Tag: London


Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood With Britain In their Darkest Hour by Lynne Olson

September 7th, 2017 — 5:54pm

Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood With Britain In Their Darkest Hour by Lynne Olson

I thought that I had a pretty good understanding of the famous cast of characters behind the scenes of World War II. Growing up in the post-war years, I read many books and followed radio, television and movies on this subject. I certainly heard the previous generation talk about FDR and the New Deal. Also, Edward R. Murrow was one of my heroes and I collected his I Can Hear It Now record albums and as a youngster, I followed his TV shows Person To Person and other productions, and even tried in a small way to emulate him during college as I had a radio program called Face the Mike. But I must admit after reading Citizens of London, I realized that I  “didn’t know squat” which really means I didn’t appreciate what was really going on during this fascinating time in history.

This book puts the spotlight mainly on three people:

Gil Winant who was Ambassador to England from the United States during World War II.

Averell Harriman, who was in charge of Lend-Lease and a confidant of Roosevelt and Churchill.

Edward R. Murrow, who was the iconic radio newsman who made memorable broadcast from England back to the United States.

In addition, this book provided an amazing insight into the thinking of Winston Churchill and FD Roosevelt, as well as Dwight Eisenhower and the people around these great men.

This book also captures, in depth, the atmosphere in Britain from the late 1930s to the post-war years. The author provides insight into the thinking and feelings of the citizens of London, as well as the Americans who, for various reasons, spent much of his period in this very special city. We come to see and understand the contrast between England as they battled the Nazis, who eventually took over Europe, and the Americans on the other side of the pond who were very reluctant to get involved in the war. In Britain, they were rationing food while America was coming out of a depression and beginning to enjoy prosperity.

It took the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to get the United States to finally join the British in the war against Germany. This book gives us an inside view of the bustling City of London as hundreds of thousands, if not more, of the allied soldiers gathered to await for D-Day. We see this city become a vibrant place, despite having been heavily bombed by the Germans,  that would endure even more severe V2 rocket attacks later in the war.

I also had no idea of the disputes and infighting between the British generals and their American  counterparts, as well as the jostling between FDR and Winston Churchill. It was especially interesting to see the behind-the-scene interactions when these great leaders held their secret meetings during the war  or as they communicated back and forth through their emissaries.  We are also given the sense of the complicated post-war planning or should I say the serious lack of such planning that created many difficulties when the war finally ended. It was an amazing disparity between the jubilant United States at the end of the war that was looking forward to an expanding economy, an equally jubilant, liberated and unscared Paris, filled with victorious soldiers and grateful citizens, whereas London was still climbing out of the devastating damage from the bombing, rationing and the scourge of war  as the Americans found their way home.

This book couldn’t cover everything in depth and it is a little light in discussing the extent of the holocaust. It did describe perhaps Edward R. Murrow’s most dramatic radio broadcast back to the United States (even more memorable than the broadcast from a US bomber over Germany that was nearly blasted from the sky) and that was the broadcast of Murrow’s description after he entered the Buchenwald concentration camps with the US troops. As he witnessed the unspeakable horrendous sights  he nevertheless did find the words to describe them, despite his tears.

Lynne Olson has tapped many historical resources, published diaries, as well as archives about the war to provide a vivid and sometimes a very personal behind-the-scenes account of World War II. She has framed this story by focusing on a handful of participants, one of which is the City of London itself. The author also pulled aside the curtain that  usually covers the personal lives of these famous participants. The wind and heat of war apparently led to various romantic liaisons in the three major subjects of this book, Winant, Harriman and Murrow and even involved trysts with women of the Churchill Family. There was even an unexpected very sad suicide by one very important character in this book.

This is a very well done, informative and interesting book that well deserves your attention.

 

Comment » | P - Political

My Father’s Fortune by Michael Frayn

April 21st, 2012 — 11:13pm

My Father’s Fortune—Michael Frayn is an accomplished author and playwright who has written the story of his father’s life which is in part  an autobiography of his own youth growing up in the outskirts of London. The author has already exceeded the life span of his father who died at the age of 69. The book is Frayn’s attempt of a remembrance of his father, which he wishes to pass on to future generations of his family. By his own words, his father was not a remarkable man, rather quite typical for the times. His son is able to put  this story in public view because he is an accomplished writer who writes quite well and has a history of successful award winning novels and plays. It is not because it is a captivating unique, particularly insightful view into the human psyche. As a psychiatrist who has had the privilege of listening to many family histories in great detail over the years, this one as presented doesn’t not rate very high as one with complex  or unusual revealing psycho dynamics. Of course it was not the purpose of this author to purport his story as anything more than the tale of his beloved father.

Certainly since the author’s mother died when he was a pre-adolescent, his father took on a more significant role in his life . This was especially pertinent because his subsequent stepmother never became very important to him or to his sister. His father was a poorly educated man who had a difficult childhood, had a hereditary hearing deficit (which was not passed on to his sister or himself) and worked as an asbestos salesman for most of his life. He never had much money and would always prefer to buy something second hand or improvise even when he could afford things. He wasn’t particularly affectionate to his kids and actually made his son feel that he was a disappointment to him because he never quite caught on to the British national sport of cricket. In retrospect, the author appreciated his father’s effort to see that he had a good education which made a difference in his life especially  because he became a man of words.

It should be mentioned that the picture which he painted of his only younger sibling was not very flattering. He noted that she chose not to talk to him or his second wife for most of his adult life, without any reason known to the author. In the end, the book as broadens the reader’s cultural awareness, by describing a close up look at one family in London, in the generation spanning before, during and after World War II. The family highlight was the family’s experience with the “doodle bomb”  which was the Nazi’s pilot less rocket bombs which frequently attacked their neighborhood and all of London.
We cannot fault this talented author for wanting to tell the story of his family for future generations of his progeny. However, it would have been twice as good a read had the author instead written a novel and weaved a plot or an interesting storyline on top of all the descriptions of the events of his family.

Comment » | AM - Autobiography or Memoir, B - Biography

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