Popular historian Parrish (The Submarine: A History, 2004, etc.) looks at the people behind Franklin Roosevelt’s lend-lease program with England.
After France fell to the Nazis in 1940, President Roosevelt wondered if England, with American assistance, would be able to hold off invading German armies. At the time, the United States was officially neutral in the conflict, but Roosevelt was determined to do everything in his power to stop Hitler. His “lend-lease” plan sought to supply critical war materials to England and other allies, but he wanted to know if England, and especially Winston Churchill, would be a safe bet. He sent his close friend and advisor Harry Hopkins to England in early 1941 to size up the prime minister. Though Churchill had a reputation for recklessness and drunkenness, Hopkins was impressed with him immediately, and provided a glowing endorsement: “Churchill is the gov’t in every sense of the word,” he wrote. “This island needs our help now Mr. President with everything we can give them.” Soon the lend-lease program was in full swing; England would receive more than $30 billion in supplies during the war. Roosevelt sent another friend, businessman Averell Harriman, to oversee the London end of the operation. “I want you to go over to London,” Roosevelt told him, “and recommend everything that we can do, short of war, to keep the British Isles afloat.” Parrish brings many of the men involved to vibrant life—particularly Hopkins, a likable, energetic character who died of stomach cancer at the age of 55, just after World War II.
The author’s emphasis on the personalities of the period transform what could have been a dry explication of war policy into a page-turner.