Project Description

Six Minutes in May: how Churchill unexpectedly became Prime Minister

(published on 5 October 2017)

London, early 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 over at the helm, but in SIX MINUTES IN MAY Nicholas Shakespeare shows how easily events could have gone in a different direction.

Britain’s first land battle of the war was fought in the far north, in Norway. It went disastrously for the Allies and many blamed Churchill. Yet weeks later he would rise to the most powerful post in the country, overtaking Chamberlain and the favourite to succeed him, Lord Halifax.

It took just six minutes for MPs to cast the votes that brought down Chamberlain. Shakespeare shows us both the dramatic action on the battlefield in Norway and the machinations and personal relationships in Westminster that led up to this crucial point. Uncovering fascinating new research and delving deep into the backgrounds of the key players, he has given us a new perspective on this critical moment in our history.

‘The most thrilling book I have read for years’
Keith Thomas
‘The book every MP should read’
Lord Adonis
‘History books should give us insight and information, surprise and entertainment, and allow us to see the world, an incident or a character differently. Six Minutes in May delivers in abundance’
Observer Books of the Year
‘An eloquent study in how quickly the political landscape can change – and history with it’
The Economist Books of the Year
‘Of the abundant new books on the Second World War, 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’
Daily Telegraph Books of the Year
‘Unputdownable… Using new evidence with a novelist’s feeling for personality and atmosphere, Six Minutes in May tells how a military disaster, parliamentary intrigues, a hidden love affair and a six-minute meeting enabled Winston Churchill to come to power’
John Gray, Guardian Books of the Year
‘Enthralling… Shakespeare has written a book that will captivate readers and fill professional historians with envy at how far he outclasses them’
Peter Craven, The Australian Books of the Year
‘Far and away the best account of the moment which changed our national life and the world’
John Simpson
Times Literary Supplement
‘Brilliant… A scintillating joy of a book’
Vanity Fair
‘Everyone delving into this riveting and rollicking account…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’
James Naughtie, New Statesman
‘Superb: Shakespeare has… written what can almost be read as a detective story’
Norman Stone, The Oldie
‘Riveting… The real delight of this book is the convincing, and often revelatory, portraits of the main protagonists’
Evening Standard
‘Magnificent… The book, though totally anchored in the facts, has a novelist’s eye for feeling and atmosphere’
‘Consuming… Six Minutes in May takes an accurate reading of the moral atmosphere’
Anthony Lane, New Yorker
‘I hope your Lordships are all taking with you for your holiday reading the wonderful book by Nicholas Shakespeare, Six Minutes in May, because that book shows that it was an Adjournment Motion on the Whitsun Recess that led to the fall of the Chamberlain Government in 1940’
Lord Stoneham of Droxford, House of Lords 24 July, 2018