JOHN LUKACS IN MEMORIAM
We lost John Lukacs on May 6 at the age of 95.
As a historian, he was unique. As a writer about Winston Churchill he was singularly readable and concise. Which also made him one of our favorites.
We will miss him.
To this day, one of the finest and still one of the most popular books about Winston Churchill that we have ever sold (and continue to sell) here at Chartwell Booksellers is FIVE DAYS IN LONDON, May 1940, by John Lukacs. The book was a gift to the store and to all readers of Churchill when it first appeared in 1999. At a brief 219 pages, it was as if the author had taken to heart Churchill’s dictum: “Pray, give it to me on one sheet of paper,” in order to illuminate one of the 20th Century’s most complex, heart-stopping historical moments; the five days in May 1940 during which Churchill, as Britain’s new PM, debated with his War Cabinet and with himself whether to negotiate with Hitler as the Nazis closed in. A masterpiece of concision and historical drama, FIVE DAYS IN LONDON would, in time, serve as the source for DARKEST HOUR, the recent Churchill film that won Gary Oldman his Oscar.
Within two years of publication, FIVE DAYS IN LONDON would also become then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s inspirational literary prop for coping in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Throughout September 2001, and for months thereafter, we shipped quantities of the book to City Hall for the mayor to give away. For many, FIVE DAYS IN LONDON will always be associated with that time.
Mr. Lukacs was not especially enamored of Mayor Giuliani’s deployment of his book. When the Mayor began regularly comparing the attack on the Trade Center to the dire impact of the Blitz, as depicted by John Lukacs in FIVE DAYS IN LONDON, Mr. Lukacs publicly corrected the Mayor. No, he said, the Blitz was worse.
Mr. Lukacs visited Chartwell Booksellers fairly frequently as a customer. It took us nine years, however, to get him to speak at the store. Mr. Lukacs lived and taught at a small college in the depths of Pennsylvania. He needed persuading (and inducements) to stay overnight in New York City.
Finally, as part of our 25th Anniversary celebration in 2008, we convinced John Lukacs to join a Churchill Symposium we were mounting in memory of Richard L. Fisher, the store’s original patron. The subject of the Symposium was “What Would Churchill Do?” specifically in the Middle East, where hostilities very soon would lead to Israel’s bloody December offensive in Gaza. The participants were Mr. Lukacs and Michael Makovsky, author of CHURCHILL’S PROMISED LAND: Zionism and Statecraft. Our moderator for the Symposium was the esteemed editor and writer Michael Korda.
You can listen to a full audiocast of this very special evening: HERE.
Over the ensuing years, we heard from Mr. Lukacs less and less frequently but retained an abiding affection for him and for his work. His books will always be a cornerstone of Chartwell Booksellers, an indestructible, though comparitively slender, cornerstone. In a Churchillian world of frequent verbosity, he was that rare thing, a man of a very few well-chosen words.