Five Days in London, May 1940


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John Lukacs

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The days from May 24 to May 28, 1940 altered the course of the history of this century, as the members of the British War Cabinet debated whether to negotiate with Hitler or to continue the war. The decisive importance of these five days is the focus of John Lukacs’s magisterial new book.

Lukacs takes us hour by hour into the critical unfolding of events at 10 Downing Street, where Churchill and the members of his cabinet were painfully considering their war responsibilities. We see how the military disasters taking place on the Continent—particularly the plight of the nearly 400,000 British soldiers bottled up in Dunkirk—affected Churchill’s fragile political situation, for he had been prime minister only a fortnight and was regarded as impetuous and hotheaded even by many of his own party. Lukacs also investigates the mood of the British people, drawing on newspaper and Mass-Observation reports that show how the citizenry, though only partly informed about the dangers that faced them, nevertheless began to support Churchill’s determination to stand fast.

Other historians have dealt with Churchill’s difficulties during this period, using the partial revelations of certain memoirs and private and public papers. But Lukacs is the first to convey the drama and importance of these days, and he does so in a compelling narrative that combines deep knowledge with high literary style.

John Lukacs was professor of history at Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia, until his recent retirement and has been visiting professor at many universities. He is the author of twenty-one books, among them The Hitler of History, The Duel, The End of the Twentieth Century and The End of the Modern Age (which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize), and the most recent, A Thread of Years, also published by Yale University Press. He is the recipient of numerous academic honors and awards.

A selection of Readers’ Subscription and Doubleday Select

"Nobody has done more than John Lukacs to turn the short history book into an art form. His masterpiece, Five Days in London, 1940, was immediately recognized as a modern classic. The wonderful clarity of his thought led directly to the clarity of his prose. Lukacs, an American professor of Hungarian birth and the author of nearly 30 works, is undoubtedly one of the wisest thinkers on the period."—Antony Beevor, Toronto Globe & Mail

"John Lukacs is one of the most original and profound of contemporary thinkers."—Paul Fussell

"A page-turner. . . . Painstaking, meticulous, and fascinating."—America

"John Lukacs's account of five dramatic days in May 1940, when Winston Churchill and his Cabinet had to decide whether to negotiate or stand alone against Hitler, is a relatively compact book, but it has the power and sweep of Shakespeare's chronicle plays. . . . One of Lukacs's impressive strengths is a gripping narrative drive. He is lucid and splendidly readable, and furthermore, commands a host of dramatic characters."—Robert Taylor, Boston Globe

"Lukacs has constructed a gripping narrative. . . . This is a must for every World War II buff."—Jules Wagman, Cleveland Plain Dealer

"This is a readable and rigorous little volume that is put down with difficulty in the middle and with regret at the end."—Conrad Black, Daily Telegraph

"Thanks to John Lukacs, we now have a far clearer understanding of that time nearly 60 years ago that held such dangerous and courageous choices for the future of mankind."—Calvin L. Christman, Dallas Morning News

"This is as dramatic a moment in history as you are likely to get."—Forbes Magazine

"Superb. . . . John Lukacs’s book—at once a provocative work of history and a marvelous historical entertainment, one that can be compared to such classics as Hugh Trevor-Roper’s The Last Days of Hitler and Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August—offers a timely reminder of that a debt the world owes Sir Winston Churchill."—Michael Korda, Harper’s Magazine

"Those concerned with the long tides of history and with the coils of chance in human destiny will delight in the elegant, searching and affecting book Lukacs has written about a critical time."—Lynwood Abram, Houston Chronicle

"A superb reconstruction of a crucial moment in the war."—Brian Bethune, Maclean’s

"A readable, scholarly, suspenseful book. . . . Like the rest of Lukacs’ books, this one deserves the highest recommendation: it is the work of a master at the top of his form."—Lewis Bernstein, Military Reform

"[Lukacs] brings to his topic, as to everything else he has treated, a sparkling and original mind."—Michael Howard, National Interest

"Between May 24 and May 28 [1940], history itself was in the balance, and Lukacs reconstructs these days with the immediacy and detail of a thriller, using a wide range of government and private papers."—David Pryce-Jones, National Review

"[A] word-of-mouth best seller (and Giuliani favorite) . . . [a] gripping story of how Churchill rallied the British at a crucial juncture."—Michael Glitz, New York Post

"Churchill’s response [to Hitler’s proposals is] superlatively chronicled in John Lukacs’s moving Five Days in London, May 1940."—Simon Schama, New York Review of Books



