The fifth volume in Davis’s study (FDR: The New Deal, 1995, etc.) covers only two of the president’s exhausting final years—from election night 1940 to New Year’s Day 1943.
America’s effort to supply war matériel to the Allies is the dominant story line here. Before Pearl Harbor, the president had to proceed cautiously. Most Americans opposed involvement in the war, and powerful public figures (such as Charles Lindbergh and Joseph Kennedy) stood ready to denounce any steps that appeared to be bringing the US into what was considered a European conflict. After Pearl Harbor, isolationism disappeared overnight, and the pressing issue became the allocation of men and machinery: Britain continued to need supplies, while Russia required planes and guns after the German invasion of 1941. Ships and manpower were needed in the Pacific to repulse the widespread Japanese assaults. When England waffled on Operation Sledgehammer (the planned 1942 invasion of Western Europe), George Marshall tried to commit US forces to first winning the war in the Pacific. But FDR overruled Marshall, soothed Stalin with more planes, and committed American troops to Operation Torch (the 1942 invasion of North Africa). Davis writes fluidly and well, but he struggles somewhat when he strays from historical narrative: his occasional psychological observations of FDR, Churchill, and Eisenhower are unconvincing, and his bizarre reconstruction of the Eastern Front as a kind of Freudian battle between emotions (Germany) and logic (Russia) seems simplistic. Even more disappointing, the people in FDR’s personal life (Eleanor, devoted secretary Missy Lehand, and old flame Lucy Mercer) make only brief appearances.
Overall, a meticulously detailed, smoothly told biography.