Troublesome Young Men is at once an absorbing read, and a window on the machinations of the upper classes in England prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. The story details the activities of a group of ambitious politicians to undermine Prime Minister
Chamberlain, and elevate Winston Churchill to the Premiership thereby thwarting the unsavoury efforts of Adolf Hitler.
By the standards of today, they were not ‘young men’. The average age was close to 50, and they were all ‘comfortably off’, as the saying went in those days. The general tenor of the work suggests that these ‘young men’ sacrificed their political careers for the greater good of their country. This is difficult to comprehend as every one of them that lived (Ronald Cartland perished in the opening stages of the war), was elevated to the peerage or knighted. The only exception was Leo Amery: the best Prime Minister England never had, who declined the offer of an elevation. Their lack of altruism is not lost on Ms Olson, but she none-the-less portrays the events with candid and unbiased accuracy.
The book is a ‘page turner’, written by an accomplished journalist in the manner of a ‘breaking story’. To be sure, there are a couple of factual errors which would be churlish of me to reveal, but they detract not an iota from the gist of the story.
The book ends with Churchill’s achieving his ends, but the activists not achieving theirs. Indeed, I have the feeling that the book ends without fully developing Churchill’s motives for not rewarding his acolytes.
Churchill did not appoint any of them to exulted positions indeed, he ran with the very same team appointed by Chamberlain. It is a measure of the man as a manager that he didn’t effect the obvious. Had he elevated these recalcitrant worthies, they would have seen it as ‘pay-back’, and would have been a constant thorn in his side. By keeping Chamberlain’s men, he showed the whole administration that he was his own man; answerable to no one.
An excellent read, and one that should send us all scurrying for other works of this superior writer.