Whatever his flaws, Franklin Roosevelt had an eye for talent, according to this sweeping, top-down account of 1939–45 from the point of view of FDR, his cabinet and his leading generals and admirals.
Opening with Gen. George C. Marshall’s dramatic July 1941 confrontation with Congress over extending the draft (which passed), veteran popular historian Persico (Franklin and Lucy: President Roosevelt, Mrs. Rutherfurd, and the Other Remarkable Women in His Life, 2008, etc.) follows with a short biography of Marshall before backtracking to 1939 to begin his story. Pausing occasionally to introduce another great man (always a man), the author describes how, under FDR’s benign but never inattentive authority, they directed the war from the frustrations of neutrality, the outrage and scramble to arm after Pearl Harbor and the massive if often clumsily fought campaigns. It ended with a complete but ultimately unsatisfying victory. Long wars demand long books, but these are 550 pages of lively prose by a good writer who knows his subject. It may not be the best introduction, but history buffs will find familiar material and no unsettling opinions. Persico peoples his conventional history with admirable leaders possessing well-known and forgivable flaws (MacArthur: brilliant but egotistical; FDR: brilliant but devious; Admiral King: brilliant but bad-tempered). He recounts accepted blunders (the Italian campaign was a bad idea; FDR should have paid more attention to the Holocaust) but remains neutral on persistent controversies—should we have dropped the atom bomb? Did the strategic bombing of Germany shorten the war?—merely recording opinions on both sides.
A fine, straightforward politics-and-great-men history.