Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Five Days in London, May 1940” as Want to Read:
Five Days in London, May 1940
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Five Days in London, May 1940

3.71  ·  Rating Details ·  617 Ratings  ·  101 Reviews
5/24 to 5/28/40 altered the course of the history, as the British War Cabinet debated whether to negotiate with Hitler or continue the war. The importance of these five days is the focus of Lukacs' new book. He takes us hour by hour into the unfolding of events at 10 Downing St, where Churchill & his cabinet were considering their war responsibilities. We see how the m ...more
Hardcover, 254 pages
Published October 5th 1999 by Yale University Press (New Haven/London) (first published 1999)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Five Days in London, May 1940, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Five Days in London, May 1940

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,118)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Sep 30, 2012 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-war-two
Very competent historical analysis of a five day period in May 1940 (24th to 28th). This was early in Churchill's premiership, the BEF was in retreat and had reached Dunkirk, France was about to fall and Churchill had opposition within the cabinet from those who wanted to explore whether peace terms were possible.
This is history in detail and Lukacs does it rather well. The relationships between Churchill, Chamberlain and Halifax are examined in detail. Churchill was by no means secure at this t
John P.
Jan 26, 2014 John P. rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A poorly organised and written history, that only retains two stars because the story - the five days during which Churchill's war cabinet debated whether to negotiate with Hitler - is inherently fascinating.

This made my frustration with Lukacs' rendering of his material all the greater. There are many examples of bad habits and stylistic foibles that both slow down and mangle the narrative.

Writing style is a matter of personal taste, but surely 'it would not develop' is a simpler and less pompo
James Murphy
Aug 08, 2010 James Murphy rated it really liked it
The well-known Phony War (Lukacs calls it the Reluctant War) followed Germany's invasion of Poland in September 1939 and the subsequent declarations of war by Britain and France. The following May Germany ended the Phony War by invading Belgium. French, British and Belgian forces were quickly overwhelmed by the new German tank-forward, airplane-supported tactics. Belgium capitulated. The beleaguered French and British retreated to the coat where 300,000+ troops were eventually evacuated from Dun ...more
John Kaufmann
Jan 29, 2016 John Kaufmann rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Excellent, and short, read about the critical first days of Churchill's government in May 1940 when the British Expeditionary Force was in retreat from the Nazi invasion of France. The story focuses mostly on the deliberations of the British War Cabinet and the existential choices they faced. These questions included whether they should support the French or whether the French were going to quit the fight; whether to evacuate and how to do so; whether to send out feelers for a negotiated settlem ...more
Aug 28, 2015 Nolan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nls-audio
I’m always a bit skittish with books that claim that a specific small time period became a hinge on which all of human history swung thereafter. I always get a bit suspicious that this is someone’s thesis desperately seeking importance in an information-saturated world. So I approached this with some care; indeed, it has been on a to-read pile for years. My skittishness was replace by fascination once I got into the book.

Winston Churchill is just hours into his prime ministership as the book beg
Dec 31, 2012 Jason rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I do not think in the history of the West, has it been as easy to point to such dramatic turning points, of the rising and falling of many, as the five days in London from May 24 through May 28th, 1940. From the perspective of over 70 years now, I think it is easy to just assume that the events that have happened since then - the winning over fascism, the ascendancy of the West over the communist bloc (led by America and Britain), even the lives that have lived in many cities and towns and their ...more
Mar 27, 2011 Don rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
(From my Blog) A few posts back, I compared the present upheavals in the Middle East to the dramatic events of October-November 1956 -- both being critical moments in history with future consequences that weren't, or won't be, fully realized until much later. Even better, I now realize, I might have called to mind the brief but critical period between May 24 to 28, 1940.

I've just finished reading Five Days in London, May 1940, by the American historian John Lukacs. Lukacs has views that seem som
Jens Hansen
Sep 04, 2013 Jens Hansen rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-war-2
A serious disappointment. But I also had fairly high expectations.
The structure of the book was incoherent.
The author sometimes travelled a bit too far in time and space. Certainly his remarks about the peace of Amiens should have been kept out of this book. And when the author expects that his readers understand what he means by Foxite and Hollandite Whigs then he certainly overestimates me. But I'm of course a simpleton who only graduated from Oxbridge.
In a few places the author states a fac
Jul 06, 2007 M. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a book for pragmatic optimists history curious folks. It is a little book, and it was a good and smart introduction (for me) to Winston Churchill. John Lukacs is a confident and enthusiastic historian (and his expertise on Hitler and Churchill is the real thing); while this book is specific to a time and place (Churchill has just become PM with no time to spare, the evacuation and fall of France, Their Finest Hour, etc), it paints a more general picture of the character, will, magnanimit ...more
Jim Martin
Luckas is a good writer and presents a good "portrait in time," of Britain at a critical point in World War II, the days immediately surrounding the evacuation of the BEF from the Continent. I have the impression, however, that he has a constructed a strawman for his main thesis in arguing that this was the closest that Hitler came to winning the war. Luckas builds this argument upon the inter-cabinet struggle between Halifax and Churchill over a possible diplomatic approach to Italy to mediate ...more
Frederick J

"In the end America and Russia [won the Second World War]. But in May 1940 Churchill was the one who did not lose it. Then and there he saved Britain, and Europe, and Western civilization."

