This is a firsthand account of the British civilian experience of World War II, written as it was happening. The entries are spaced about every 2 weeks, from September 3, 1939 until May 12, 1945. The details of day-to-day experience and popular opinion are fascinating, well-observed and well-described, and often funny. For instance, I didn't realize the extent of Eleanor Roosevelt's popularity among the English: "The crowds, which would mistrust too much elegance, love her because she looks homey and, as they approvingly remark, 'motherly.' The press has devoted so much space to her doings that it's occasionally difficult to keep track of the war, what with her own 'My Day' column and the adjoining ones filled up by other writers who describe her day all over again, just in case she forgot something."
For me, the most interesting periods were the dark days of the 1940s, when England found itself standing alone against the Nazis, and the build-up to and anticipation of the invasion of Normandy in 1944. Among other things, Panter-Downes covers Londoners' endurance of the blitz, the English admiration and love for Winston Churchill (when he got ill in 1943, apparently one journal devoted its entire front page to his photograph "with a solemn verse from the Psalms under it"), reactions to developments in the war, the "minor dislocations of life," and social changes due to the war effort. I found that the book got a little repetitive in both themes (coal supply, rations, rumors) and language ("informed and uninformed opinion" occurs with a high frequency). My reading dragged a bit during 1942-1943 when much of the war action was happening in distant places while the British itched for a second front in France. But, that repetitiveness probably also accurately captures the nature of nearly 6 years of war from a civilian point of view.
Overall, I enjoyed getting many small insights into the resiliency and courage--"the quiet and dogged confidence"--of the British people during the war in which so many owed so much to so few. The author quotes many "men on the street" to give a sense of the mood of the time, and one of my favorite lines came from a "seedy Londoner in a bus" who said, "I can't rightly see at the moment exactly how we're going to win, but if anyone told me we wasn't, I'd bust out larfing."