Alone

Britain, Churchill, and Dunkirk: Defeat into Victory
Narrated by: John Lee
Length: 12 hrs and 58 mins
Categories: History, Europe
4.5 out of 5 stars (1,093 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Combining epic history with rich family stories, Michael Korda chronicles the outbreak of World War II and the great events that led to Dunkirk.

An epic of remarkable originality, Alone captures the heroism of World War II as movingly as any book in recent memory. Bringing to vivid life the world leaders, generals, and ordinary citizens who fought on both sides of the war, Michael Korda, the best-selling author of Clouds of Glory, chronicles the outbreak of hostilities, recalling as a prescient young boy the enveloping tension that defined pre-Blitz London, and then as a military historian the great events that would alter the course of the 20th century.

For indeed, May 1940 was a month like no other. The superior German war machine blazed into France, as the Maginot Line, supposedly "as firmly fixed in place as the Pyramids", crumbled in days. With the fall of Holland and Belgium, the imminent fall of Paris, the British army stranded at Dunkirk, and Neville Chamberlain's government in political freefall, Winston Churchill became prime minister on this historical nadir of May 10, 1941. Britain, diplomatically isolated, was suddenly the only nation with the courage and the resolve to defy Hitler.

Against this vast historical canvas, Korda relates what happened and why. We first meet him at the age of six, surrounded by his glamorous movie family: his stage actress mother; his elegant father, Vincent, soon to receive an Academy Award; and his devoted Nanny Low, with whom he recites his evening prayers. Even the cheery BBC bulletins that Michael listened to every night could not mask the impending catastrophe, the German invasion so certain that the young boy, carrying his passport on a string around his neck, was evacuated to Canada on an ocean liner full of children.

Such alarm was hardly exaggerated. No one, after all, could have ever imagined that the most unlikely flotilla of destroyers - Dutch barges, fishing boats, yachts, and even rowboats - would rescue over 300,000 men off the beach at Dunkirk and bring them home to England. The miraculous return of the army was greeted with a renewed call for courage, and in the months that followed, the lives of tens of millions would be inexorably transformed, often tragically so, by these epochal weeks of May 1940.

It is this pivotal turning point in world history that Korda captures with such immediacy in Alone, a work that triumphantly demonstrates that even the most calamitous defeats can become the most legendary victories.

©2017 Success Research Corporation (P)2017 Audible, Inc.
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Exceptional

So much has been written about Churchill. Historians and authors are challenged to present information differently. Recently there have been several books published about Churchill.

Michael Korda combines military history and memoirs in a unique manner to tell of the beginning of World War Two, the fall of France and the miracle of Dunkirk. Korda has stories within stories of tragedies and heroic acts. Korda states the French Army collapsed because of fatal strategic misjudgments, paralysis of will, helpless pessimism, political intrigue and lack of leadership. The author reminds us that the British had a courageous, canny, inspirational leader in Winston S. Churchill.

The book is well written and researched. This is definitely a British story. I enjoyed that the author included his family’s story into the mix of civilian stories. The story’s main thrust is of the British Expeditionary Forces retreating from the Nazi Blitzkrieg that leveled Belgium then turned toward Paris. Korda focused on the key players of Chamberlain, Churchill, Hitler and Admiral Bertram Ramsey. If you are interested in Churchill or World War II, you will enjoy this book.

The book is thirteen hours long. John Lee does an excellent job narrating the book. John Lee is one of my favorite narrators. Lee has won multiple Earphone Awards. In 2009 he won the Golden Voice Award and he has won a number of Audies in different genre over the years.

114 people found this helpful

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A great intro to WW2

As an American, I was not taught about the real beginnings of World War II especially from the British and French point of view. Much of my education, I’m sorry to say, was somewhat jingoistic and nationalistic in terms of deemphasizing the role of other nations in World War II and overemphasizing the part of the United States.

Mr. Korda has rectfied that. This is a great treatise on the beginning of World War II from the Munich treaty in 1938 to Dunkirk in June 1940. He does a fantastic job of illustrating the various personalities of the French, German and British general as Well as the mistakes in terms of battle planning that lead to Hitler being able to over run most of continental Europe.He also talks the impact of the war on British civilians using his own family as an example.

I loved this book; I hope that he continues the story of war war two from the British point of view.

12 people found this helpful

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JUST NEEDED A BIT MORE

The book is good, but could have been so much better. It is well balanced in that is not bogged down with military actions, where one would need a map to see which troops were moving to which part of the ongoing battles, which is a blessing as so often with books of this kind it is utterly confusing as to whom is where.

The story develops well, gives one an outline as to how troops in Dunkirk where trapped without being over elaborate and not taking up more than a few chapters. Is very well written and narrated but focuses very much on the actual escape of the troops and does not really convey the horror of the continuing rear guard action to keep the beaches open. In fact the rear guard action by the allies is hardly ever mentioned. Which I feel is imperative to tell the whole story of Dunkirk. The author has kept this more as a feel good book, rather than the horrors of war book, which is super, but the terror of those days just does not show through at all.

Saying that a solid book that is worth the credit.

8 people found this helpful

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An Oft-Told Tale, Superbly Told

It’s a story made familiar through the works of Alistair Horne, John Lukacs, Ernest May, John Keegan, Paul Reid, et al. And, of course, Churchill himself. But Michael Korda makes it fresh. No doubt, that’s partly due to his unique perspective. We get, for example, a six-year-old boy’s view of the radio on which he heard Neville Chamberlain telling Britons they were once again at war with Germany.

