on November 6, 2003
This is a expert blend of biography and history, striking an admirable balance between the two genres. You really do get much of the best of both worlds here: the intimate views of carefully researched biography, and fresh perspectives on well-known world events (especially the decisions on the timing of D-Day and the meetings of the Big Three.)
It is particularly remarkable in that the personalities and accomplishments of either man, and the overwhelming events they faced, could have swamped the tale in any direction. Indeed, one has to admit that Churchill tends to dominate. But his written and oral volubility naturally had that effect, and since Roosevelt ultimately carried the military trumps, and was the more elusive and interesting character, he more than holds his own.
I especially appreciate Meacham's light-handed, even deployment of his research material. One never feels that he is relying exclusively on one or two sources, or just transcribing his whole notebook. Instead, the depth and shading in the portrayal of each man extends to their primary family and professional relationships as well: Harry Hopkins, Eleanor Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, and both Randolph Churchills, are people I now want to know better.
Meacham is going for something deeper and more tender than portraiture, however - a study of friendship, perhaps the least understood human relationship. I had no idea how much time they spent together, and each of their meetings is chronicled day by day for details of their actual interactions, and their real feelings about each other. I think he gets pretty close to truth - a relationship full of humanity, respect, affection, and genuine love, consummated in truly extraordinary circumstances.
All this, and it's a sensible length. Definitive, deeply satisfying, and highly recommended.
Jon Meacham has tried to go where others have really not gone before - to explore the friendship between President Franklin Roosevelt and his counterpart, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in his new book Franklin and Winston.
Meacham has done a great job of describing, in intimate detail, the relationship between these two men. I consider the book to be a true hybrid between a biography and a history because of the style of writing - intermixing details about the individual (the biography part) with situations in which the person played a role (the historical part). Meacham intertwines these two in remarkable fashion.
This is an important book that truly displays how Roosevelt and Churchill were not only political compadres, but were indeed friends. I greatly enjoyed how Meacham discussed, with such attention to details, those situations in which both men were involved and played a critical role. I also appreciated the way in which Meacham explained how those encounters bolstered the friendship between the men - and why.
Although the friendship was rocky at times, with Roosevelt bowing to political necessity in lieu of being true friends, there is no doubt in my mind, based on Meacham's book, that these two men were so much more than just political heavyweights - they were indeed friends.
on December 20, 2003
I have read a number of biographies of FDR and Churchill as well as history books on WW II. I thought that I knew everything about both men.
Well, I didn't. It's not that Jon Meacham provides that much new material in this book--though there are some new letters and previously unreleased documents-it's that he molds what has been out there into a fascinating study of the personalities of the two men. I may not have learned new facts about these men but I gained greater insight into not only their friendship but also their marriages, their characters, and their lives from this study. Both men became more fully realized, more human, more alive in this book.
"Franklin and Winston" follows a simple, chronological structure. It begins with a phone call from Roosevelt to Churchill (who was not yet Prime Minister) at the onset of WW II in Europe; it ends for the most part with the death of Roosevelt and Churchill's inability to attend his funeral. In between, yes, you see all the major events of WW II on the European front. But you also see a Churchill trying to woo Roosevelt-and through his efforts, the neediness in his personality, the boy trying to please. You also realize the tremendous feeling that Churchill had for his American forebearers (his mother was American) and the sincere emotion that he was capable of even at the most difficult of times. With Roosevelt, you see the caginess of his personality, the boy who was the center of his parents' universe and now really was the center of the world. You see in greater depth the feeling that he did have for his wife Eleanor, even though he was spending time in his last days with his former love Lucy Rutherford. You see his ability to charm Churchill--and then turn off the charm. You're never quite sure if he really loved Churchill or not-and then you realize he may not have been sure either.
I would recommend this book to those who enjoy history books and biographies, particularly of the WW II vintage. It is not the best place to begin a study of WW II or either man--the book presupposes a certain amount of knowledge. However, it is an excellent place to continue your studies.
on December 18, 2005
The news of the bombing of Pearl Harbor filled the airwaves while I sewed myself a dirndl skirt in the early winter of 1941. I was six weeks past my fourteenth birthday, and the war that was declared that day would coincide with my high school years, ending with the dropping of the atomic bomb just before I went off to the university.
Franklin Roosevelt was elected to his first term as president about the same time I turned four. For fourteen years he was central to the radio broadcasts, newspaper stories and newsreels that came to us daily.
Beginning with the invasion of Poland in 1939, children were used to being admonished, "Be quiet! We want to hear the news!" Winston Churchill frequently figured in that news.
