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A fascinating and dramatic investigation into the events that led to Winston Churchill becoming Prime Minister against the odds

*** Selected as a 2017 Book of the Year in the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Observer and The Economist ***
‘A gripping story of Churchill’s unlikely rise to power’ Observer
London, May 1940. Britain is under threat of invasion and Neville Chamberlain’s government is about to fall. It is hard for us to imagine the Second World War without Winston Churchill taking the helm, but in Six Minutes in May Nicholas Shakespeare shows how easily events could have gone in a different direction.

It took just six minutes for MPs to cast the votes that brought down Chamberlain. Shakespeare moves from Britain’s disastrous battle in Norway, for which many blamed Churchill, on to the dramatic developments in Westminster that led to Churchill becoming Prime Minister. Uncovering fascinating new research and delving into the key players’ backgrounds, Shakespeare gives us a new perspective on this critical moment in our history.

‘Totally captivating. It will stand as the best account of those extraordinary few days for very many years’
Andrew Roberts

‘Superbly written… Shakespeare has a novelist’s flair for depicting the characters and motives of men’
The Times

‘Utterly wonderful… It reads like a thriller’
Peter Frankopan

SHORTLISTED FOR THE HWA NON-FICTION CROWN 2018

Reviews

History books should give us insight and information, surprise and entertainment, and allow us to see the world, an incident or a character differently. Nicholas Shakespeare’s Six Minutes in May delivers in abundance.

Anthony Sattin, Observer, Best Books of 2017

Riveting…never less than gripping. But the real delight of its book is the convincing, and often revelatory, portraits of the main protagonists.

Evening Standard.

Unputdownable… Us[es] new evidence with a novelist’s feeling for personality and atmosphere

John Gray, Guardian, Best Books of 2017

Brilliant, meticulous…This scintillating joy of a book — with a military narrative of British shame as well handled as William Dalrymple’s Return of a King, and a treatment of 20th-century British politics, romance, humiliation and desire as grandly realised as Anthony Powell’s great novel sequence….Shakespeare’s narrative is not just more reliable than Churchill’s, but more fun.

Spectator

Superb...Enthralling.

Daily Telegraph

Magnificent… The book, though totally anchored in the facts, has a novelist’s eye for feeling and atmosphere

i

Everyone delving into this riveting and rollicking account of the Chamberlain-Lord Halifax-Churchill succession will find special pleasure today in inhaling the rich mix of ambition and weakness, bravery and fecklessness, jealousy and sheer hatred, because the contemporary echoes are loud and irresistible... Nicholas Shakespeare achieves the remarkable feat of bringing tension to an old story by understanding the human drama...He has a novelist’s feel for self-pity, jealousy and ambition. The story of Churchill’s accession to power on the day that Hitler’s armies entered the Low Countries and set course for France has never been infused with so much humanity.

James Naughtie, New Statesman

An eloquent study in how quickly the political landscape can change -- and history with it

The Economist, Books of Year 2017

Shakespeare brings both meticulous research and fictional artistry to illuminate the machinery of government under extreme stress and the abrasive conflict of large, self-confident personalities. It's a superb achievement.

Ian McEwan

A superbly written drama... Shakespeare's research is thorough and he has a novelist's flair for depicting the characters and motives of great and lesser men...Fascinating.

Book of the Week, The Times

Superb: far and away the best account of the moment which changed our national life and the world, and filled with extraordinary new details. Shakespeare brings a novelist's eye to the characters he writes about, but it is the extraordinary way he marshals his material, far more extensive than I've come across before, which makes this book quite simply magnificent.

John Simpson

The most thrilling book I have read for years.

Keith Thomas

Superb: he has pieced together the various sources (sometimes quite different in their accounts) and written what can almost be read as a detective story.

Norman Stone, The Oldie

Nicholas Shakespeare's impeccably researched, coherent and revelatory explanation about how Churchill became Prime Minister at the exact time of Hitler's onslaught in the West is totally captivating. It will stand as the best account of those extraordinary few days for very many years.

Andrew Roberts

Utterly wonderful… It reads like a thriller

Peter Frankopan

A superb work of history. Shakespeare has assumed nothing and allowed himself to be guided only by what a patient re-examination of the evidence-some of it new, much of it still surprisingly ill-digested until now- actually reveals. That is being an historian. The fact that he is also a novelist just means that it is very well written too, a thriller, in fact.

Simon Green, Professor of Modern History, Leeds University

Of the abundant new books on the Second World War, Nicholas Shakespeare’s Six Minutes in May…takes the prize. The familiar story of how Churchill unexpectedly became prime minister in 1940 has never been told so amusingly, nor in such detail

Simon Heffer, Daily Telegraph

Nicholas Shakespeare’s Six Minutes in May: How Churchill Unexpectedly Became Prime Minister…is as gripping as a novel. Apart from being meticulously researched, thoroughly original and beautifully written, the book is an important reminder of the fact that the direction of history can change in a heartbeat

Peter Frankopan, History Today

Shakespeare is better known as a novelist than as a historian. This may change after his superb account of the under-examined Norwegian campaign, for which alone his book deserves to be read… Shakespeare is excellent in tracing the intricate manoeuvres ahead of the debate between groups of parliamentarians… Enthralling

David Lough, Daily Telegraph

One of the very best history books I have ever read.

Duff and Nonsense

An eloquent study in how quickly the political landscape can change—and history with it.

The Economist

An absorbing account of how events 1,300 miles away across the North Sea let to the most drastic cabinet reshuffle in modern British history... Shakespeare's book grips the attention from beginning to end. He conjures the characters and personalities of the senior commanders in the Norwegian campaign with a novelist's flair and eye for detail.

Ian Thompson, Observer

The most prescient book of the year

Ricky Ross, Big Issue

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Formats & editions

  • Paperback

    9781784701000

    May 14, 2018

    Vintage

    528 pages

    RRP $22.99

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  • EBook

    9781473521711

    October 5, 2017

    Vintage Digital

    528 pages

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