Cover image for Under a darkening sky : the American experience in Nazi Europe: 1939-1941
Under a darkening sky : the American experience in Nazi Europe: 1939-1941
Personal Author:
First Pegasus books cloth edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Pegasus Books, 2018.
Physical Description:
xxvi, 309 pages ; 24 cm
A social history of the American experience in Europe between 1939 and 1941 focuses on a group of individuals, from Josephine Baker to young Americans who volunteered to join the RAF, who were caught up in the events of the war before Pearl Harbor.


Material Type
Call Number
Book 940.53 Lyman
Book 940.53 Lyman
Book 940.53 Lyman
Book 940.53 Lyman
Book 940.53 Lyman
Book 940.53 Lyman

On Order



A poignant and powerful portrait of Europe in the years between 1939 and 1941--as the Nazi menace marches toward the greatest man-made catastrophe the world has ever experienced--Under A Darkening Sky focuses on a diverse group of expatriate Americans. Told through the eyes and observations of these characters caught up in these seismic events, the story unfolds alongside a war that slowly drags a reluctant United States into its violent embrace.

This vibrant narrative takes these dramatic personalities and evokes the engagement between Europe and a reluctant America from the September 3rd, 1939--when Britain declares war--through the tragedy of Pearl Harbor in December 1941. In a distinctively energetic storyline, Robert Lyman brings together a wide range of encounters, conversations, and memories. It includes individuals from across the social spectrum, from Josephine Baker to the young Americans who volunteered to fight in the RAF, as part of the famous "Eagle Squadrons."

Hundreds of young Americans--like the aces James Goodison, Art Donahue, and the wealthy playboy Billy Fiske, who was the first American volunteer in the RAF to die in action during the Battle of Britain--smuggled themselves into Canada so that they could volunteer for the cockpits of Spitfires and Hurricanes, as they flew against the deadly Luftwaffe over ever-darkening skies in London.

Author Notes

Robert Lyman is the author of numerous books, including Among the Headhunters and The Real X-Men. Widely regarded as one of Britain's most talented historians, he is a former officer in the British Army and a fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He lives in Berkshire, England.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Historian Lyman (Among the Headhunters: An Extraordinary World War II Story of Survival in the Burmese Jungle) uses the firsthand accounts of students, housewives, academics, journalists, businesspeople, and others to provide a clear and unsettling account of the North Americans who warned of Nazi Germany before Hitler declared war on the U.S. Appeasement by the leadership of Western Europe and U.S. isolationism predominated in the 1930s, but information about Nazi violence and expansionist ambitions was conveyed by people such as New York Herald Tribune reporter Leland Snowe, who published a prescient, widely ignored 1933 book entitled Nazi Germany Means War. Other Americans who saw the Nazi threat early on included singer Josephine Baker, who aided the French Secret Service, as well as many now-obscure figures, such as Arthur Donahue, who, as a member of the RAF, became "the first American to engage enemy aircraft during the Second World War." The compilation validates Lyman's contention that the experiences of individuals "looking at history as it is made... offer in their accumulation an interpretation of events as valuable as... specialist historical accounts" and effectively rebuts those who still assert that no one could have foreseen WWII. This is a well-constructed, valuable alternative to military-focused histories of the time. Agent: Charlie Viney, Viney Shaw Agency. (Nov.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Booklist Review

In contrasting the many politicians and writers who foresaw Hitler's evil with those who clung even in the face of writings and speeches to the contrary to the chimera of peace, respected British historian Lyman reiterates that our first defense is conscience. Focusing on a disparate assemblage of engaged individuals Virginia Cowles, Martha Gellhorn, Janet Flanner, William Shirer, and many other diplomats, writers, and concerned citizens Lyman spells out how the politics of wishful thinking would never survive in a collision with a Nazi worldview built on entirely different principles. Disbelief became the prevailing emotion even as the war achieved its grim reality, in everything from horrific refugee tales to the air war to the grievous shortages of food. The first-person accounts Lyman has gathered here add a human dimension to his chilling descriptions of this period. His attempt to justify American isolationism isn't convincing, but, overall, this is a revealing and perceptive study of how Americans reacted or failed to react to the darkening sky.--Mark Levine Copyright 2018 Booklist

Choice Review

The US is far different today than it was in 1939, when war clouds were on the horizon. American public opinion was divided equally between those who believed in America First and those who opposed Hitlerism. Lyman returns readers to the eve of World War II, and to how American journalists sought to educate the public about the dangers posed by Nazi Germany. Lyman uses first-person accounts of journalists such as William L. Shirer and Howard K. Smith, as well as such cultural icons as Josephine Baker, to dramatize the heart of the struggle between authoritarianism and the hopes and dreams of poplar democracy, as Europe approached the destructive cataclysm of another war. Lyman's account enables readers to visualize the courage and determination it took for young Americans to leave their comfortable surroundings in the US and travel to Canada to volunteer to serve in the RAF during the Battle of Britain. While there are many important and serious historical studies concerning this period of the war, few, if any, capture the moment as well as Lyman does. Summing Up: Essential. All readership levels. --Christopher C. Lovett, Emporia State University

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xi
Dramatis Personaep. xxi
1 "Nazi Germany Means War"p. 1
2 Paris in Springtimep. 25
3 The Gathering Stormp. 44
4 "A Long, Agonizing Illness"p. 71
5 The Ninety Percentp. 94
6 Le Drôle De Guerrep. 109
7 The Offensive in the Westp. 124
8 Escape from Parisp. 146
9 Eagles at Dawnp. 172
10 Blitzp. 184
11 Occupationp. 208
12 Mesdames Pimpernelsp. 224
13 Berlinp. 240
14 Londonp. 263
Epiloguep. 287
Appendix: Program of the National Socialist German Workers' Party, Munich, February 24, 1920p. 291
A Guide to Further Readingp. 297
Indexp. 303