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Pocketmags Digital Magazines
Pocketmags Digital Magazines

The long road to victory

The Second World War offered Britain the chance to imagine an egalitarian future, says Lara Feigel

Britain’s War: Into Battle, 1937-41

by Daniel Todman (Allen Lane, £30)

In August 1941, Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt met on the Prince of Wales in the middle of the Atlantic to determine whether the United States was going to help Britain win the war. During the voyage, Churchill had prepared by reading the heroic naval exploits of Captain Horatio Horn-blower in a novel by CS Forester, while eating caviar that Roosevelt’s emissary had brought from Moscow. Both leaders had high expectations but only Roosevelt remembered that they had shared an enjoyable conversation 20 years earlier. Awkwardness overcome, they cheerfully exchanged tales of military and political life, attended a Sunday church service and agreed that Roosevelt would provide naval aid to Britain and make a statement of common purpose. It wasn’t as much as Churchill felt he was entitled to expect, but it laid the groundwork for America’s entry into the war a few months later.

This is the kind of moment that Daniel Todman illuminates well in his new book Britain’s War. Todman, a historian at the University of London, has undertaken the ambitious task of combining histories that, he says, “are usually told separately—strategic, political and economic, military, cultural and social—to build a broad and coherent picture of the country as it prepared for, fought and emerged from a total war.” Volume one, which is 700 pages long, takes us from the first rumblings of war in 1937 to America’s entry as a full combatant in December 1941; volume two will take us to the end of the war.

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In Prospect’s August issue: Rachel Sylvester argues that the EU referendum has started a re-alignment of British politics while Roger Scruton and Jay Elwes say that it has thrown Britain into a bout of self-examination with the fundamental question of who we are as a nation at its centre. In addition, Peter Mandelson says without reform the EU could fall victim to a populist uprising. Also in this issue: Philip Ball explores quantum entanglement, George Magnus looks at the political situation in Brazil ahead of the Olympics and Adam Mars-Jones unpicks the work of Steven Spielberg. James Cusick looks at the impact of the Chilcot report and Kathy Lette explains what the world would be like if she was in charge.