I’m continuing in my annual trek through the American Library Association Notable Books List. Over the Presidents Day holiday, I finished reading “Citizens of London: The Americans who Stood with Britain in its Darkest, Finest Hour” by Lynne Olson.
This book exemplifies what I love about each year’s Notable List–it brings forward splendid books that got little attention.
“Citizens of London” also allows me to get up on my soapbox to encourage America to read more nonfiction, or to read it at all.
Lynne Olson does a great job of creating a narrative thread in this book, even as she weaves in necessary information to create context. In this case, the story is about the Americans in London, primarily a small group of men, who worked long and hard to promote the British case for the United States to become involved in World War II.
Readers may recall that many in the United States held a strong isolationist stance in the late 1930s. President Franklin Roosevelt instituted the lend-lease program to assist Britain, but it was seen in Britain as not nearly enough, at too dear a price. Journalist Edward R. Murrow, Ambassador to the Court of St. James Gil Winant, and Lend-Lease representative Averell Harriman became “citizens of London” and promoted the position that the United States had to do more to support England against Germany.
Of course, much changed with the United States entering the war after Pearl Harbor. Olson takes this story through the end of the war and just past, showing how these three men continued to play a role in maintaining the relationship between the United States and Britain. The story begins fairly simply with the focus on the three men, and as the war progresses, more people enter the picture as joint military campaigns must be agreed to and staged, and finally a post-war world shaped.
I’m left with much respect for these three, and for Dwight Eisenhower, who was placed in the position of having to make a joint command work.
I’m also left with Olson’s gift of connecting these world-changing events to the everyday lives of common people in London during this time. Her ability to tell a specific story that illustrates a wider point is what made me enjoy this book so much.
I’ll recommend this to readers who enjoy history, and to that large group of people with special interest in World War II. I’ll also recommend it to fiction readers who are willing to dip into something a little different, into a nonfiction book that still follows the thread of a compelling story, and that develops interesting characters.