Reading Meacham's account of the remarkable friendship that grew up between the two leaders of the free and English-speaking world as they struggled with terrible losses of men and materiel and tragic defeats in battle and yet persisted on to win the war, I often could read only a few pages without pausing to wipe away tears and give myself a respite from the overwhelming pathos of their terrible responsibilities.
Nostalgia perhaps intensified my reaction, as old familiar terms like Tobruk, El Alamein, and Lend-Lease reverberated from my past, but surely no one could fail to be moved to tears by the closely personal, first-hand accounts of these two so humanly flawed but historically transcendent men.
Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill are two of the most influential men of the 20th Century, and Jon Meacham's Franklin and Winston is a commendable effort. How the friendship between these two men evolved is a fascinating read. Theirs was a friendship forged from the war, and Churchill cultivated the relationship knowing that help from the US was the only way to defeat Nazi Germany. All relationships have their ups and downs, and Churchill and Roosevelt were no exception. Franklin's treatment toward Winston was downright shabby when they started dealing with Joseph Stalin. Still, in their many fact-to-face meetings, they were able to do much together including tracking the progress of the war, coordinating allied activities and especially, cutting through red tape when it came to equipment and supplies.
There have been other books written about these two giants, but Meacham had the advantage of some newly discovered letters in the FDR library, as well as personal interviews with Mary Soames (Churchill's daughter), Pamela Harriman (Churchill's ex-daughter-in-law), and Robert Hopkins (son of FDR aide and cabinet member, Harry Hopkins).
Churchill was a man who wore his emotions for all to see. It was obvious that he loved and revered FDR and was crushed by his sudden death. On the other hand, FDR could be a very cold and unemotional man. He was also a man who used people, and then wrote them off when they were no longer of use to him. We are left to wonder how their friendship would have survived after the end of the war if FDR had lived--especially after Churchill's defeat as Prime Minister only months after the war ended. The changing world scene may have also served to shift the balance of their friendship. Before WWII, the United States and England were two dominant world powers. After the war, China and the Soviet Union replaced the British Empire as a major force. I wonder if FDR would have treated Churchill in a diminished capacity as the fortunes of the British Empire waned.
I especially enjoyed the many stories and anecdotes about these two men. Churchill, especially, can best be described as a character! He was a heavy handed drinker and a demanding guest. He loved to stay up late and seemed to do his best work after midnight. Winston didn't like American whiskey or Roosevelt's nightly cocktails. Both men had strong, intelligent wives, although Eleanor and Clementine didn't particularly like each other. While Clementine couldn't keep up with Eleanor, Franklin had a difficult time matching Winston's energy and stamina.
All in all, Meacham has provided us with a very good sketch about two great men.
on February 14, 2004
The book is a beautiful blend of a dual biography and of world history in the first half of the last century. Naturally, the protagonists are Roosevelt & Churchill, and the backdrop is World War II.
The author leads up to the outbreak of the conflict with just the right amount of background on both men, as well as with a bit of the politics of the era. Interestingly, (and actually a point that was lost on the President but not on the Prime Minister), they had briefly met as underlings during the Great War. No fast friendship was to be theirs however.
Politics and circumstance drew them together twenty years hence, and while they initially approached one another with caution and with great reserve, they were to become not only allies but truly brothers-in-arms. Their meetings were warm and their friendship made the alliance more efficient than any other of its day.
This is not to say there weren't differences; there were indeed many important ones and they not infrequently led to serious strains on their friendship. Among such issues detailed nicely in this book were Churchill's hard-line dedication to the British empire (and all the strategic & political implications of keeping the Empire intact) and Roosevelt's reflexive, inner politician, a personality that could be cold, hurtful and quite disingenuous.
In the end, it certainly seems that Churchill was not only the more forthright of the two, but also the more prescient. He perceived Stalin's intentions and the coming Cold War perhaps before anyone else. His warnings however made little impression on Roosevelt or on anyone else in a position to make a difference. Unlike his ally, however, Churchill would survive long enough to see the Cold War he had predicted become our reality, to see the Russians turned back from Cuba, and to receive an honorary American citizenship from President Kennedy. Knowing Churchill just a bit leaves one with the feeling that this last honor was one he most sincerely cherished.
on January 29, 2004
Jon Meacham's book "Franklin and Winston" does something that I have seen no other book about the World War II era attempt. Meacham tells the story not of a person, or of an historical event, but instead he tells the story of one of the most important relationships that ever existed between two men.
