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In his new book, Never Surrender: Winston Churchill and Britain’s Decision to Fight Nazi Germany in the Fateful Summer of 1940, John Kelly provides a well-researched and admirably written narrative account of the decision of the Churchill War Cabinet to fight on despite the odds. The book commences with the British victory parade in London in 1919 and continues through with appeasement and the early stages of the war, including the Norwegian campaign, the unseating of Neville Chamberlain, Churchill’s appointment as prime minister, and Dunkirk. Kelly observes that Churchill was shielded from criticism for his role in the disastrous Norwegian campaign by his four years of warnings about Germany and that Chamberlain had no such shield. The well-known story of the critical days of late May 1940, with Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax pressing for a negotiated settlement and telling the cabinet it was time to “face the facts,” is told with aplomb. While Halifax was advocating a compromise peace, rather than surrender, Kelly writes that “When Churchill spoke of fighting on alone, the mantle of history – Agincourt, Waterloo, Trafalgar, the Armada – sang through his sentences. When Halifax spoke of achieving a new ‘European Arrangement,’ he sounded like a nervous solicitor reading from a half-thought-out brief.” Although the decision to fight on was made at the end of May 1940, Kelly carries the narrative through the surrender of France, sinking of the French fleet, and the opening stages of the Battle of Britain. Throughout the book Kelly makes interesting use of the reports of Mass Observation, a social research and public opinion organization, to weave the opinions and emotions of the British public into his account. Kelly also reflects the judgments of Churchill’s contemporary critics as well as the frustrations of some of his senior political colleagues and military advisors in his capsule portrait of the prime minister when he writes that, “Churchill in the abstract was easier to admire than Churchill the flesh-and-blood man whose remarkable qualities of mind and heart came with a high-price in the form of rashness, bellicosity, a galloping ambition, endless monologues, and a backward-looking vision.” Kelly has previously written The Graves are Walking and The Great Mortality. Never Surrender is published by Scribner.

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