Five Days in London, May 1940 John Lukacs

Publication date:
11 Aug 2001
Yale University Press
256 pages: 197 x 127mm

Washington Post Book World Bestseller
“Customers are raving about Five Days in London.”—
“Gripping. . . . Lucaks’s story is not new . . . but [he] has transformed it into a memorable drama.”—M.F. Perutz, New York Review of Books
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 unfolding of events at 10 Downing Street, where Churchill and the members of his cabinet were painfully considering their war responsibilities. We see how the military disasters taking place on the Continent—particularly the plight of the nearly 400,000 British soldiers bottled up in Dunkirk—affected Churchill’s fragile political situation, for he had been prime minister only a fortnight and was regarded as impetuous and hotheaded even by many of his own party. Lukacs also investigates the mood of the British people, drawing on newspaper and Mass-Observation reports that show how the citizenry, though only partly informed about the dangers that faced them, nevertheless began to support Churchill’s determination to stand fast.
Other historians have dealt with Churchill’s difficulties during this period, using the partial revelations of certain memoirs and private and public papers. But Lukacs is the first to convey the drama and importance of these days, and he does so in a compelling narrative that combines deep knowledge with high literary style.

John Lukacs was professor of history at Chestnut Hill College, Philadelphia, until his recent retirement and has been visiting professor at many universities. He is the author of twenty-one books, among them The Hitler of History, The Duel, The End of the Twentieth Century and The End of the Modern Age (which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize), and the most recent, A Thread of Years, also published by Yale University Press. He is the recipient of numerous academic honors and awards.

"John Lukacs's account of five dramatic days in May 1940, when Winston Churchill and his Cabinet had to decide whether to negotiate or stand alone against Hitler, is a relatively compact book, but it has the power and sweep of Shakespeare's chronicle plays. . . . One of Lukacs's impressive strengths is a gripping narrative drive. He is lucid and splendidly readable, and furthermore, commands a host of dramatic characters."—Robert Taylor, Boston Globe

"This is a readable and rigorous little volume that is put down with difficulty in the middle and with regret at the end."—Conrad Black, Daily Telegraph

"This is as dramatic a moment in history as you are likely to get."—Forbes Magazine

"[A] word-of-mouth best seller (and Giuliani favorite) . . . [a] gripping story of how Churchill rallied the British at a crucial juncture."—Michael Glitz, New York Post

"Historian John Lukacs, who has written widely on World War II and on Hitler and Churchill, comprehensively traces the events of that long weekend, which culminated in Churchill's decision on May 28th to fight on, no matter what happened to France. He did not, in that weekend of courage and remarkable self-confidence, win the war, as Lukacs makes clear, but rather gave the first breath of the bellows to the desperate embers of hope for the Allies."—David Murray, New York Times Book Review

"Lukacs's scholarship re-creates with great immediacy the chaotic few days during which, according to the author, Hitler came closest to winning the war. . . . Lukacs concentrates on the struggle with the British War Cabinet, which pitted the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, against the Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax. . . . Churchill's stubborn refusal won out. The author's equally stubborn digging uncovered a stunning amount of defeatism and intrigue against Churchill by contemporary statesmen."—New Yorker

"New York mayor Rudy Giuliani says he has been reading and is inspired by John Lukacs’ Five Days in London, May 1940."—USA Today

"Lukacs, who has written about World War II in several earlier books, reviews the British record at this moment through hypothetical Anglophobe eyes. . . . [A] fascinating work of historical reconstruction. . . . [Lukacs] gives us much to ponder in this intriguing—and perhaps still controversial—story."—Stanley Weintraub, Wall Street Journal

"This gem of a book, the distillation of an important historian's life work, is a compelling antidote for those afflicted with historical amnesia."—Kai Bird, Washington Post

"Eminent historian Lukacs delivers the crown jewel to his long and distinguished career with this account of five days—May 24-28, 1940—that could have changed the world.' Lukacs posits that it was during those five days in London 'that Western civilization, not to mention the Allied cause in WWII, was saved from Hitler's tyranny.' . . . This new work focuses on these five days with a microscopic view. It is the work of a man who lives and breathes history, whose knowledge is limitless and tuned to a pitch that rings true."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"[Readers] are in for a treat that encompasses everything from grand strategy to British domestic politics, the behavior of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to the gritty diary of George Orwell, and even the glorious weather of those five crucial days. . . . Five Days in London is political history of a very high standard."—Morris Williams, The Daily Yomiuri

"The book reveals many details . . . that enrich one’s understanding of this critical few days in the history of the 20th century."—T.P Wolf, British Politics Group Newsletter

"The book is altogether a most satisfying and stimulating read, combining wit and deep knowledge and understanding. It is essential reading for anyone interested in how, for a few vital months in 1940, Britain played for the last time in its history the pivotal role on the world stage, and by doing so thus prevented the ‘new dark age’ that a Hitler victory would have brought to the world."—Terry Charman, Contemporary British History

"A great book about a fascinating time."—History Magazine

"A stunning page-turner. . . . It is written with great style and panache. . . . Five Days in London will appeal to historians and could be assigned as supplementary reading to students, but it will also appeal to the general public interested in history."—Agnes F. Peterson, History: Reviews of New Books

"This dramatic retelling of events is supported by many extracts from contemporary diaries of the likes of Evelyn Waugh and George Orwell, in addition to official records and opinion surveys. These, together with Lukacs’ easy-flowing style of writing, give the already gripping story an immediacy and make it a pleasure to read."—Maggie Hartford, Oxford Times

"[A] brilliant, heavyweight little book. . . . This is a modern history that refuses easy answers: its skillful concision cuts painfully to the bone and spills real blood on the carpets of Whitehall and Westminster."—Times of London

"John Lukacs is one of the most original and profound of contemporary thinkers."—Paul Fussell

"No historian of the Second World War has John Lukac’s range, acuteness, intuition. He has written great works. Now comes a masterpiece. In the Five Days in London weare present, moment by moment, May 24 to May 28, 1940 as the British War Cabinet ponders whether to seek terms from Hitler, or fight on. Alone. . . . 'Not only the end of a European war but the end of Western civilization was near.' In the end Churchill prevails—just."—Daniel Patrick Moynihan

"I consider John Lukacs one of the outstanding historians of the generation and, indeed, of our time."—Jacques Barzun