Few relationships have ever had the importance that this particular one did. It is difficult to imagine a more critical relationship than the one between the two heads of state of countries fighting Nazi Germany in World War II. Because FDR and Churchill trusted one another and communicated well with one another America and Britain were able to avoid many pitfalls that nations which join together in temporary alliances often encounter.
Churchill and Roosevelt had many similarities and some major differences. However, both realized at the outset of World War II--after Churchill became Prime Minister of Britain--that for the good of both their nations they must work closely together to defeat Nazi Germany. This was easier said than done at times. Churchill had a number of personal habits which irritated Roosevelt. For example, Churchill was often long and rambling in his conversations. Churchill, the ultimate Anglophile, refused to see certain larger implications of World War II, such as the end of British Colonialism. Churchill sometimes would barge into Roosevelt's bedroom in the Whitehouse in the middle of the night--when he visited the President--simply to talk about some idea that had suddenly crossed his mind.
On the other hand, Roosevelt sometimes annoyed Churchill. Roosevelt insisted at both the Teheran and Yalta conferences upon meeting first with Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator, before talking to Churchill. This lead Churchill to feel both annoyed and less important than the other two men. Roosevelt was sometimes both secretive and non-committal, a trait Churchill found to be extremely frustrating at times.
What was impressive was the willingness of both men had to set aside differences, ignore personality quirks, reject stereotypes, and work together for the common good of both their nations. In a day when public discourse between political figures is often marked by rancor and unwillingness to compromise, it is refreshing to know that some great men can put aside personal differences to reach a larger goal.
on November 16, 2003
True friendship is never serene.
-- Marquise de Sevigne
"Like most friends," Jon Meacham writes well into FRANKLIN AND WINSTON, "[they] were sometimes affectionate, sometimes cross, alternately ready to die for or murder the other. But each helped make what the other did possible."
Yet for Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, it was hardly love at first sight.
While Churchill later claimed not to remember their first encounter, Roosevelt stated, "I always disliked him since the time I went to England in 1917 or 1918 . . . At the dinner [for an American mission during World War I] . . . he acted like a stinker."
But in the throes of the Second World War, with Great Britain facing its darkest hours, Franklin and Churchill were reacquainted and grew to become the most heralded of comrades.
What constitutes friendship? Millions of words have been devoted to the subject. Emerson said, "The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when he discovers that someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him with his friendship." An anonymous wordsmith decided, "A simple friend thinks the friendship over when you have an argument. A real friend knows that it's not a friendship until after you've had a fight."
If such a relationship is so challenging between "regular people," how much more complex must it be between leaders such as Roosevelt and Churchill?
The waters of friendship do not run smoothly in the best of times, let alone under the stress of global warfare. Meacham depicts Franklin and Winston at times like a pair of adolescent sweethearts, with Churchill fretting over whether the President liked him well enough. "What does he think of me?" he constantly mooned.
Throw Joseph Stalin into the mix and you have an even more awkward situation. At times Roosevelt kept Churchill out of the loop, holding separate meetings with the Russian leader, not wanting "to be pinned down and acquiesce to Winston's desires." Churchill felt betrayed, as the U.S. and Russia --- not England --- were to become the new superpowers.
Through it all, however, the ties that bound FRANKLIN AND WINSTON remained strong.
Meacham, the managing editor for Newsweek, has culled massive amounts of correspondences and other resources to weave this cohesive and compelling narrative as he exhibits the "human dimension of Roosevelt's and Churchill's wartime lives." Both had troubled private lives, including problems with their children. Roosevelt, of course, suffered the debilitations of polio while his counterpart had something of a drinking problem. Churchill was devoted to his wife, Clementine; Roosevelt, on the other hand, had a more complex marriage to Eleanor and spent a goodly amount of time with several female relatives and friends, although the author is quick to point out that these relationships were more spiritual in nature.
Many people confuse familiarity with friendship. Children will introduce their acquaintance of five minutes as "my best friend." As people grow older and become veterans of hundreds of indignations and slights --- real and imagined --- it is easy to lose that ability to form relationships. So much more complicated, it must be, when in a position of great importance and responsibility.
At the conclusion of their meeting in Casablanca in 1943, Churchill called Roosevelt "the truest friend; he has the farthest vision; he is the greatest man I've ever known."
Ultimately, Roosevelt and Churchill enjoyed their "cycle of friendship" as a "ritual ... reassuring in its familiarity." When FDR died in the spring of 1945, even as he was making plans to travel to England, Churchill was crushed; he could not bring himself to come to the funeral to say goodbye.
