Few in England would have had any trouble naming the US envoy to the Court of St. James during and after World War II. His name was John G. Winant. Very few American today would know his name. Winant was only one of many Americans who came to in Britain to help it survive the worst days of its existence. Citizens of London tells the story of these Americans in an fascinating book who subtitle says it best, “The Americans Who Stood With Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour.”Lynne Olson, the author and a former White House correspondent, chooses to focus on three American men – Winant, W. Averell Harriman and journalist Edward R. Murrow who made a huge difference in how the story ended.
The first two, as Olson writes, served as FDR’s eyes and ears. Murrow did the same thing for the entire United States, or at least anyone near a radio. But their value also came in their relationships with Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who knew the United States held the key to his country’s survival and needed to find Americans to both trust and manipulate.Winant was the public face of the US on the streets of London, a generous character who made points by popping up in local neighborhoods with offers of assistance after German bombings. Harriman, who’d go on to a long career in politics, served as a kind of top-level go-between. The super intense Murrow, meanwhile, embraced danger – he “repeatedly gambled his life” by tagging along on air raids – and went all-out to support the British cause.
I wouldn’t describe the book as a page turner but it is fascinating. It has depth in the political and military sense but above all in the personal characterizations actors. In other words in the vast scope of events there are some very interesting personal stories. Even what might seems gossipy but really is relevant to understanding the place and the time. All three men at the center of the book – Harriman, Morrow, and Winant – had affairs with members of Churchill’s family.
“Citizens of London” encompasses much more than just Americans in England. The wide range of topics include war strategy, Eisenhower’s insecurity over his lower-class upbringing and the lack of deprivations back home in the US compared with Britain. While the English tried to win rare onions in raffles, American women refused to give up their girdles during a rubber shortage. A fascinating and intimate history....