Novelist and historian Groom (El Paso, 2016, etc.) recounts the origins and fortunes of the grand alliance forged to battle the Axis powers in World War II.
In the early 1930s, it would have seemed unlikely for the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and the United States to agree on anything. As the author observes, when incoming President Franklin Roosevelt recognized the Soviet Union as a legitimate government, he did so “against the wishes of a large part of the country, including his own mother.” Winston Churchill was implacably opposed to any such recognition and held Josef Stalin in scorn, detesting everything about Bolshevism—yet still came together with Roosevelt to join forces with Stalin against Hitler in the west, eventually opening a two-front war. Getting to that point required plenty of maneuvering, and the powers developed considerable skills in hiding things from one another as each jockeyed for position to be first among equals. Groom’s account of how Churchill, he of “devious mind,” convinced Roosevelt to sign on to the invasion of North Africa is excellent. For all that, there’s not much new in this history, and certainly nothing that readers well-versed in WWII history won’t know. Yet that doesn’t seem to be the audience here, for Groom writes as if his readers had never heard of Churchill, or FDR, or Uncle Joe. That notwithstanding, his accounts of the Tehran Conference of 1943 and the later Yalta Conference are tasty pieces of drama in which Stalin played a too-believing Roosevelt while planning a postwar Soviet empire, or at least a system of satellite states. At the latter gathering, he notes, “Roosevelt made the stunning declaration that he did not intend for American troops to remain in Europe more than two years after the war, and Stalin, apparently emboldened by the news, lied or prevaricated about his intentions in Eastern Europe.”
Not Groom at his best but certainly serviceable for readers without much background in the history of the era.