Brits, books and the blitz: Hope undiminished

“Then the all-clear sounded. And people returned, hope undiminished. They returned, so elegant and purposeful to the books.”

~Maira Kalman, The Principles of Uncertainty (2007)


Maira Kalman’s painting (above) of the famous Blitz photo (below) shows Londoners contentedly browsing through books at a bombed out library in 1940. It seems to say: Bombs will not come between the Brits, their books and ultimately, their freedom.

London Library after the blitz

The Blitz was an eight-month German aerial assault on Britain during World War Two. More than 40,000 British civilians perished, but the Germans ultimately failed to bring the Brits to their knees.

While some speculate that this photograph was posed and used as government propaganda to bolster morale, the story it tells is not far from the truth.

I know several Brits who lived through this brutal attack, and though they are slowing down with age, there is no mistaking their strength of character: They got through it with humility, humour, hot tea — and a few good books. Hitler didn’t stand a chance.

Illustration by Maira Kalman

Find out more about the “the books that helped win WW2” at the wonderful Books for Victory.



  1. Lovely and touching. Reminds of my mother who eyes shone so bright with the memory of a good book in those days. And thank you for the link, that is going to be an interesting read. Hugs from South of your border.

  2. In James Less-Milne’s diaries during the Blitz, he described going with hundreds of other book-lovers to rescue the books when the London LIbrary was bombed… they stood dangerously iron girders over gaping craters and ruins,, handing dusty books in a human chain…
    Elizabeth Bowens’s The Demon Lover describes best to me, the atmosphere of that time in
    London – a collection of wonderful short stories…

    • Wonderful!! I will seek out Ms. Bowen’s collection. Thank you for your comments (yourself a Blitz survivor — though surely you were a babe in arms!), which mean more to me than you can imagine.

      • No, too old to be a babe in arms !!- I can remember watching the planes diving across the sky during the Battle of Britain when I was two, and the adults saying there ‘s another dog-fight. And I couldn’t see any dogs in the sky- only white crosses !!!

  3. I’ve never seen that photo before, nor the painting. But even if the photo is posed, it is one great idea with a poignant setting. It speaks volumes. Thanks for a wonderful post!

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