"Churchill’s response [to Hitler’s proposals is] superlatively chronicled in John Lukacs’s moving Five Days in London, May 1940."—Simon Schama, New York Review of Books

"Historian John Lukacs, who has written widely on World War II and on Hitler and Churchill, comprehensively traces the events of that long weekend, which culminated in Churchill's decision on May 28th to fight on, no matter what happened to France. He did not, in that weekend of courage and remarkable self-confidence, win the war, as Lukacs makes clear, but rather gave the first breath of the bellows to the desperate embers of hope for the Allies."—David Murray, New York Times Book Review

"Lukacs's scholarship re-creates with great immediacy the chaotic few days during which, according to the author, Hitler came closest to winning the war. . . . Lukacs concentrates on the struggle with the British War Cabinet, which pitted the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, against the Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax. . . . Churchill's stubborn refusal won out. The author's equally stubborn digging uncovered a stunning amount of defeatism and intrigue against Churchill by contemporary statesmen."—New Yorker

"Artfully constructed and elegantly narrated."—Philadelphia Inquirer

"Eminent historian Lukacs delivers the crown jewel to his long and distinguished career with this account of five days—May 24-28, 1940—that could have changed the world.' Lukacs posits that it was during those five days in London 'that Western civilization, not to mention the Allied cause in WWII, was saved from Hitler's tyranny.' . . . This new work focuses on these five days with a microscopic view. It is the work of a man who lives and breathes history, whose knowledge is limitless and tuned to a pitch that rings true."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A lucid and insightful account. . . . In this finely wrought story, Lukacs rises to the level of the events he writes about, giving us a fresh, vivid account of free people rising to meet an ultimate challenge."—Peter Stanford, Sea History

"[Readers] are in for a treat that encompasses everything from grand strategy to British domestic politics, the behavior of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to the gritty diary of George Orwell, and even the glorious weather of those five crucial days. . . . Five Days in London is political history of a very high standard."—Morris Williams, The Daily Yomiuri

"There is a great deal of new material here. . . . An immensely valuable contribution to the literature of World War II."—The New York Military Affairs Newsletter

"[A] riveting book. . . . Lukacs weaves his account from a rich assembly sources—excerpts from the diaries of Enoch Powell, Evelyn Waugh, George Orwell, Virginia Woolf, mystery writer Margery Allingam, all the official records and the opinion surveys that kept showing a stubborn determination of the ordinary British to carry on."—Sandra Gwyn, Toronto Globe and Mail

"New York mayor Rudy Giuliani says he has been reading and is inspired by John Lukacs’ Five Days in London, May 1940."—USA Today

"Lukacs has a storyteller’s gift and writes beautifully on a subject that might by lesser historians be taken for granted. Must reading for any World War II scholar or buff."—Virginia Quarterly Review

"Lukacs, who has written about World War II in several earlier books, reviews the British record at this moment through hypothetical Anglophobe eyes. . . . [A] fascinating work of historical reconstruction. . . . [Lukacs] gives us much to ponder in this intriguing—and perhaps still controversial—story."—Stanley Weintraub, Wall Street Journal

"This gem of a book, the distillation of an important historian's life work, is a compelling antidote for those afflicted with historical amnesia."—Kai Bird, Washington Post

"This gem of a book, the distillation of an important historian's life work, is a compelling antidote for those afflicted with historical amnesia."—Kai Bird, Washington Post

"Reads as excitingly as any thriller or adventure story."—Washington Times

"A skillful weaving together of great power diplomacy, intra-War Cabinet debates, and pulse-takings of British blokes-in-the-street. . . . A book with many virtues, the most surprising of which may be its timeliness."—Weekly Standard

"No historian of the Second World War has John Lukac’s range, acuteness, intuition. He has written great works. Now comes a masterpiece. In the Five Days in London weare present, moment by moment, May 24 to May 28, 1940 as the British War Cabinet ponders whether to seek terms from Hitler, or fight on. Alone. . . . 'Not only the end of a European war but the end of Western civilization was near.' In the end Churchill prevails—just."—Daniel Patrick Moynihan

"I consider John Lukacs one of the outstanding historians of the generation and, indeed, of our time."—Jacques Barzun

No. 8 on the 2001 Washington Post Book World Best-Seller list
ISBN: 9780300084665
Publication Date: August 11, 2001
256 pages, 5 x 7 3/4
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