The Bullitt-Roosevelt correspondence does not alter our perspective of those horrendous, incredibly full years 193245 during...

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FOR THE PRESIDENT -- PERSONAL AND SECRET: Correspondence Between Franklin D. Roosevelt and William C. Bullitt

The Bullitt-Roosevelt correspondence does not alter our perspective of those horrendous, incredibly full years 193245 during which the eclectically brilliant ambassador -- first to the Soviets, then pre-Vichy Paris, then at large -- poured out a stream of imaginative and often amazingly prescient commentary about what was occurring in Europe at the time. Nor does the correspondence add one jot to our knowledge or understanding of Roosevelt's calculations; as George Kennan remarks in his introduction, the ""level of triviality"" of FDR's replies to Bullitt is simply unbelievable. But Bullitt's letters and other communiques to his chief do have historical value for at least two reasons. First, as suggested above, the envoy possessed a remarkably keen sense for extrapolative analysis of contemporaneous events: whether speculation on European polity and the twisting turns of hegemony (he foresaw, for instance, the coming Soviet-Nazi rapprochement well ahead of most others) or writing in 1935 of the German political sickness as personified by the Reich leaders (Goering's ""eyes pop wildly as if he were either suffering from a glandular derangement or still taking cocaine""), Bullitt is immensely perceptive, informing, and readable. His mind was like a good conductor's, hearing all the voices and instruments and their harmonies and disharmonies. Second, his communications to FDR tell us a great amount about himself -- and he was one of the most influential and interesting men of his era. Kennan, who was Bullitt's deputy during the USSR ambassadorial tour, equates him with contemporaries like Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, and John Reed -- ""Like Edna Millay, they burned their candles at both ends.... They knew achievement more often than they knew fulfillment."" Hence the Bullitt correspondence (edited by his brother, with notes) will be read by many for quite diverse reasons: those seeking and on-the-scene assessment of the diplomatic conundrums of the Hitler-Roosevelt period will not be disappointed; and those enamored of the lost generation will read Bullitt as one of that striking group who not only burned the candle but was there when it went out all over the world.

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 1972

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1972