After more than 70 years and the perfect hindsight it affords, we take what happened in the spring and summer of 1940 as a foregone conclusion. What Lukacs so interestingly reminds us is that that conclusion was anything but certain the last weekend of May 1940. In these few days it looked as though the German

Matt Poland
Crabbed in style and formally somewhat airless -- perhaps not unlike the negotiations of the War Cabinet -- nonetheless Lukacs makes a persuasive argument that late May 1940 was a "hinge" moment in history. He rehabilitated Chamberlain somewhat in my eyes, and forcefully shows the importance of this "microhistory" in the concluding chapter. I would have appreciated more thorough contextualization of the lead-up to the "Black Fortnight" early on, but perhaps the desired effect was to drop the rea ...more
Feb 02, 2015 Michael rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History buffs
This book is for serious history types. It focuses on Churchill's 1st week as PM and takes you through the complex events, meetings & conflicts that proved so critical to the prosecution of WWII. It deals primarily with Churchill, Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax, but also with their respective colleagues, other cabinet members, selecte diplomates (esp Italy & the US), and military figures. It is richly researched using official records and personal diaries, etc. Sounds boring? Well ...more
Michael Anderson
Mar 18, 2014 Michael Anderson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good book about Britain's decision to carry on the war against Hitler in 1940, when it looked likely that France and the rest of Western Europe were going down, the US and Russia had not yet entered the war, the entire British Expeditionary Force was mired in Dunkirk with the German Army closing in, and a German invasion of England was imminent. Covering five days right after Churchill became PM, it covers the relationships of the principals, the actions that led to Britain sticking it out rathe ...more
The author's writing style is difficult, but the subject was fascinating.
Nov 02, 2015 Bev rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting history of five critical days which strongly influenced the course of WWII -- Churchill had just become Prime Minister and was dealing with the need to keep his strong colleagues working together while steering the war effort by his personal beliefs. Considerable minutia and background information from a wide array of sources made for slow reading, but it was well worth wading through to gain an intriguing look at what went on behind the scenes as Britain was being left to fight o ...more
Rhonda Sue
I read this this book via audiobook so with all the facts and history it is sometimes hard to recall every snippet. However, the narrator's voice was pleasant-unlike a recent book I listened to. Churchill buffs will enjoy this book-as I did, and it covers 5 days in May 1940, 24-28. The author argues that these 5 days were critical in defeating Hitler. Churchill may not have been popular at that moment, and there were issues among his cabinet ministers. You will learn a little about key figures l ...more
Bill Thompson
Feb 24, 2015 Bill Thompson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a gripping, compelling historical account of five days in May, 1940 as the leaders of England debated whether or not to form an alliance with Hitler or keep fighting the war. If things had turned out differently in these simple five days, Germany might have won World War II and England's future would have been dramatically altered.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's nice to take a break from the stuff I read to research my novels and pick up something that's educational, well-written an
Aug 21, 2015 J.S. rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: wwii
John Lukacs argues that five days at the end of May 1940 were the most critical of WWII and for the survival of Western Civilization. It is important to put this claim into context. This was before the United States or the Soviet Union had entered the war against Hitler. Germany and Hitler's Third Reich were the greatest threat, not Soviet communism. Poland and France were falling, Belgium and the Netherlands were going under, and Italy had aligned itself with Germany. Hitler seemed unstoppable ...more
Jul 31, 2010 Lisa rated it really liked it
This book, according to Lukacs, traces the most decisive events of the war. Between May 24-28th, five crucial days, the British Cabinet debates what to do about a French proposal to sue for a peace mediated by Italy. Churchill, as we all know, is determined that Britain will never surrender, but Halifax – like many others – thinks that defeat is imminent and that there could be terms negotiated that are acceptable: that however unpalatable, it may be better to let Europe fall, i.e. Europe under ...more
Jun 24, 2012 Marisa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this slim, microscopic examination of one week in May 1940, a week when - according to historian John Lukacs - Britain came closest to losing the war against Germany.

