A meandering mishmash of biography and history delves into the personalities of World War II’s Grand Alliance—especially its “fulcrum,” FDR.
Roosevelt kept the three Allies working together to fend off the Nazi menace, balancing the tenacity of Churchill with the ruthlessness of Stalin by sheer dint of Roosevelt’s magnetic personality. Yet by FDR’s death in 1945 the alliance cracked, and President Truman, no friend of the Soviets, allowed the prevailing suspicions among the three to undermine the postwar relationships and usher in the Cold War. In this sometimes entertaining but thematically flailing work, Costigliola (History/Univ. of Connecticut; France and the United States: The Cold Alliance Since World War II, 1992, etc.) casts among the diplomatic players that contributed both to the success of the Grand Alliance and its unraveling. The author compares the background and schooling of the three—e.g., the privileged aristocracies of Churchill and Roosevelt versus the hardscrabble working-class upbringing of Stalin and the varying degrees of parental love (e.g., Stalin was brutalized by his father, while Roosevelt was doted upon by his mother) as having affected their respective leadership styles. In particular, Costigliola traces the indispensable working friendship between Roosevelt and Marguerite “Missy” LeHand, who became “in effect his chief-of-staff,” and Roosevelt and Harry Hopkins, a man of action who moved into the White House during the war years so that he could be at Roosevelt’s disposal. Both Churchill and Stalin, likewise suffering ill health due to the pressures of war, had their long-suffering assistants, while Stalin had his “political club,” who adored their leader but felt abused by the purges, and grew resentful. All worked their personal touch at conferences such as Yalta and Tehran. With Roosevelt’s death, relations with the Soviets were dominated by issues around the atomic bomb, and alarmist policies over Soviet intentions fueled perilous mutual distrust.
Costigliola provides engaging pick-and-choose historical highlights rather than a fluent narrative.