The First Day of the Blitz


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September 7, 1940

Peter Stansky

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In the first terrifying hours of the London Blitz, when the skies rained bombs from hundreds of German planes, the British people were galvanized and the nation’s future was changed 

On September 7, 1940, the long-feared and anticipated attack by the German Luftwaffe plunged London into a cauldron of fire and devastation. This compelling book recreates that day in all its horror, using rich archival sources and first-hand accounts, many never before published. Eminent historian Peter Stansky weaves together the stories of people who recorded their experiences of the opening hours of the Blitz. Then, exploring more deeply, the author examines what that critical day meant to the nation at the time, and what it came to mean in following years. Much of the future of Britain was determined in the first twelve hours of bombing, Stansky contends. The Blitz set in motion a range of responses that contributed to ultimate victory over Germany and to a transformation of British society. The wave of terror, though designed to quash morale, instead inspired stoicism, courage, and a new camaraderie. The tragic London bombing can reveal much of relevance to our own violent times, Stansky concludes: both the effectiveness of modern terror and its ultimate failure are made powerfully clear by the events of September 7, 1940.

Peter Stansky is Frances and Charles Field Professor of History, Emeritus, Stanford University.

"This is a lively and dramatic account. Stansky's conclusion, that the experiences of the first night of the Blitz were formative in initiating a social revolution in Britain, makes a real contribution to historical understanding."--Sir Michael Howard, University of Oxford

"In this thoughtful and sensitive book, Peter Stansky shows - both for and against the stereotype - the English being fully human when faced with one of the first acts of terror to be visited upon a modern urban populace. They are shocked, horrified, angered. They panic, they rally, they remain clam. Their response is sometimes bad, sometimes shambolic, sometimes magnificent. It is a very human drama, served up beautifully by a very humane historian."--Peter Mandler, University of Cambridge, and author of The English National Character

"Drawing upon eyewitness accounts, Stansky depicts with vivid immediacy the mixture of ordinariness and terror that characterized the onset of the Blitz. Few scholarly accounts demonstrate so compellingly the resilience and stoicism with which Londoners endured aerial bombing in September 1940, despite official unpreparedness."--Fred Leventhal, Boston University

"He offeres a vivid account of how Londoners withstood attack.  Recent events have shown how that resilient spirit lives into our own day." - William Hay, Literary Review

'From the ruins of the buildings levelled on that first night, the myth of the Blitz, still potent today, arose.  Stansky makes well-judged use of eyewitness accounts to highlight the reality behind the myth.'  - Nick Rennison, Sunday Times

'...Stansky has trawled both the available British and American Blitz literature -- especially writer-witnesses such as George Orwell and Vera Brittain -- and the unpublished accounts of humbler folk.  The result is is a competent and workmanlike survey of the most traumatic day in London's long life.'  - Nigel Jones, Sunday Telegraph

'Through diligent and intelligent use of archive material, Stansky conveys the terror Londoners felt as the bombs rained down.'  - Gavin Mortimer, BBC Who Do You Think You Are Magazine

"There is no shortage of books about the Blitz, but Peter Stansky's is up there with the best."  - John O'Connell, Time Out

'The 'Blitz' is now the stuff of legend, but from a wider perspective Stansky characterizes its failure as evidencing a fundamental transformation in the British psyche.  Using a variety of archival sources and unpublished testimonies, he convincingly argues that in the darkness of the Blitz can be seen the birth of a new national identity -- one that paved the way for the 1945 Labour victory and the birth of the welfare state.' - The Good Book Guide

'Historian Stansky uses first-hand accounts to discover that far from demoralising the people of Britain, the bombings inspired them to rise up and eventually conquer the Nazi enemy.'  - Dorset Echo

"This is a fascinating narrative of the Blitz, and it covers much more than just the first day.  It vividly contrasts the official version of the experience with first hand eyewitness accounts of firemen, wardens, rescuers and the bombed Londoners themselves."  - Ian Cawood, Birmingham Post

"Stansky utilizes archival sources and numerous eyewitness testimonies in an absorbing but often horrifying story of a city under siege. . . . This is a superb account of a terrible and important day in the life of a nation."—Booklist

"It is the eyewitness accounts of the horror and terror of that awful night as told in the diaries, memoirs and recollections of everyday Londoners that make up much of this engrossing book and give it an added poignancy."—Tom Mackin, Newark Sunday Star Ledger

"The First Day of the Blitz is a highly readable history of what the author describes as one of the best-documented major events in British history. Excellent first-person accounts and well-chosen news reports give the reader the sense of being righ on the scene. . . . Anyone interested in World War II—or in human resilience—will enjoy this short, dramatic, and well-documented book."—Bob Sanchez, The Internet Review of Books


"A highly meditative work in which the voices of those who lived through that terrible day and night nevertheless predominate, The First Day of the Blitz is a timely addition to the historical literature on the civilian experience of the Second World War."—Journal of British Studies

"Stansky is an elegant and sensitive writer who depicts the scene with artistry." —Paul Addison, The International History Review

"Excellent. . . . The First Day of the Blitz is well written, and would make profitable reading for anyone with even a passing interest in history."—The New York Military Affairs Symposium Review

"The volume's distinctive contribution [is] its use of literary and cultural materials and references as a means to enlighten the reader and place events in perspective."—James V. Koch, H-German
ISBN: 9780300143355
Publication Date: November 18, 2008
224 pages, 5 x 7 3/4
16 b/w illus.

Sales Restrictions: World excluding Australia and New Zealand

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