There is nothing an author fears more than that his or her book will appear shortly after one with a similar theme has been published. This is doubly the case when the first book is by a popular author with a large following. Alan Allport’s new study of the early years of World War II in British history appeared shortly after Erik Larson’s highly popular book on a similar period, The Splendid and the Vile, was published to rave reviews. This is a tragedy because Allport’s book is the finest examination of Britain’s experience on the opening phase of the Second World War since Andrew Roberts’s acclaimed biography of Winston Churchill was published a few years ago.
Allport’s study is not a revisionist one in the sense that he seeks to topple all previous work on this topic. Rather what he seeks to explain is “how a country that got so many things catastrophically wrong in the early years of the conflict managed not just to hold out against Hitler but, by the second anniversary of the war’s outbreak … to have apparently halted the rout, and even, perhaps, to be constructing a plausible theory of victory.”