As British troops faced potential catastrophe in Dunkirk, the new Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, faced a skeptical public and disagreement within his own War Cabinet. Lord Halifax and his supporters pushed hard for Britain to negotiate peace terms with Hitler, while Churchiill was determined to stay in the fight. Luka
Mathew Eyers
Feb 28, 2011 Mathew Eyers rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 26, 2011 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Of course, whatever happens at Dunkirk, we shall fight on" said Winston Churchill, 28 May 1940. Well, of course, we know that is what happened. But it may not have been what happened if Churchill had not persevered in his insistence that any other path would lead to disaster.

Lukacs recounts, from the perspective of 1999, the deliberations of the War Cabinet from Friday, 24 May 1940, through Tuesday, 28 May 1940. Churchill had been prime minister for only two weeks. The German army was quickly v
Feb 04, 2015 Kevin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Five Days in London, May 1940 describes in detail the deliberations of Winston Churchill's wartime cabinet as they decided where to proceed next after disastrous losses in Belgium and France. Lukacs argues that these five days were when Adolf Hitler came closest to winning the Second World War, unbeknownst to him, and that perhaps the only person standing between the Free World and a new Dark Age was Churchill himself, who managed to convince his cabinet and the British people to fight on.

The w
Adrian Greenwood
Feb 26, 2016 Adrian Greenwood rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very exciting, as one might expect from a book which chooses such a dramatic few days in the Second World War. My one niggle is the somewhat high-handed tone of the author at times. Too frequently Lukacs quotes from another author (often of the highest academic and literary credentials) and then makes a bald statement such as 'She is wrong', or 'This is untrue' without adding why Lukacs believes she is wrong or the statement is untrue.
Rodney Harvill
Dec 08, 2015 Rodney Harvill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
This book describes a pivotal time period in May, 1940, when Britain had to decide whether to throw in the towel or keep on fighting alone against Germany and its allies. We tend to forget that history, to us set in stone, was once a highly uncertain present. Hats off to the British, who faced an uncertain future yet staid in the fight, not knowing if they looked forward to a brighter future or the abyss of their own destruction.
Dragan Buljevac
Re-read it again ... and I agree generally with John below: somewhat chaotic and why, oh why invoking God's grace in Churchill's action ?
but still, nice little read. Feels like listening to oldies from forties ... air of the period is there. And, most importantly, how obvious it becomes after reading it that what we find in history textbooks is not always what happened. No black and white but many many shades of gray.
For this i give it 3 stars
Dec 17, 2008 Mark rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Several years ago I listened to an audiobook of the same author's treatment (The Duel) of a similar subject: a focus on a limited timeframe during WW2's early days, specifically the actions of Churchill and Hitler.

This one zooms in like a historical microscope on five critical days over a weekend as France was falling. There's actually a fair bit of coverage of the time period leading up to those five days, since it sets the stage for this intense crisis.

What's most interesting are the political
Jan 14, 2016 Trenchologist rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Taut, engaging, I felt compelled to read it with rapidity in order to maintain the claustrophobic suspense. Lucid and fluent, no detail spared in the spare prose, from succinct phrasing to five-syllable-words. Pulls no punches as to the personalities involved, rather, reflects on what was achieved thanks in great part to those personalities.
Nov 22, 2008 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The subject of the book is the last week of May, 1940, when newly-installed prime minister Winston Churchill convinced his cabinet they should be committed to fight against Adolf Hitler, even if they needed to move ahead alone. A good portion of the book sets the stage for that week, including British public opinion about the evolving conflict in Europe, FDR's concerns about the situation, and the collapse of France followed by the British withdrawal at Dunkirk. The critical week is then conside ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 37 38 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • To Lose a Battle: France 1940
  • The Struggle for Europe
  • The Fall of France: The Nazi Invasion of 1940
  • The Miracle of Dunkirk
  • First Light
  • Dunkirk: Fight To The Last Man
  • Enemy Coast Ahead
  • Battle of Britain (Wordsworth Military Library)
  • A History of Russia: From Peter the Great to Gorbachev
  • The Blitz: The British Under Attack
  • More Terrible Than Death: Drugs, Violence, and America's War in Colombia
  • Opening Mexico: The Making of a Democracy
  • It Never Snows in September: The German View of Market-Garden and the Battle of Arnhem, September 1944
  • Quartered Safe Out Here: A Harrowing Tale of World War II
  • The Battle of Britain
  • Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family, Fatherland and Vichy France
  • The Villa, The Lake, The Meeting: Wannsee and the Final Solution
  • The Longest Night: The Bombing of London on May 10, 1941
Lukacs was born in Budapest to a Roman Catholic father and Jewish mother. His parents divorced before the Second World War. During the Second World War he was forced to serve in a Hungarian labour battalion for Jews. During the German occupation of Hungary in 1944-45 he evaded deportation to the death camps, and survived the siege of Budapest. In 1946, as it became clear that Hungary was going to ...more
More about John Lukacs...

Share This Book