A deeply engrossing study of the first year of Franklin Roosevelt’s prescient military leadership in World War II.
Consummate biographer Hamilton (How to Do Biography: A Primer, 2008, etc.) ably captures the charming, astute personality of FDR, especially his role as foil to the dogged, imperious Winston Churchill. Considering that so many facets of the Roosevelt era have already been amply scrutinized, it is to Hamilton’s considerable credit that he manages to impart singular, fresh nuance and depth to his hero. Hamilton aims to set the record straight on three counts: First, despite the postwar preening by his generals, FDR had fended off various defeatist and ineffectual proposals after the attack on Pearl Harbor and held firm to the necessity of a quick reprisal in the Pacific to check Japan’s further incursions into the Indian Ocean. Subsequently, working with the British (and against a near mutiny of his generals), FDR seized on a massive combined force in northwest Africa, which would become Operation Torch, to pincer the Germans under Erwin Rommel, thus opening up a second front, to the delight of the Russians. Second, Hamilton aims to emphasize how important it was to FDR, a born aristocrat yet a man of the people, that he and Churchill hammer out an understanding that the Americans would enter the war not to help Britain prop up its collapsing empire; on the contrary, FDR touched this sore spot frequently, for instance, pressuring Churchill to let the beleaguered Indians fight for their self-determination. Finally, Hamilton wonderfully delineates FDR’s ability to elicit news from his many “eyes and ears” in the field—in opposition to the Victorian, prideful Churchill. However, as the author portrays through Churchill’s extended White House Christmas visit in 1941, the two leaders learned a great deal from each other.
Lively, elucidating, elegant and highly knowledgeable.