Review: Alone

Alone: Britain, Churchill, and Dunkirk: Defeat into Victory by Michael Korda

Liverlight, 2017.  Hardcover, 544 pages.Alone

This all-encompassing work is both history and memoir.  Korda was written a rare example of a book that shows many perspectives on a small segment of time centered around the lead up to the famed evacuation at Dunkirk in May and June, 1940.  To do this, Korda must first step back and tell the story that led to the evacuation.

The first section of the book looks into how the second World War began.  It began with looking at the appeasement efforts of Neville Chamberlain and the militarization of Germany.  It also describes the Phoney War and plans to evacuate the children from the cities and the efforts taken by ordinary people to help with the war efforts.  The second section depicted the rise of Winston Churchill in British politics and the Battle of France.  In both cases, Korda presents a play-by-play of the events, including the planning behind the invasion plans of the Germans and the Allied defense plans.  The final section is about the evacuation itself.  As part of that, the clash between the British and French over how the war should proceed takes center stage.  And the evacuation is detailed in-depth, including the serious planning by Admiral Ramsey.  The latter included how Ramsey surveyed small boats throughout England in the event troops had to be evacuated.  It turns out, there was much more to this than civilian yachts and ferries coming to the rescue at a moment’s notice; it had been investigated from the start as an option.

There is much to be appreciated in this work of history.  First, it is full of details.  Korda seemed to have left nothing out, as he detailed the days leading up to Dunkirk from the perspectives of each the British, French, and Germans with the sources to back them up.  Second, Korda wove his own family’s story within the narrative.  This was doable because he was one of the children evacuated early in the war, something covered in detail.  Also, his uncles and father were in the motion picture industry and worked on British propaganda films at Churchill’s request.  Most importantly, Korda shares his memories and perspectives of that first year of the war before he was forced out of his homeland, including how the war affected his daily life and how his parents and nanny felt about events.  He made this narrative personal.  Third, Korda does not just tell the story, he shows it.  Throughout the book are numerous photographs and maps to add visuals to the stories being detailed.  Fourth, he included many passages and quotes selected from memoirs and oral histories of the events.  This helped to understand some of the fighting men featured.  Overall, this book is a must read for a detailed look at the beginning of the “hot” war (as opposed to the Phony War, all talk and no action for Western Europe) due to its depth and breadth of coverage from the military, political, propaganda, and average person’s perspectives.

Do you think you will read this?  Do you have another other books on Dunkirk and the events leading up to it to suggest?  Or have you seent he recent movie on Dunkirk and, if so, what did you think? (I will have to wait until the DVD comes out.)

The copy reviewed was provided the publisher’s parent company, W.W. Norton and Company.


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