Richard Overy

A War Quartet

Masters and Commanders: How Roosevelt, Churchill, Marshall and Alanbrooke Won the War in the West


Allen Lane/The Penguin Press 673pp £25 order from our bookshop

Few people who have any familiarity with the Second World War will need to be reminded that the famous quartet chosen by Andrew Roberts as his entry point into its history played a critical part in planning and achieving victory ‘in the West’. Oceans of ink have flowed exploring the individual biographies as well as the chequered relationships between the four, and it has to be asked: what else is there to say?

Roberts is sensitive enough as a historian to anticipate this question. The originality, he argues, exists in his discovery of a cache of shorthand notes taken by one of the Cabinet secretariat of British War Cabinet meetings during the war. They were taken down and illegally kept by Lawrence Burgis and deposited in Churchill College Archives. Roberts has interpreted or translated the difficult shorthand and invites readers to scan his website,, to see just how he did it.

In truth, the strength of Masters and Commanders lies not in the hoped-for nugget from the archives hitherto overlooked, but in the power of the narrative and the fascinating detail used to construct it. Roberts has exploited a rich mine of

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter