How Britain’s playboy king and America’s cowboy president forged the modern Anglo-American partnership.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the great powers of Europe scrambled to form new alliances to advance their imperial ambitions. France and Britain formed the Entente Cordiale, “a loose arrangement…settling a wide range of controversies that had plagued relations between them for years.” A genuine player in world affairs for the first time, the United States abandoned its antagonism to the British Empire and embraced an alliance among the English-speaking peoples. Fromkin (International Relations, History, Law/Boston Univ.; Europe’s Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914?, 2004, etc.) acknowledges that this rearrangement of the world’s diplomatic furniture was an almost predictable response to the threat posed by Germany’s unstable Kaiser Wilhelm to the traditional European balance of power. Further, the author concedes that neither Theodore Roosevelt nor Edward VII were entirely in control of their nations’ foreign policies and that, in any event, forces much larger than individual personalities shaped events. Still, yoking the two men as “secret partners” gives Fromkin sufficient excuse to throw bouquets at two successful, in many ways unlikely, leaders about whom many of their countrymen remained deeply skeptical. Through his mother Queen Victoria, “Bertie” was literally the uncle of all Europe, known primarily for his love of pleasure, France, fashion and women. Famously a cowboy and Rough Rider, the bellicose Roosevelt became, following McKinley’s assassination, America’s youngest president. Fromkin’s profiles explain the origins of each man’s public image, but also demonstrate that Roosevelt was more than “a mannerless savage,” Edward more than “a mindless playboy,” caricatures dear to their contemporaries perhaps, but long since dismissed by historians. How the global aspirations of each happily intersected at the 1906 Algeciras Conference serves as the narrative climax, but too much is merely asserted for the thesis to be entirely persuasive.
For the general reader, a fair introduction to two towering personalities and to the 20th-century landscape before it turned toxic.