In FRANKLIN AND WINSTON, Meacham has demonstrated that leaders are not made of stone. Despite their positions of power, they are still people and in need of the human connection.
--- Reviewed by Ron Kaplan
on December 30, 2004
Photographs of Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill together have the look of historical inevitability. So central were these two leaders to the war effort that it is impossible to think about that hellish time without their bulky presences dominating the picture. All in all, they spent over 100 days with each other. Meachem, in his throughly researched book, details virtually every hour of their days together yet arrives at a fairly ambivalent answer to his central question: were they really friends?
Meachem's source material are primarily cables between the two leaders, and letters and reminisces from family, friends, and personal aides that surrounded them between 1939 and 1945. When he can, the author skillfully includes several different contemporary accounts from multiple witnesses of the same events - mostly the summits and dinners - that dominated the two leaders' working and personal relationship. The book has an extensive annotated bibliography and a half-a-dozen or so photographs. Yet, the limited scope of the book means that events not central to the relationship, such as the bitter internal political discord within both the British and American governments, are lightly treated (see Michael Beschloss' The Conquerors and John Lukacs' The Duel for a full treatment).
Though Meachem avoids judgements, Winston Churchill clearly emerges as the most sympathetic figure in the relationship, forever unsure of his place in FDR's crowded world. Churchill admits, in one passage, that he "loves that man" and is often seen weeping at emotional moments (even movies). FDR, under his jaunty and smiling exterior, remains cool and calculating ("a man of shadows," writes the author) , and at times unaccountably cruel to and dismissive of Churchill. His successor, Harry Truman, called him "the coldest man I ever knew."
Meachem superbly conveys the texture of social and political life during the war years and this is the main strength of his book. Cables were the main form of communication, and travel to faraway places in Asia for summit meetings were arduous and dangerous in the pre-jet age. Meachem's narration is constantly interrupted by FDR's and Churchill's illnesses, which inevitably followed these long and stressful journeys. One can only imagine how difficult overseas meetings were for the paralyzed FDR. Dinners and picnics at the White House, Shangri-la (now Camp David) and Hyde Park are faithfully retold, down to the menu and the toasts. Despite what looks the like the inevitability of the Roosevelt / Churchill joint venture, Meachem shows that throughout the war and despite their common interests, neither fully trusted each other nor could each be sure the other would remain in power. Churchill, especially, contended with the possibility that FDR would retire or be defeated for re-election in 1940 and 1944.
Were they fast friends, above and beyond politics? Meachem clearly thinks so, but his book shows that the titanic events surrounding the two men so saturated their personal psyches that it is impossible to be certain. FDR turned colder toward Churchill over time as he courted "Uncle Joe" Stalin. Churchill did not attend FDR's funeral, although his plane was warming up on the runway. In the end, we are left with two highly talented politicians who each believed in imperious moments that "L'etet c'est moi."
"In love, there is always the one who kisses, and one who offers the cheek" - to borrow another phrase from the French. Meachem's excellent book shows that FDR could deftly offer the cheek, and not, depending on circumstances. And Churchill, a enormously proud and sensitive man, did what he had to do to ensure his beloved Britain's - and the "English-speaking race's" - survival.
on November 30, 2003
I saw several news people mention this book as one of the best books of the year so I picked it up at the local library and they were right!
Franklin and Winston is simply a fascinating look at two of the giant leaders of the 20th century. Easy to read, filled with great quotes and stories, this is how history is supposed to be written. I guess since Jon Meacham is a magazine writer and a journalist he is a better writer than say some plain old historians, but whatever the case the man can write and what a story he told.
As a teacher, I am thinking about making this book mandatory reading. It should be. More young people need to know about these two men, and this book does it.
Also this book is timely when one looks at the remarkable relationship between George W. Bush and Tony Blair. I am not saying Bush is Roosevelt and Blair is Winston, but what I am saying is I get the impression both leaders read an advanced copy of this book or at least know their history.
What impressed me the most is how FDR even though Winston was a more trusted leader and a better friend, knew in the post-WWII world that the USSR would be the other big player and for better or for worse using realpolitik FDR knew Stalin and the USSR would ultimately be the bigger players in the upcoming cold war. Again, of course England and Winston were better allies, but the reality was the USSR was the real power and FDR knew that.
My only negative comment would be that i would have liked more information about FDR's condition at Yalta and the effects of any deals or non-deals he made with Stalin.
This is a great book and should be bought and read.