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Roosevelt's Centurions: FDR and the Commanders He Led to Victory in World War IIby Joseph E. Persico
Synopses & Reviews
All American presidents are commanders in chief by law. Few perform as such in practice. In Roosevelt’s Centurions, distinguished historian Joseph E. Persico reveals how, during World War II, Franklin D. Roosevelt seized the levers of wartime power like no president since Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. Declaring himself “Dr. Win-the-War,” FDR assumed the role of strategist in chief, and, though surrounded by star-studded generals and admirals, he made clear who was running the war. FDR was a hands-on war leader, involving himself in everything from choosing bomber targets to planning naval convoys to the design of landing craft. Persico explores whether his strategic decisions, including his insistence on the Axis powers’ unconditional surrender, helped end or may have prolonged the war.
Taking us inside the Allied war councils, the author reveals how the president brokered strategy with contentious allies, particularly the iron-willed Winston Churchill; rallied morale on the home front; and handpicked a team of proud, sometimes prickly warriors who, he believed, could fight a global war. Persico’s history offers indelible portraits of the outsize figures who roused the “sleeping giant” that defeated the Axis war machine: the dutiful yet independent-minded George C. Marshall, charged with rebuilding an army whose troops trained with broomsticks for rifles, eggs for hand grenades; Dwight Eisenhower, an unassuming Kansan elevated from obscurity to command of the greatest fighting force ever assembled; the vainglorious Douglas MacArthur; and the bizarre battlefield genius George S. Patton. Here too are less widely celebrated military leaders whose contributions were just as critical: the irascible, dictatorial navy chief, Ernest King; the acerbic army advisor in China, “Vinegar” Joe Stilwell; and Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, who zealously preached the gospel of modern air power. The Roosevelt who emerges from these pages is a wartime chess master guiding America’s armed forces to a victory that was anything but foreordained.
What are the qualities we look for in a commander in chief? In an era of renewed conflict, when Americans are again confronting the questions that FDR faced — about the nature and exercise of global power — Roosevelt’s Centurions is a timely and revealing examination of what it takes to be a wartime leader in a freewheeling, complicated, and tumultuous democracy.
“[A] sweeping, top-down account of 1939–45 from the point of view of FDR, his cabinet and his leading generals and admirals....Long wars demand long books, but these are 550 pages of lively prose by a good writer who knows his subject.” Kirkus Reviews
“Joseph E. Persico has done it again! Roosevelt’s Centurions is a riveting, analytic recounting of FDR as top World War II strategist. Nobody before has written on Roosevelt as talent scout with the brilliant insight of Persico. I found Persico’s elucidation of the FDR — George Marshall relationship marvelous. A grand book for the ages!” Douglas Brinkley, author of Cronkite
“To a remarkable degree, we inhabit a world originated by Franklin D. Roosevelt — on World War II battlefields; in the gilded halls of diplomacy; above all, inside FDR's fertile, inscrutable imagination. Joe Persico brings all this to life with stunning originality, insight, and narrative drive. Familiar names — Marshall, Patton, Eisenhower, Churchill — are here rescued from caricature. So are the strategic and political decisions that inform today’s debate over civil liberties in wartime. The last word on Roosevelt’s war, it’s safe to say, will never be written. But it’s hard to imagine anyone writing any better words than these.” Richard Norton Smith, author of The Colonel: The Life and Legend of Robert R. McCormick 1880–1955
“[Persico] is a polished storyteller and offers new insight into the tumultuous years of Roosevelt’s last two terms.” The Denver Post
About the Author
Joseph E. Persico is the author of Roosevelt’s Secret War; Franklin and Lucy; Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour; Piercing the Reich; and Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial, which was made into a television docudrama. He also collaborated with Colin Powell on his autobiography, My American Journey. He lives in Guilderland, New York.
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