps while in that post, that this gentleman has been ignored. After reading this, I predict you will be searching for much more information on this man. The history of Edward R Murrow was new to me, also. I do remember him on TV when I was a young child, however, I was woefully ignorant of his time in England during the war. His stature as a famed broadcaster is more easily understood. I am on my second listening and keep making historical connections that I missed the first time. I will probably be re listening to parts of this over and over. There are liaisons of varying types and degrees that are woven into the fabric of this history. However, the most surprising are the love affairs amongst this elite group of history makers. Husbands, wives, daughters, sons........a very close knit group getting even closer. Was it the war? Lack of TV? Too many cocktail parties? Maybe it was in the English water..........If you love British and American history..........you will have a great time with this book
I haven't read the print version, so I can't comment. However, the narrator was perfect!
I've done a bit of WWII reading, but there were so many stories that I had not heard, including small anecdotes of commoners as well as world leaders. My favourite is one about then Princess Elizabeth and two American military policemen. The stories complement the depth and angle from which Olson presents the war.
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