The Splendid and the Vile

A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz
Narrated by: John Lee, Erik Larson
Length: 17 hrs and 43 mins
4.7 out of 5 stars (5,485 ratings)

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Interview: Erik Larson returns with an utterly gripping account of WWII-era family life and heroic leadership during one of history’s most anxious eras.

Erik Larson on How Winston Churchill Kept Calm in a Crisis
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  • The Splendid and the Vile
  • Erik Larson on How Winston Churchill Kept Calm in a Crisis

Publisher's Summary

The number one New York Times best-selling author of The Devil in the White City and Dead Wake delivers a fresh and compelling portrait of Winston Churchill and London during the Blitz.

NAMED ONE OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED BOOKS OF 2020 BY The Washington PostHuffPostThe Seattle TimesLit HubThe WeekPopSugar 

On Winston Churchill’s first day as prime minister, Adolf Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium. Poland and Czechoslovakia had already fallen, and the Dunkirk evacuation was just two weeks away. For the next 12 months, Hitler would wage a relentless bombing campaign, killing 45,000 Britons. It was up to Churchill to hold his country together and persuade President Franklin Roosevelt that Britain was a worthy ally - and willing to fight to the end.

In The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson shows, in cinematic detail, how Churchill taught the British people "the art of being fearless." It is a story of political brinkmanship, but it’s also an intimate domestic drama, set against the backdrop of Churchill’s prime-ministerial country home, Chequers; his wartime retreat, Ditchley, where he and his entourage go when the moon is brightest and the bombing threat is highest; and, of course, 10 Downing Street in London.

Drawing on diaries, original archival documents, and once-secret intelligence reports - some released only recently - Larson provides a new lens on London’s darkest year through the day-to-day experience of Churchill and his family: his wife, Clementine; their youngest daughter, Mary, who chafes against her parents’ wartime protectiveness; their son, Randolph, and his beautiful, unhappy wife, Pamela; Pamela’s illicit lover, a dashing American emissary; and the advisers in Churchill’s "Secret Circle", to whom he turns in the hardest moments.

The Splendid and the Vile takes listeners out of today’s political dysfunction and back to a time of true leadership, when, in the face of unrelenting horror, Churchill’s eloquence, courage, and perseverance bound a country, and a family, together.

This audiobook includes a recording of Winston Churchill's 1941 Christmas Eve speech.

©2020 Erik Larson (P)2020 Random House Audio

Critic Reviews

"What Larson brilliantly provides are the finer details of the effects on England as he focuses on the family and home of its dynamic, idiosyncratic, and indefatigable leader.... Larson's skill at integrating vast research and talent for capturing compelling human dramas culminate in an inspirational portrait of one of history’s finest, most fearless leaders." (Booklist, starred review)    

"A captivating history of Churchill’s heroic year, with more than the usual emphasis on his intimates." (Kirkus Reviews, starred review) 

"I have an early copy of this book on my desk and idly began reading the first pages—and suddenly time disappeared." (The Seattle Times

Featured Article: The Best British Narrators


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What listeners say about The Splendid and the Vile

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Great story; narrator terrible

The narrator is so affected, exaggerated, and draws such attention to himself that he detracts from a marvelous story. What unfortunate casting.

65 people found this helpful

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John Lee’s narration is a struggle

Loved the story, but found the narration hard to take—John Lee swallows the ends of words, has an odd clipped and staccato pronunciation, and makes women sound simpering. I would have preferred to read the book myself.

62 people found this helpful

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Will read the book, but NOT the narration

I can't get past the narration when listening to this book. The narrator is too difficult to listen to. It is like listening to an overly dramatic Victorian era stage actor. Very clipped speech, nothing flows. He is unable to do the voices, especially Churchill. I am going to try and get a refund for the audio version. I haven't gotten through the first chapter. I will, however, read the book, since I really enjoy the Erik Larson books.

53 people found this helpful

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Wow

I don’t have the words. I hated to come to the end of the book, and the end of the story. While in the beginning I found the dropped syllables of the reader an annoyance, I soon didn’t notice whether they continued to be dropped, because of the compelling narrative. It is so important for us to remember, and maybe take heart from, the example of Churchill and of all who fought in those years, that there was a higher purpose than greed, than self-serving conquest; and that greed and conquest can - and must - be resisted and defeated. Thank you, Mr. Larson, for writing this book, and Mr. Lee, for reading it.

32 people found this helpful

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Excellent

First of all, it’s Erik Larson. I have read a lot about WWII, And wasn’t sure I wanted to read more about Churchill. But once I got into it, I couldn’t put this book down, and saw Churchill and the home-front war in England in a new and more personal light. And, like I said, it’s Erik Larsen.

31 people found this helpful

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Erik finally falters - nothing new on Churchill

i am a big Erik Larson fan. i’d waited anxiously for the release date to come for this book. When i saw the topic i wondered what he’d add that was need to one of the most coveted subjects in history. Alas, no new twists, no additional tension created. Basically, a summary of many much finer books on the subject. Did Erik finally go for a quick payday? Disappointed.

30 people found this helpful

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  • 02-29-20

Larson never disappoints

I have read every Erik Larson book and they are all excellent. He research is detailed but factoids never get in the way of his ability to tell a good story. I have read a great deal about WW2 in Europe but learned several new things in just the first chapter. The narrator is top notch and the editing has produced a tight well acted and authentic audio production.

23 people found this helpful

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Fascinating and hard to turn off

While those how are well read in history will know the trajectory of the story, the more personal details and sense of day by day happenings at all levels make for a compelling listen. Delighted to have this as a good listen during the COVID-19 quarantine.

15 people found this helpful

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Wow. An inside view of The Battle of Britain.

This is an inside view of Churchill and the Battle of Britain. A fine example of a personally imperfect person being the perfect person for the task at hand. There is always so much more to history than we are lead to believe.

15 people found this helpful

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Great perspective on WWII & Churchill

Gives you a great perspective on what it was like to be in London during the war and what Churchill was like as a leader.

15 people found this helpful