SUMNER WELLES by Benjamin Welles


FDR's Global Strategist: A Biography
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 A fascinating look at a little-remembered contributor to 20th-century history. A protÇgÇ of Franklin Roosevelt's, Welles entered the State Department as part of the ambassadorial entourage in Japan and then became a Latin American specialist, defusing troublesome situations in Cuba, Central America, and the Dominican Republic. These experiences led to his appointment as assistant secretary of state for Latin America, where he helped author the ``Good Neighbor'' policy that supplanted the nearly 200-year-old Monroe Doctrine. Eventually reaching the post of under-secretary of state to Cordell Hull (with whom he was at constant loggerheads because, in Hull's words, ``he thinks so fast, he moves so rapidly, he gets way out in front''), Welles helped write both the UN Charter and its forerunner, the Atlantic Charter. In the meantime, he pursued such unlikely exploits as trying to contain WW II after the invasion of Poland and securing the independence of the State of Israel in concert with Chaim Weizmann. Despite this stellar professional career, however, Welles's private life was a shambles, with three marriages and rampant alcoholism. His drunken homosexual propositioning of a Pullman porter on a presidential train led to his forced resignation in 1943. As the author of this biography (a former New York Times correspondent) is the subject's own son, it is not surprising that Welles fils tries to deflect much of the negative press his father received, but he is also to be commended for seeing his father's weaknesses and not pulling punches when discussing them. In fact, the author's appearance in the book acts both as comic relief, particularly in his recitation of childhood episodes, and as a point of deeply informed, sympathetic insight on the end of Welles's life. The political intrigue revealed in this biography alone makes it a gripping tale; the author's eye for balancing public and private lives nicely clarifies what could have been a murky read. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Jan. 19th, 1998
ISBN: 0-312-17440-3
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1997