Citizens of London by Lynne Olson


Audiobook.  The subtitle, The Americans Who Stood with Britain in its Darkest, Finest Hour is true enough, but doesn't quite cover the breadth of the book. Three figures dominate the story during the dark hours of the Blitz:  Edward R. Murrow, CBS reporter; John Gilbert Winant, Ambassador; and Averell Harriman, as administrator of Lend-Lease.  Their individual stories and their connections to Churchill (and his family) and to Roosevelt make amazing reading.  The author gives an overview of the war years in Europe that makes their stories complete.

Gil Winant, three-time Republican governor of New Hampshire, is the least well-known of the three, and in some ways the most compelling.  During the Blitz, he was always on the streets and was inclined to give as much attention to the ordinary soldiers as to the important officials.  He had an affair with Sarah Churchill, Winston's daughter, who would not marry him after she divorced her husband.  I kept thinking the name Gil Winant sounded familiar and discovered that was the name of the bookish son of "the thin man" of the movie of that title.  Gil Winant was governor of New Hampshire when the movie came out.

Averell Harriman does not look so appealing in this book; he was an ambitious, hard-working sort who was never thought of as intellectual or even bright.  Lord Beaverbrooke told John F. Kennedy, "Never has anyone gone so far with so little."  He routinely undermined Winant, and later two successive American Ambassadors in Russia.  When Roosevelt asked him to take that position, he agreed on conditions that he hoped would keep the same from happening to him.  It didn't.   He had an almost open affair with Churchill's daughter-in-law Pamela.  Yes, that Pamela Harriman, Ambassador to France for Bill Clinton.  Of course, they didn't marry until he was 79.

After Averell left London for Moscow, Pamela fell in love with Edward R. Murrow, the love of her life.  Their relationship was intense, but he was uncomfortable with her love of the life of luxury.  Murrow, the best known of the three men, brought the realities of the Blitz to America, in addition to his role in creating broadcast journalism.  

The conduct of the war in Europe is covered in broad terms, always with stories of interest.  I am far from versed enough to evaluate her view of the events, but nothing rang false.  She plucks out characters of interest, like World War I pilot and great polo player Tommy Hitchcock, whom she credits with pushing for the development of an effective and useful fighter plane.  

An endlessly interesting book.

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