In 1940, with Great Britain's existence hanging in the balance, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill saluted the Royal Air Force pilots who had staved off relentless attacks by the Nazi Luftwaffe on the British homeland. Their valor forced Nazi leader Adolf Hitler to cancel his invasion plans, prompting Churchill's famous words of praise.
"Never have so many owed so much to so few," he famously said.
But let's move back a couple of years to the late 1930s, when Churchill was wandering in the political wilderness and his warnings about the world threat posed by Hitler were ignored. Then-Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement was wildly popular among the vast majority who couldn't bear the thought of repeating the slaughter of World War I.
The aversion to another war is understandable. But what could have the clearer than the menace posed by Hitler's belligerent expansionism? It makes the hair on the back of this pseudo-intellectual's neck stand up when I think of how close the world came to enslavement.
Thankfully, a few brave souls stood up to challenge Chamberlain's doomed policy, and their story is fascinating. That's why, "Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England" is the latest choice from Jim's Pseudo-Intellectual Book Club.
Most people probably are familiar only with the bare outline of the story: Chamberlain's appeasement followed by Churchill's bold leadership that rallied a nation. There is so much more.
Chamberlain's Conservative Party held a huge majority in Parliament, and crossing the vindictive prime minister was dangerous business. Few had the stomach to face the inevitable ostracism that would result from raising questions about appeasing Hitler's efforts to swallow up one nation after another on the European continent.
Perhaps sensing that they had little to lose because Britain was otherwise doomed, rebel members of Parliament slowly but surely raised questions about the danger of taking Hitler's word that he would be satisfied after swallowing just one more country.
There are a few names readers of history might recognize, most certainly Churchill but also future primes ministers like Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillen.
Most fascinating in a book filled with rich characters is Chamberlain. Perhaps never in the history of the world has a country been led to the brink of utter destruction by so deluded and well-intentioned a leader.
Everyone, of course, knows how World War II ended. The good guys won. Despite that, the story is suspenseful as the reader will inevitably wonder how close to destruction Great Britain would go before regaining its bearings. It's a jolly good tale.
Here are the previous recommendations from Jim's Pseudo-Intellectual Book Club.
[-] "Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II's Most Dramatic Mission" by Hampton Sides.
[-] "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" by Edmund Morris.
[-] "A Night to Remember" by Walter Lord.
[-] "April 1865: The Month That Saved America" by Jay Winik.
[-] "Seabiscuit: An American Legend" by Laura Hillenbrand.
[-] "Lindbergh" by A. Scott Berg.
[-] "The Kennedy Men: 1901-1963" by Laurence Leamer.
[-] "The Brother: The Untold Story of the Rosenberg Case" by Sam Roberts.
[-] "Sandy Koufax: A Lefty's Legacy" by Jane Leavy.
[-] "Bringing Down the House: The Inside Story of Six M.I.T. Students Who Took Vegas for Millions" by Ben Mezrich.
[-] "Harry & Ike: The Partnership That Remade the Post-War World" by Steve Neal.
[-] "Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game" by Michael Lewis.
[-] "Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley & Livingstone" by Martin Dugard.
[-] "In Harm's Way: The Sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the Extraordinary Story of Its Survivors" by Doug Stanton.
[-] "Public Enemies: America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34." by Bryan Burrough.
[-] "Flags of our Fathers," by James Bradley.
[-] "Cary Grant: A Biography" by Marc Elliot.
[-] "Three Nights in August: Strategy, Heartbreak and Joy Inside the Mind of a Manager" by Buzz Bissinger.
[-] "Boss Tweed: The Rise and Fall of the Corrupt Pol Who Conceived the Soul of Modern New York" by Kenneth Ackerman.
[-] "They Marched Into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967" by David Maraniss.
[-] "Flashman" (a novel) by George MacDonald Fraser.
[-] "Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling and A World on the Brink" by David Margolick.
[-] "Ladies and gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics and the Battle for the Soul of a City" by Jonathan Mahler.
[-] "Five Families: the Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires" by Selwyn Raab.
[-] "The Rivalry: Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and the Golden Age of Basketball." by John Taylor.
[-] "American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies" by Michael Kauffman.
[[-] "The Looming Tower: al-Qaida and the Road to 9/11" by Lawrence Wright.
[- ) "A Well-Paid Slave: Curt Flood's Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports" by Brad Snyder.
[-] "The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game" by Michael Lewis.
[-] "The Education of a Coach" by David Halberstam.
[-] "Arc of Justice: A Sage of Race, Civil Rights and Murder in the Jazz Age" by Kevin Boyle
[-] "The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived The Great American Dust Bowl" by Timothy Egan.
[-] "The Wrong Man: The Final Verdict on the Dr. Sam Sheppard Murder Case" by James Neff.
[-] The Survivor: Bill Clinton in the White House" by John Harris.
[–] "FDR" by Jean Edward Smith.