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Five Days in London, May 1940

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  721 Ratings  ·  113 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 what became known as the Second World War. The decisive importance of these five days is the focus of John Lukacs’s magisterial new book.

Lukacs takes us hour by hour into the critical unfol
Paperback, 256 pages
Published August 11th 2001 by Yale University Press (first published 1999)
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Sep 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Picked this up after seeing "Dunkirk." Lukacs' case is that Churchill understood intuitively at the fall of France that Hitler could not be negotiated with, and that capitulation would have ultimately meant the end of Western Civilization. Though I've read that elsewhere, Lukacs gives a picture of meetings inside the British War Cabinet over those five days, when Churchill, newly installed as PM, had to seriously confront the idea of a negotiated peace with the threat of invasion and the disaste ...more
James Murphy
Jun 18, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 Houghton
Jan 26, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Mar 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
(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
Dec 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 10, 2015 rated it liked it
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
Jul 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Jens Hansen
Aug 26, 2013 rated it did not like it
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
John Kaufmann
Jan 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 19, 2014 rated it liked it
The author's writing style is difficult, but the subject was fascinating.
Sep 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
An excellent complement to my recent viewing of the movie, Dunkirk. This fine brief history discusses the critical five day period in British politics around the time of that evacuation. Lukacs makes a compelling argument that this five day period was a critical turning point in World War II and, by implication, in the history of democratic western civilization. It is during this time period that the recently named Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, both solidifies his authority over the cabinet ...more
Grace Hoffmann
Aug 14, 2017 rated it it was ok
Having just seen the movie Dunkirk, I wanted to know more about this time in history, and my brother gave me this book, which is a favorite of his. I do feel I know more about the actual events, but the writing style, particularly the author's use of footnotes, make this book sort of hard to read. His feeling that Churchill saved Britain from an ignominious pact with the Nazis does come through. I recommend it for a WWII buff, but not really for general reading.
Jun 25, 2017 rated it it was ok
Very interesting subject, not so interesting execution. That being said, the conclusion (written in the 1990s) about Churchill having bought the world 50 years of respite from the kind of global conflagration that has descended since 9/11 is prescient.
Jan 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
A decent read about fascinating 5 days that could have changed history. Great book for historians and political science fans.
Keith Budzynski
Sep 19, 2017 rated it liked it
Very academic.
Jun 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Lukacs argues that the period from May 25th to May 29th was the time in which Britain came closest to losing WW II. France was collapsing, the BEF was likely trapped at Dunkirk and the U.S. was steadfastly neutral. The Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, urged that the government try to see if a negotiated settlement with Hitler was possible (with Mussolini as middleman!). As Prime Minister, Churchill blocked this. He realized that the Britain would never receive acceptable terms from Hitler and th ...more
Frederick J
Jan 19, 2014 rated it really liked it

"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

Jul 31, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
"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
Jul 09, 2014 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
Kavi Singh
Oct 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Five days in London, May 1940 is a good book which asks and answers the question: "Which part of World War II was the most pivotal to both sides?" Lukacs argues that the five days from May 24-May 28 were when Hitler was closest to victory. He details the secret meetings of Churchill's war cabinet, the battle of Dunkirk, and the public opinions and morale over those five days. Specifically, he goes over the internal politics, and how the close the British were to simply surrendering to obtain pea ...more
Mathew Eyers
Feb 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jun 18, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Jim Martin
Dec 26, 2014 rated it liked it
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
Jan 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Barbara Heisey
Feb 04, 2014 rated it liked it
John Lukacs covers the key days of decision at the Cabinet level that he maintains was essential for Britain surviving German aggression in order to win World War II.

Of course, Winston Churchill's arrival as prime minister was essential. Up until his election, British policy was heading toward appeasement.

As high-level British officials began to see the folly of an appeasement policy toward Germany, pushed by Neville Chamberlain and co., Churchill because of his strident advocacy for a war pos
Nov 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 03, 2008 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
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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
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