By his own admission, Michael Korda, the bestselling author and former editor at Simon & Schuster, enjoyed a privileged childhood growing up in England at the start of World War II. His uncle, Alexander Korda, was a famous film director and producer who ended up in the United States as a “first-class refugee” during World War II, while his mother was an actress and his father would later win an Academy Award for art direction. But war is war and children are children, and in this fine book that combines memoir and history, Korda describes the coming of the war, the fall of France and the “miracle” at Dunkirk in the measured tones of a true historian.
As Korda writes, “Keeping calm was seen as a patriotic duty, even as one crisis led inexorably to war—panic was the enemy.” British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement policy toward Hitler was a disaster. When war came, so did rationing and, eventually, evacuation for Korda. Meanwhile, the new prime minister, Winston Churchill, assessed the situation across the English Channel, announced it dire, and yet somehow managed to reassure the nation with a grim but defiant speech, which young Korda stayed up late to hear.
In his analysis of Dunkirk, Korda, like most everyone else, is baffled by Hitler’s decision to halt the advance of the German troops on British and French forces stranded on the beach, which essentially allowed the famous “Little Ships” to rescue countless men, even though a tremendous loss of life preceded the arrival of the boats. It may not have been a victory in the traditional sense of the word, but it was a triumph, nevertheless.
Alone is a masterful account of war, resiliency and England’s brave and defiant stand in a time of utter crisis.