Review: Last Hope Island

Last Hope Island: How Nazi-Occupied Europe Joined Forces with Britain to Help Win World War II by Lynne Olson

Random House, 2017.  Hardcover, 576 pages.Cover Last Hope Island

Olson’s latest book about World War II focuses in on the stories about Occupied Europe, many lesser known.  The publication of this work excited me for just that reason when I learned of its pending release last year.  Instead of viewing World War II through the lenses of the major Allied nations and events they participated in, this book frames it through the lenses events pertaining to the occupied nations, many of which I had not read about previously.

The book opens with the rescue efforts of the governments in exile, with focuses on Norway, Belgium, Denmark, and France.  Stories in this section include how King Haakon VII of Norway escaped the Nazis and stayed one step ahead of discovery as his government fled deeper into Norway before fleeing to the safety of his nephew’s nation, Britain.  Another shows how Queen Wilhelmina of The Netherlands wanted to fight back, but was ultimate tricked into being taken to safety in England.  Then there is King Leopold III of Belgium who stayed behind to try to rally his people and General Charles De Gaulle who fled France to rally against capitulation.  The minor countries of Europe were not left out, as Olson also tells the stories of a Czech leader who struggled for Allied recognition and of Polish pilots and code breakers who worked alongside their British counterparts to free Europe from Hitler’s grasp (much has been written on the latter, including another book by Olson, A Question of Honor: The Kosciuszko Squadron: Forgotten Heroes of World War II about the Polish pilots and their eventual betrayal).

The second part of the historical work shows the shift in Britain’s relationships with the original allies once the United States and Soviet Union become allies.  Instead of being valued partners who were regularly consulted, these allies were pushed aside in favor of the superpowers.  Decisions on how military operation within their borders were taken from their hands, often with protest.  Additionally, Olson details these operations (including those by the Special Operations Executive) and the ways they were protested.  If you have read a great deal of books on World War II Europe, you will be familiar with many of these operations but they have been reframed to be from a fresh, previously not covered prospective.

Overall, this has been a most interesting book.  Olson has written an engaging narrative that can be both read as a whole or enjoyed by the chapter as each is a completed story within the war.  And while life circumstances have prevented me from reading the last hundred or so pages, I very much look forward to reading the rest.  The book’s sources are varied, including many published works and quite a few archival sources) and many quotes from those who participated in the events are included.  Olson also does much to show her main theme of how the occupied nations helped the war effort and how Britain often stymied the efforts, both intentionally and unintentionally, and those themes resonate throughout the book.  additionally, Olson does a great job showing how the people in those nations resisted their occupiers, from simple chalking messages on buildings to helping downed pilots escape to outright sabotage.

Have you read any books that focused on the occupied nations of World War II?  If so, please share the titles to help others learn more.  Also, do you think you will read this book? 

This review is based on an advanced reader edition provided by the publisher.  Last Hope Island will be released on April 25, 2017.

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