Five Days in London, May 1940
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Five Days in London, May 1940

3.68 of 5 stars 3.68  ·  rating details  ·  431 ratings  ·  74 reviews
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 of Lukacs's magisterial new book. illustrations.
Paperback, 256 pages
Published August 11th 2001 by Yale University Press (first published 1999)
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Paul
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...more
James Murphy
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
Jason
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
Mo Johnston
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
John P.
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...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

...more
Michael Anderson
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
Lisa
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
Marisa
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...more
Mathew Eyers
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
John
"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...more
Don
(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...more
Jens Hansen
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...more
Kevin
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...more
Mark
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...more
David
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
Emily
John Lukacs, according to Neil, is a good historian and this book is written so that even a popular audience will find it accessable. I was "assigned" this book as required reading for Neil's Spring Break Travel Study Class - London & Paris & WWII. I can't poke any holes in his historical analysis and it was well-written, but I think that I probably would have done better with this book if I'd actually read it and not tried to listen to it while driving to work; I wasn't listening with a...more
Erik Golbiw
The courage and conviction shown by Churchill during late May, 1940, are a wonderful example of the leadership demanded during times of war. Thank you Mr. Churchill for having the courage to stand up to Hitler. Great read (listen in this case).
Ray
Detailed behind-the-scenes look at London's reaction to this critical period early during WW II. Germany had already taken Poland in a matter of days, and effectively eliminated Belgium and France from the war. With a treaty in force with Russia, England was the sole force facing Germany, and it's forces were trapped and under seige in France, and had not yet been evacuated from Dunkirk. England could have and might have sought terms with Germany, or fought on alone against the mighty German arm...more
Adam
I picked this up as a short introduction to Lukacs’ work, and I’m certain that anyone with a respectable knowledge of WWII history will get more out of the book than I did. Despite having a rather poor understanding of the war’s details, I did find the book very interesting and could appreciate, in a small way, its significance as a piece of historical scholarship focused on a narrow and critical period at the start of Churchill’s decisive work as Britain’s prime minister. While not as involving...more
Jordan
I don’t really agree with the main argument of this book: that Hitler was as close as he ever came to winning WWII during the 5 days in 1940 when Churchill and the War Cabinet argued over whether or not to seek negotiations with Germany. But the argument itself is really interesting, as is the breakdown of the intense 5 days. Best is the view of Churchill at this early stage in the war – showing both Churchill’s insight into Hitler and the consequences had Hitler won, as well as how other politi...more
Peter Landis
At the beginning, the author talks about wanting to write this book because in a previous book he only had devoted a couple pages to these five days In May 1940. Later he wrote another book where he devoted fifteen pages. He then decided to write this 219 page book centered singly around these same five days.

The best description I can give of the book is that it holds fascinating information, but not more than would comfortably fit within 50 pages. The author overshot the amount of information h...more
Erin
This was a great book for me to read in that it captured a very small, but very important moment in history, and from a very unique angle. I'm not one to sit down and read several histories of World War II, even though I'd like to, but this was a perfectly sized book as well as having an extremely interesting point that I hadn't heard before. One of the more poignant statements, I thought, was when the author pointed out that Churchill may not have won the war, but he didn't lose it at this inte...more
Frederick Bingham
The story of the British decision to continue fighting Germany in WWII. Churchill was just elevated to Prime Minister when it became clear that the French and Belgians would not continue in the war. During the period May 24-28, 1940, the British cabinet considered the possibility of making peace with Hitler on his terms. At the same time, the British Army in Europe was being gravely threatened and Churchill ordered it evacuated from the Continent at Dunkirk. The British after much deliberation d...more
Guillermo
This is a chronicle of the hundreds of meetings held by the English cabinet, formal and informal, from May 24, 1940 to May 28, 1940, during which the English answer to the first few days of Hitler's invasion westwards was discussed. It vividly describes how dire the situation was and what the thought processes of various key figures were. I believe it is an excellent read for those of us who want to understand a short period of time when the war could have gone either way. It highlights how many...more
Michael
I was fascinated with the Churchill's understanding of the situation Great Britain was in as Hitler was moving across the Europe. At the time of Churchill's decision to stand up to Hitler, many other leaders were willing to negotiate a deal, a deal that would have changed history as we know it. I'm starting to understand Churchill's appeal to historians as well.

I was a little disappointed in the book in that it was difficult to track the story at times. If I didn't have an interest in this parti...more
Doug Ferguson
i quite liked the conceit of this book - that five days in May 1940 were a major turning point in the war. At that time Churchill stood firm and resolved to fight to the end, closing any potential of settling for a negotiated settlement with Hitler. The world would have been very different if Churchill had not taken this stand, and prevailed.

The book seems to capture the moment well by describing rival factions in the British War cabinet. I quite enjoyed focusing on particular point in time, alb...more
Mark
Audiobook. This may just not have been the best book to read as an audio book. The bottom line thesis is that what Churchill did during these 5 days, namely keeping the British from stiking a deal with the Germans in May of 1940, was pivitol in the ultimate defeat of the Germans. As the author says, It was the Russians and the Americans that won the war, but it was Churchill that kept from losing it." The case is well made, but it was simply not an easy book to follow on audio: too many names an...more
John Fulcoly
Good but never got to riveting for me. Liked the exposure to the war cabinet meetings and the surveys of popular moods. Lots of rereading sentences! It was certainly a pivotable week of events and interactions.
Ellis
As France and Belgium caved to Germany, and with the US still maintaining a stance of Neutrality in the war, Great Britain had few allies, other than Russia, and some very tough decisions to make late in May 1940. Thanks to Winston Churchill and some colleagues, and amid plenty of opposition at home, Britain decided to fight the Nazis to the end. I appreciated this books focus on, and the perspective and context it gave to this crucial period. I also appreciated the insight the book gave into th...more
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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...
Budapest 1900: A Historical Portrait of a City and Its Culture The Duel: The Eighty-Day Struggle Between Churchill and Hitler The Hitler of History Churchill: Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sweat June 1941: Hitler and Stalin

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