A vivid 11-day account of a World War II holiday.
As in previous volumes on Christmastime during critical moments in history (General Sherman’s Christmas: Savannah, 1864, 2009, etc.), prolific biographer and military historian Weintraub dramatically recaps the last week and a half of late December 1941. The author’s treatment of the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor centers on two “open wartime allies,” Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt, both united under pessimistic speculation to review global strategies. Churchill’s much-ballyhooed attendance at the White House summit was beneficial yet was somewhat marred during a train trip, where he solemnly viewed Virginia’s placid, colorfully lit holiday scenery, a stark contrast to his decrepit wartime British homeland. A master chronicler, Weintraub’s moody, intensively researched play-by-play narrative traces the final days of 1941. Ruminations, anecdotes and creatively reimagined scenarios crisply capture all of the minute details of the time and sequences of events. Adolph Hitler’s sarcasm bleeds through in dispatches of his Nazi reign of terror as Christmas Eve at the White House became a tangle of lights and red ribbon, strained public speeches by the president and prime minister and strategic second-guessing. The author brilliantly juxtaposes the horror and violence of war with the tender nostalgia of Christmas, including gift ideas where “a new Ford or Chevrolet, both soon to be unobtainable, cost $900.” Weintraub cites war memoirs, military dispatches, speeches and diary entries, all to great effect, and he deftly captures the period-authentic food and dress of his subjects (including cameos by the sage, cautionary Eleanor Roosevelt) and the chaotic, edgy essence of battle.
Erudite, sweeping and contemplative—classic Weintraub.