Why England Slept

Why England Slept is the published version of a thesis written by John F. Kennedy while in his senior year at Harvard College. Its title is an allusion to Winston Churchill's 1938 book While England Slept, which also examined the buildup of German power. Published in 1940,[1] Kennedy's book examines the failures of the British government to take steps to prevent World War II, and its initial lack of response to Adolf Hitler's threats of war.

It is notable for its uncommon stance of suggesting instead that an earlier confrontation between the United Kingdom and Nazi Germany could well have been more disastrous in the long run, rather than castigating the appeasement policy which the British government pursued at the time.


The book was originally intended to be no more than a college thesis. It was rated magna cum laude by Professor Henry A. Yeomans and cum laude plus by Professor Carl J. Friedrich. However, Kennedy's father, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr., keen to elevate his son's reputation, encouraged Kennedy to convert the thesis into book form and publish it. He then enlisted Henry Luce to write the foreword,[2] and his friend Arthur Krock, former bureau chief of The New York Times, to assist in redrafting the thesis, which had originally been titled "Appeasement At Munich".[3]

Historian Garry Wills claims that this assistance amounted to rewriting and retitling the manuscript, as well as finding an agent for its publication.[4] As ambassador to Britain, Kennedy, Sr. supported Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement during the late 1930s. John F. Kennedy lived with his father in Britain at that time and as such witnessed the Luftwaffe's bombings of Britain first-hand.


After publication in 1940, the book sold 80,000 copies in the United Kingdom and the United States, collecting US$40,000 in royalties for Kennedy. Those from the British sales were donated to Plymouth, England, recently bombed by the Luftwaffe, while Kennedy bought a Buick convertible with his income from the book's North-American sales.[2]

Joseph Kennedy had initially approached Harold Laski to write the book's foreword, but Laski declined, feeling that it was "the book of an immature mind; that if it hadn't been written by the son of a very rich man, he wouldn't have found a publisher."[5]


  1. "Typescript". Jfklibrary.org. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  2. O'Brien, Michael (2005). John F. Kennedy: A Biography. Macmillan. pp. 106–109. ISBN 978-0-312-28129-8.
  3. Alterman, Eric (February 14, 2013). "The journalist and the politician". Columbia Journalism Review.
  4. Wills, Garry (2002). The Kennedy imprisonment: A meditation on power. Boston: Mariner. p. 131. ISBN 9780618134434.
  5. Raymont, Henry (August 20, 1970). "Recordings reveal JFK's lively debate with publisher". Eugene Register-Guard. Eugene, Oregon. New York Times News Service. p. 9A. Retrieved April 7, 2015.
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