And yet, as fascinating as it is, the Korda family story is a small part of this history. Moving easily between a boy’s micro perspective to the broader sweep of politics and strategy, the style is crisp, the insights eye-opening. I’d never realized (or forgotten I’d read) that the Polish campaign was more conventional than the “Blitzkrieg” label suggests. The evacuation of children from London and other bombing targets (“Operation Pied Piper”), comes in for some unexpected—and justified—criticism. We learn that Churchill, whose titanic output includes history, biography, memoir, journalism and speeches, also penned dialogue for Hollywood movies. The seminal question, “Why did the panzers halt?” receives no pat answer, but a balanced evaluation of the many familiar, pat answers. That same balance is on display in a discussion of the myth and romance of Dunkirk. The book’s most powerful aspect may be the record of human suffering, both military and civilian. As Korda points out, for the refugees—especially the Jewish refugees—there was no Dunkirk.

John Lee is, as usual,excellent; his pacing and tone match the story he’s telling. Not that there aren’t occasional glitches. For example, it took me a while to realize Lee was saying “eminence grise”; and I’m still not sure if it was the fault of my ears, the recording or Lee’s French accent.

5 people found this helpful

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Wonderful Book!

A perfect balance of the relating of pure facts, analysis, and personal insight. The narration was excellent. I would highly recommend this book to any history lover.

29 people found this helpful

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I Wanted To Love This But--Hmm... Maybe I Did!

I mean, after all, it's military history AND memoir, for heaven's sake! What's not to love.
But it took me two listens to like it.
At first, I thought it was mostly Churchill being a boisterous drunk, French incompetent flailings, and the Korda family being spoiled and disconnected.
But maybe it's John Lee's sweeping narration that added tones of bravery, tones of determination despite fear, tones of such color to an entitled family. (And make no mistake, the Korda's are totally entitled and removed from the desperation; you'll find no engagement there.)
Alone wound up being rather good, even if it missed on a few cylinders the first time around.
A decent listen as Lee very much makes it. Sorry I used a whole credit on it, though...

22 people found this helpful

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Excellent

Michael Korda is an excellent writer who gives the reader a fresh take on Dunkirk. Although this story has been told many times by many people through the years, he gives a good account of the politics and people who lived through this very terrible period. It is an excellent narrative for anyone interested in WW2.

12 people found this helpful

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Great and unexpected

I thought this book would be a history about the time between the surrender of France and the invasion of the USSR. I was pleasantly surprised to find it covered the time leading up to the war and the Battle of France in great detail. the author's anecdotes regarding his own life as a child at the time provide a welcome humanizing element to a thoroughly engaging book.

1 person found this helpful

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  • rk
  • 01-26-18

"Alone" in excellence!

"Alone" is alone in its excellence and unique perspective about the early days of World War II and Britain's greatest hour.

7 people found this helpful

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Competing Narratives Diminish Good History

This book is really two books trying to be one with the thinnest of connecting threads. The first book is an excellently written and researched history of the opening moves in the German advance on Western Europe leading to the fall of France. In the public awareness of early WWII history, the evacuation of Dunkirk is the usual starting point, but Korda dives into the drama among competing German generals and dissenting opinions on how to attack the combined Allied forces and the historical events that lead to Dunkirk and eventually Paris. To World War II readers, Korda fills in pieces of a history rarely touched.

The second book is Korda’s memoir of his movie business family during the same time period, though his family is not connected to those events in any meaningful way. The most significant parallel Korda draws between the larger historical events and his family’s is that his uncle produced British propaganda films. The result of these two competing and unconnected stories is numerous jarring one sentence segues between a compelling narrative of German army advances to a rather uninteresting, and frankly unbelievable recollections of Korda sitting as a 7 year old while his nanny reads the day’s newspaper accounts to him.

In the general history sections Korda’s book is engaging reading. But the intertwined family history is both distracting and frankly not that interesting. The result is a book that needed an editor to convince Korda his approach to competing narratives didn’t work.

That said, Korda’s history apart from his family story makes this a worthwhile read. John Lee once again delivers a flawless performance despite a flawed script.

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  • John Warner
  • 08-21-19

Fascinating

My Uncle's Cyril and Ron (Tabor), were in the BEF at Dunkirk one 18 and the other 16, I failed to get much information from them save for the fact that they had had a free holiday on the Isle of Mann a few months before Dunkirk, which had lead to them joining the Territorials. France and the BEF followed, however, I knew little about the political events and the events that ensued.

I found this book informative and fascinating on many levels. I was left wanting to know more about all sorts of things, such as the British film industry and the authors family, the Vichy government, the Free French and a host of other things.

I will certainly look out for more by this author whose Uncle Alex I am sure would be proud of his narrative.

Fascinating stuff

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-13-18

A Fresh Take

Very enjoyable take on an important period of history. Liked the author's insertion of his own family history.

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  • Mr. J. Fanning
  • 03-13-18

Gripping, exciting and entertaining

Would you listen to Alone again? Why?

I loved the way Michael Korda wove the history of Dunkirk with his own personal and family reminiscences.

What was one of the most memorable moments of Alone?

Aspects of the Dunkirk story that tend to be forgotten, especially around those left behind.

What about John Lee’s performance did you like?

A ‘spot on’ performance by John Lee. Loved the variations in voice, accent and character as he told the story. Good balance between gravitas and levity. A very engaging and interesting ‘listen’.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

A book and a narration to savour over a length of time.

Any additional comments?

Such an interesting book and well performed.