§ion=&combo2=&text1=&text2=&SocNetUsername=&SocNetPassword=&authCode=& 7th Decade Thoughts: The Longest Night by Gavin Mortimer

7th Decade Thoughts

Thoughts about books, politics and history (personal and otherwise), pictures I've taken and pictures I've edited.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Longest Night by Gavin Mortimer

This is one of those books that tries to follow multiple events on the same night of disaster. I’ve previously read one that focused on the night of December 29th, 1940, the night St. Paul’s Cathedral was reported (by Edward R. Murrow) to have been destroyed but in the morning pictures showed its dome substantially unharmed, above the smoke. This one focuses on the night of May 10, 1941—toward the end of the Blitz (when Hitler was turning his focus to Russia—he’d abandoned the idea of an invasion of Britain and would begin an invasion of Russia in June). That night was probably the most destructive of all the nights of bombing during the war. Books like this one do give readers a sense of what was happening at the level of individual people and buildings. It’s a quick but dramatic read.

The book, though has a number of flaws. (1) It’s very hard to figure out its organization, beyond the obvious loosely chronological order. There are no chapter headings and its very easy to miss what’s happening simultaneously. (2) There are photos, many of the people whose stories are told in the book, but there are no maps or charts that might makes it easier for the reader. I found myself wanting to sit with a detailed map of London at my fingertips as I read. (3) There’s no bibliography at all. He refers to his sources and quotes what he takes word for word from their work (though often incorporating the quotes quite awkwardly), but a reader interested in the Blitz enough to read a whole book about one night is likely to want to know the sources. (4) Finally, I suspect there are factual errors. I’ve skipped several I was just not interested enough to follow up but finally came across one that describes the fires in Westminster Abbey. He refers to a glass portion of the ceiling collapsing in almost the exact stop where King George VI and Elizabeth were married 4 years earlier. That date had to be wrong since they were married in 1923 and the daughters were approaching their teens during the war. They were crowned in 1937 so I expect he meant "coronation" not "marriage" but that's a big error. Maybe I should add that the title, intended to recall The Longest Day, is a cheap shot, especially for a book that's not as well done as the original.

All that said, I enjoyed the book and I appreciated the viewpoints of the people he interviewed as well as the written accounts he used in putting it together.


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