Discussion Guide for Infinite Stakes

The Structure of the Novel

This novel has a complex structure. It is designed as a transcript of a TV interview taking place 70 years after the Battle of Britain, with Eleanor looking back through the years and remembering the events. But suddenly, as the interviewer’s questions trigger her memories, we are transported back into those events, inside Eleanor’s Point Of View. Moreover, we also see these events through Johnnie’s POV, which alternates with Eleanor’s.

Thus we have three POV’s looking at the same events:

  • Eleanor’s TV comments about the significance of these events
  • Eleanor’s 1940 POV from a strategic point of view
  • Johnnie’s 1940 POV inside a Spitfire cockpit

How is our understanding of these events strengthened by having more than one POV?

There are two brief breaks from these POVs. One is a bureaucrat’s, as he tries to understand what Eleanor is doing; the other is an American pilot, describing a patrol under Johnnie’s leadership.

The author never describes the two main characters. What do we learn from these two third-party interventions?

Women’s Issues

Although Eleanor has made important contributions to the war effort, and is trusted by Churchill and other leaders, and has proven her bravery under fire, she still struggles to be treated as an ‘equal’ by the men around her—that is, treated and judged in a purely professional manner.

Women have made enormous strides since the 1940s, and men have changed many (but by no means all) of their sexist attitudes. In what ways have women re-thought their own roles and place in the world?

For example, how do Susan Smith’s and Jayne Jackson’s views on unmarried pregnancy differ from today’s views; or Eleanor’s belief that a woman would never be Prime Minister? (It would be another 40 years before Margaret Thatcher, the Iron Lady, achieved that office.)

In 1940 the ‘glass ceiling’ was very obvious and very low. Is it still there, just higher and thinner?


Prior to 1940, Churchill had been a brilliant but ultimately unsuccessful politician, never fully trusted by his party, his peers, or the public in general. Suddenly he was thrust into the limelight, in a moment of supreme crisis, with literally nothing going for him except his absolute willpower and his oratory. Almost everyone in political circles thought he was the wrong man for the job, and almost everyone thought he should negotiate with Hitler rather than fight him.

What can we learn from Churchill about the role of a leader in a national crisis?

We see the negotiations setting up the alliance that ultimately defeated Hitler.

Who can take most credit for the victory in World War II: Churchill, Roosevelt, or Stalin? Why?

The role of America

The story of wartime America in 1941 is seen through two parallel tracks: through Eleanor’s role in the diplomatic negotiations that led toward America’s ever-closer support of Britain and opposition to Nazi Germany (although not quite open war) and Johnnie’s leadership of the all-volunteer Eagle Squadron.

Should America have jumped in sooner, perhaps saving a year of warfare and countless lives, even though it had no immediate causus belli (cause of war?)

Were the American pilots patriots, ahead of their time, as we now see them, or soldiers of fortune?


Eleanor raises and discusses several counterfactuals, assessments of what might have happened if Germany had won.

In actual history, Germany developed a highly successful cruise missile, the V1, and a highly successful ballistic missile, the V2, but did not develop an atomic bomb. The British had by far the most advanced atomic research, which they gave to America as the foundation of the Manhattan Project.

Eleanor hypothecates that if Germany had overrun Britain then British atomic research would have fallen into Nazi hands. The Nazis would have had the information, not the Americans, and could have developed a bomb by 1944 or 1945. That, in combination with their V1s and V2s, would have permitted them to threaten America with nuclear devastation, just as, in real life, America threatened Japan.

Suppose Eleanor is right. What would the consequences have been?

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