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Troublesome Young Men:

I just finished reading Lynne Olson's terrific book Troublesome Young Men. The book tells the tale of the group of Tories who courageously stood up to Neville Chamberlain and his appeasement policy, and eventually drove him from power. Many of these maverick Tories bore a huge personal price for following their consciences. Chamberlain and other Tory leaders attacked them as disloyal traitors to their party. Chamberlain himself comes off as a petty, thin-skinned, bullying, and self-absorbed man who turned all criticisms of his policies into a test of personal loyalty to himself.

The great climax of the historical events was Leo Amery's historic speech in the House of Commons where he exclaimed to Chamberlain (quoting Cromwell): "You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing! Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!"

Occasionally life tests you to follow your principles and to do the right thing to support an institution in the face of opposition by powerful, yet petty and and narrow-minded people (although never with the stakes faced by pre-War Britain). I personally found the book to be a great inspiration to do the right thing in those situations and act to do the right thing, even when it may mean a setback or cost to yourself or even seemingly to your cause in the short run. Others will just follow the party line in order to gain personal advantage and essentially knowingly sell out the institution they are supposed to serve, thereby getting ahead in the short run. As Olson notes, some of the "Troublesome Young Men" such as MacMillan later went on to great successes, but many of them did not. She indicates that Churchill was pretty disloyal to those who helped topple Chamberlain and make Churchill Prime Minister, keeping Chamberlain around in a senior role after he was driven out of the Prime Minister spot. An especially striking section was when Chamberlain used the invasion of France as an excuse to try to retain power even after Parliament had made it clear that it was time for him to go. As I saw commented recently in a different context, "Desperate people do desperate things."

A well-written, interesting, and inspiring book. I've read a fair amount of World War II history and Churchill biography, but this was a story about man characters that I had never really heard before.

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