A couple times a year Connie and I will go shopping out of town for items we cannot find locally. When that occasion presents itself I always visit Barnes & Noble, or another book store. With the coronavirus putting the nix on that I visited Amazon.com for my quarterly fix a few weeks ago.
Books on history are my preference — with an emphasis on World War II. Like any avid reader, I have authors that I look for.
One of those is Erik Larson. I stumbled onto him by accident in 2009 when I picked up his first book, Devil in the White City. Published in 2003 it had already been a national bestseller for six years.
The gripping story is set in Chicago during the 1893 World’s Fair. Larson tells the true story of two men -— a brilliant architect behind the fair and a serial killer who used the fair to lure his victims to their death.
In addition to that book, Larson has written four other national bestsellers that I have enjoyed — Isaac’s Storm, Dead Wake, Thunderstruck and In the Garden of Beasts.
Dead Wake, the story of the last crossing of the Lusitania, was his last work, published in 2015.
I had almost given up, thinking that he may have retired when I discovered his latest adventure -— The Splendid And The Vile. This is the saga of Winston Churchill during his first year as Prime Minister of England when Hitler’s Germany bombed England in what is called the Blitz.
In addition to Larson’s writing style, I enjoy the fact that his chapters are concise. This book is 491 pages with 101 chapters. And, many chapters have breakpoints making it easy to read a couple of pages, when time is short, and find a good stopping point.
To understand the United Kingdom and its plight during the Blitz of 1940 to 1941, it is helpful to realize that the landmass of the U.K. is comparable to the state of Oregon. It is comprised of four countries England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There are 11 states that are larger in square miles than the U.K. Missouri is larger than England.
In 1939 the population of London was 8.6 million. That’s over 2 million more than the current estimated population of Missouri at 6.137 million. The population of the U.K. in 1941 was just over 48 million (America’s population was 132.1 million that same year).
During that year, according to Larson, close to 29,000 citizens of London were killed from German bombs and another 28,556 seriously injured. Throughout the United Kingdom total civilian deaths in 1940 and 1941, including London was 44,652, with another 52,370 injured.
Of the dead, 5,626 were children.
In loss of property, 2 million homes (60 percent of these in London) were destroyed in the Blitz.
To put things in perspective, as of Tuesday Missouri has had 605 deaths attributed to the coronavirus. Let’s hope and pray that we are over the hump.
Because the Blitz was before airplanes were equipped with radar, and most of the bombing raids were at night, there was little the Royal Air Force could do to defend against the Luftwaffe bombers.
The air raid sirens in London sometimes would go off several nights in a row. This forced Londoner’s into air raid shelters resulting in a lack of sleep.
What’s amazing to me is that the citizens of London — and the United Kingdom as a whole — did not panic or go completely mad during the Blitz. For the most part, they got up each morning — many times after being bombed with whole neighborhoods destroyed — and went to work to defeat Hitler.
Maybe it’s because they had a strong leader in Churchill who once said “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
For too many American’s, history starts when we are 16 years old. We can’t relate to the past. Reading history books, especially World War II has given me a better understanding of what generations before us endured.
I know it’s not the same, but today we are at war with the coronavirus. One difference is it’s an unseen enemy. An enemy we cannot get mad at or fight back or bomb. All we can do is stay six feet away from our neighbors and wait — that is frustrating.
As you may surmise I highly recommend any of the books by Larson. His first, Devil in the White City, is still my favorite. If you are not into history books, start with this one. You may just discover that history can be more exciting than fiction and become hooked.