Citizens of London

Citizens of London

The Americans Who Stood With Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour

Book - 2010
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The behind-the-scenes story of how the United States forged its wartime alliance with Britain, told from the perspective of three key American players in London: Edward R. Murrow, Averell Harriman, and John Gilbert Winant.
Publisher: New York :, Random House Trade Paperbacks,, 2010.
Edition: Random House trade paperback edition.
ISBN: 9780812979350
Branch Call Number: 940.532273 OL
Characteristics: xix, 471 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 21 cm


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Sep 19, 2020

Lynne Olson ably chronicles the development (and eventual deterioration) of the Anglo-American alliance before, during and after the war, as seen through the eyes of Winant, Murrow and Harriman, the three Americans who, perhaps more than any others, helped shape it; and through the eyes of the panoply of characters with whom they interacted. To her credit, she does not shrink back from describing their failures and feet of clay, as well as their triumphs and successes.

While both Murrow as CBS’s premier radio journalist and Harriman as Lend-Lease administrator and diplomat both made vital contributions to the war effort, the focus of the book is unquestionably John Gilbert Winant, ironically least-known of the three today, who earlier in his career served as governor of New Hampshire and head of the early Social Security Administration, and as a true “citizen of London” did more than anyone else to try to bring the two sides together, calm the waters during the often-stormy relationship, and promote mutual understanding based on a true sense of idealism.

His tragic suicide at 59 in 1947 resulted from alienation, loneliness, despair and frustration at seeing the goals toward which he had so mightily striven during the war dissolve into the realities of the postwar world and the Cold War; the tremendous gulf he perceived between idealism and realism; and being denied any meaningful role in the shaping of the world after the war by the Truman administration (such as in the formulation of the Marshall Plan). Earlier, he could not penetrate FDR’s wall of apathy toward events in eastern Europe and Stalin’s obvious plans (after Yalta, to which he was not invited) to control the entire area, and Trumans’ policy of containment and recognition of puppet governments (although by 1946-47 there was little else that could have been done, since the Red Army occupied the region); most of all, he could not understand or accept the cutting off of Lend-Lease aid to Britain after VE Day in 1945, when that country, bankrupt, needed that aid the most (and was thereby forced to continue food rationing until 1952). Churchill’s betrayal of Poland into Stalin’s hands was also impossible for him to accept, though there was little Britain or even the U.S. could have done to prevent Stalin from setting up a puppet government.

So, while one is left with a deep sense of satisfaction at the overall success of the Anglo-American partnership, and that so many Americans proudly considered themselves to be “citizens of London”, one is also left with an aftertaste of melancholy at promises unfulfilled, opportunities overlooked or squandered, and the reality that the world which emerged from the war was far different from that envisioned in the Atlantic Charter, and considerably more menacing. John Gilbert Winant had been a tremendous force for good. How much more so, had he lived on? Olson’s book certainly provides much food for thought. Highly recommended.

Mar 29, 2020

wonderful book - like many of us, i had never heard of Gil Winant (US ambassador to the UK) and what he did to create the 'special relationship' we still enjoy today

Jan 15, 2019

Fascinating, lesser known account of US/Britain's relationship during WWII. Citizens of London provides the reader with rich, detailed accounts of not only the war itself but, more intriguing to the reader, the relationship stories of three Americans who had an immense influence upon Churchill, his family, and the politics of the time. Winant was an American Ambassador, Murrow a "Broadcast Journalist", and Harriman an overseer of the Land Lease deal. Together they helped shape one of the most important times in history.

Mar 16, 2017

Olson’s engaging book chronicles the lives of three Americans who were center stage on one of history’s biggest stages—London in WW II. You think you’ve read so much about this time and people. I learned some things. Recommended not only for the history, but the personal stories.

Feb 13, 2016

Excellent look at life in England during WW II. Written so that the personalities of the main characters come alive. Would strongly recommend to any History buff.

Feb 10, 2016

e-book, CD, AD also

Feb 26, 2015

An excellent book about WWII; the characters, strategy, and alliances that contributed to the success of the war. The insights provided by Olson make the pages fly.

Sep 15, 2014

Standard operating procedure, as they used to say in the military. Averell Harriman was an investor in the Third Reich [along with the Rockefellers, Morgans, du Ponts, Ford, et cetera], so it stands to reason his subsequent behavior - - or is that real history? Averell Harriman's rebel-like, traitorous behavior in talks in Vietnam, ignoring the directives of his commander-in-chief and president, John F. Kennedy, was just about to have gotten him fired, save for JFK being assassinated! [Look at the present and all those defense industry consultants - - never properly identified - - who go on Fox and CNN and NPR, et cetera, pushing for war in Ukraine, war in the Middle East and on and on. Who profits, and follow the money, please?

Sep 15, 2014

I highly recommend Citizens of London for anyone interested in US history and our involvement in WWII. It provides a detailed story of what was happening behind the scenes in the US and in England. It gave me a much better understanding of the issues of the time, and renewed appreciation for those who chose to support the British. I hadn't known about Gil Winant before, but have a great deal of respect for the man. At a ceremony to honor the American forces who landed in France on D-Day, he said that if man was to survive in this perilous new period, "he must learn to live together in friendship," to act "as if the welfare of a neighboring nation was almost as important as the welfare of your own." There is lots of food for thought for today throughout this book.

Oct 30, 2012

A brilliant social history and triple biography, this is a superb introduction to the Second War. The star may be the city of London before and during the Second War, but the narrative gravitates around the key roles played by three US citizens: Winant, the ambassador; A Harriman the meddlesome Lend-Lease mogul; and Ed Murrow, the journalist par excellence. Told by a US writer who has no difficulty reporting the facts that don't put her country in the best light. Touches on a myriad of related subjects, including the shock of the Brits at the racism in US ranks, the promiscuity of just about everyone during the war, including all three protagonists, the tensions between FDR and Winston, governments-in-exile vying for attention, inlcuding the ambitious arrogance of De Gaulle and his rise to power in the face of Allied resistance, the betrayal of the Poles by the Allies in the face of Soviet intransigence, etc. As strongly recommended as Lynne Olson's Troublesome Young Men, about the slow and against-the-odds rise of Churchill to power in Britain after the war was launched.

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