About the Author
Michael Dobbs served as one of the chief advisors to Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major, and has also been a BBC presenter, Deputy Chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi, and columnist for the Mail on Sunday, and during the Watergate years, a correspondent working in Boston for The Boston Globe. His previous novels include the bestselling House of Cards which was made into a highly popular TV series in England. He has a doctorate in nuclear defense studies, and lives not far from a prominent church in Longshire.
Reading Group Guide
This extraordinary work of historical fiction by bestselling author Michael Dobbs finds Winston Churchill at his lowest ebb—pitted in a personal confrontation with Adolf Hitler and the ghosts from his past.
The battle begins on Friday, May 10, 1940, when Hitler launches a devastating attack that within days will overrun France, Holland and Belgium and bring Britain to its knees at Dunkirk. Never Surrender is about Churchill’s courage and defiance, his ability to lead a nation during three of the most crucial weeks in its history. Without the physical forces necessary to stave off German attack, Churchill uses the force of words to stand in Hitler’s way, to show that no accords will be made.
1. From Churchill’s companions’ comments about him, to Churchill’s memories of him, and even Churchill’s surreal, late-night conversations with his apparition, Churchill’s dead father haunts Never Surrender. How does Churchill’s late father influence his son’s decisions in this time of crisis?
2. Churchill imagines his father telling him, “You were always getting yourself into scrapes. Getting beyond yourself.” This opinion of Churchill seems to be very commonplace, even those closest to him consider him impulsive and rash. While these characteristics are usually judged as negative personality traits, do you think they positively contribute to Churchill’s leadership skills? If so, how?
3. At one point, the author, through the Reverend Henry Chichester, reflects, “Our Lord knew that peace didn’t come naturally to this world; his message was that it would have to be labored for – yes, even fought for.” Do you think it is realistic to expect to be able to create permanent peace through violence and warfare? If not, what do you think is the best way to achieve that peace?
4. Ruth Mueller, the German refugee, says that Churchill and Hitler have much in common: “‘Unruly, bad-tempered rabble-rousers, propagandists, nationalists, outsiders… Why, you are both even painters… And you both love war.’” How do you feel about the comparison between Churchill and Hitler? Do Churchill’s similarities to Hitler better equip Churchill to fight Hitler? Or are they a hindrance to the British war effort?
5. On page 44, Ruth Mueller describes how she, for a moment, fell under Hitler’s sway. How believable do you find her description, of how she, and by extension many other Germans, were moved to support Hitler? Her portrayal of German life before Hitler is very grim. Can you sympathize with a people who ignore the horrors occurring before their eyes?
6. At one point, Churchill tells his friend Brendan Bracken he cannot expect the people’s loyalty when he has “‘nothing to offer them but calamity.’” Bracken suggests, “‘Why not surprise them? Tell them the truth.’” Do you agree with Churchill, that the truth can be “too painful” for a country? Do you think it can ever be the duty of a politician to lie to the very people he represents? When has this happened in our history? What was the outcome?
7. What responsibility does a nation’s leader have to the people he leads? The King tells Churchill that friends have suggested they send the royal children “away, perhaps to Canada.” Churchill tells the King this can’t be done, and that he has “no choice in the matter.” Is it fair for us to ask leaders to put not only their own lives in the line of fire, but the lives of their children as well? How is this different from asking regular citizens to do the same?
8. Why do you think the injured French aviator is so critical of and angry toward Don, who put himself in harm’s way in order to rescue the Frenchman?
9. How do the injured French aviator and the British pacifist Don’s relationship and adventures reflect the bigger picture of the relationship between France and England?
10. In a restaurant, a man says Churchill is “‘rotten, totally rotten… the greatest menace this country’s ever had.’” What is it about Churchill that so many people, both English and American, find so despicable? Are his critics more angered by his personality or his political positions?
11. On page 164, a group of British soldiers “raise an ironic cheer” after a British artillery unit falls to the ground. A sergeant major complains, “‘They’re laughin’ their heads off, too. Ain’t anybody going to take this bleedin’ war seriously?’” Why is laughter, which seems so out of place in these horrible circumstances, often a response to disaster and devastation?
12. Both Halifax and Churchill are portrayed as profoundly human, with serious failings. What motivates each man? Are their actions and decisions in this period of war spurred on by their personalities, or their political ideologies?