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Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II Hardcover – May 8, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


“A rambunctious book that is itself alive with the animal spirits of the marketplace.”—The Wall Street Journal
“A rarely told industrial saga, rich with particulars of the growing pains and eventual triumphs of American industry . . . Arthur Herman has set out to right an injustice: the loss, down history’s memory hole, of the epic achievements of American business in helping the United States and its allies win World War II.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Magnificent . . . It’s not often that a historian comes up with a fresh approach to an absolutely critical element of the Allied victory in World War II, but Pulitzer finalist Herman . . . has done just that.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A compulsively readable tribute to ‘the miracle of mass production.’ ”—Publishers Weekly
“The production statistics cited by Mr. Herman . . . astound.”—The Economist
“[A] fantastic book.”—Forbes

Freedom’s Forge is the story of how the ingenuity and energy of the American private sector was turned loose to equip the finest military force on the face of the earth. In an era of gathering threats and shrinking defense budgets, it is a timely lesson told by one of the great historians of our time.”—Donald Rumsfeld
“World War II could not have been won without the vital support and innovation of American industry. Arthur Herman’s engrossing and superbly researched account of how this came about, and the two men primarily responsible for orchestrating it, is one of the last great, untold stories of the war.”—Carlo D’Este, author of Patton: A Genius for War
“It takes a writer of Arthur Herman’s caliber to make a story essentially based on industrial production exciting, but this book is a truly thrilling story of the contribution made by American business to the destruction of Fascism. With America producing two-thirds of the Allies’ weapons in World War II, the contribution of those who played a vital part in winning the war, yet who never once donned a uniform, has been downplayed or ignored for long enough. Here is their story, with new heroes to admire—such as William Knudsen and Henry Kaiser—who personified the can-do spirit of those stirring times.”—Andrew Roberts, author of The Storm of War

About the Author

Arthur Herman, visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of How the Scots Invented the Modern World, which has sold more than half a million copies worldwide. His most recent work, Gandhi & Churchill, was the 2009 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (May 8, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400069645
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400069644
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (386 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #223,664 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

133 of 141 people found the following review helpful By Wulfstan TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Did you ever see those cool WWII newsreel-turned-into-tv-shows, like "Victory at Sea"? One of them is entitled- "America the Arsenal of Democracy" and man, what they showed there- making tanks as fast as the assembly-line could move, warehouse full of bombers as far as the eye could see, and making Liberty ships in under a week. Honestly, it was amazing.

This book takes that idea, and runs with it, concentrating mostly on the story of William Knudsen and Henry Kaiser.

William Knudsen was the head of General Motors, who was drafted by FDR to run the war materiel production efforts for the war. When it turned out Knudsen wasn't getting the cooperation he needed, FDR just made him into a three-star general!

The tale of Henry Kaiser is better known, he brought mass production techniques to shipbuilding. Kaiser decided to use welding instead of riveting and brought in unskilled workers (many of whom were women) to build these "wonder-ships'.

This then, really, is the story of how America won WWII. By the end of WWI, the USA out produced every other nation combined! Just one US company produced more than entire Axis nations.

Now, there is also a political undercurrent behind this amazing story, and that is that it was the practice of free enterprise that was behind these production miracles. Free enterprise is the big hero here.

It's an amazing story and well told (politics aside). However, I think now I want to see that newsreel of "America- the Arsenal of Democracy" again.
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96 of 107 people found the following review helpful By robert johnston on May 18, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read and reviewed the 'advance copy' some months ago. The book is for Amazon readers interested in the creation of the modern America, WW2 history, the wedding of capitalism & politics with the economy, and the micro/macro-economic outcomes of personality and possibility.

'Freedom's Forge' is the story of an uncompromised time of cooperation between the public and private sectors but it wasn't easy. Herman delivers a timely and extraordinary encapsulation of this other time in America. The topic was an easy sell to me. The subject matter has long been a personal interest. There is so little being published on the topic that one's pursuit of the curiosity is rather like the blind man defining an elephant.

For this reader "Freedom's Forge" is closely associated with my early career experience. The time is a mystery from the only recent past and the curiosity to keep my eyes open for hints. Long ago, my old grizzled techno-industrialist boss cut his eyeteeth in WW2 industry and summed it up for me. I was just a kid-scientist working my first job out of grad school. I had constructed my first technical project plan for his review ... "How long?" he yelled. "My God, son, WW2 was only a 44 month program!". I was stunned and smitten with curiosity from then till now. The more I look, the more I see that confirms that something thoroughly amazing occurred in those 44 months.

US factories yielded superior products in total and in volumes that boggle the imagination even in an iPad, smartphone modern world (though they aren't made in the USA). The feat was an ostensibly unrivaled milestone in organized human civilization. There is simply no macro/micro-econometric precedent like this 44 months. That's the phenomena Herman explores. Surely the war was motivation but ...
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50 of 54 people found the following review helpful By B. A. Moseley on May 22, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The book is full of ironies.

The biggest is that lend-lease saved the Soviets in 1942/1943 from complete collapse. The material and means to deliver it came from lend-lease, both the finished goods and the machine tools. And it was the arch-capitalist, Knudsen, who made it happen, with his diligent planning and leadership in 1940.

Another irony is that the US communists in the labor unions led strikes in 1940-1941 which drained the war effort. Had those strikes spread, the USSR might not have gotten its war material.

One final irony is that Knudsen saved the Roosevelt administration by getting a credible and effective war production going by releasing the free market.

Knudsen deserves a place next to Marshall as the key, pivotal personality who led the US to final victory.

Roosevelt also deserves a lot of praise for picking Knudsen and for standing by him.
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Paul on June 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Arhtur Herman has provided a good history of the contribution of American business to the Allied war effort in World War II.

While this book is primarily about two people, Bill Knudsen and Henry J. Kaiser, it has a large cast of characters, a multitude of corporations (mostly large ones) and an almost endless list of weaponery that spilled out of factories and docks all across the nation.

On May 30, 1940, Franklin Roosevelt called Bill Knudsen away from leading General Motors to lead the defense effort. FDR had been walking a tight rope for some time in the conflict between American isolationists and the need to equip and modernize a depleted military while Europe was itself suffering under the German army and Imperial Japan's invastion of China and other parts of Asia was in process. He chose Knudsen because of his reputation of being able to bring an efficient operation into play. Knudsen was the man who was critical to the automobile business by advocating and bringing out changes in car models yearly. After working for Henry Ford, he went to GM and put forth the idea that people would want a new model every year and that the industry had to gear itself for this type of business. With it, he propelled the sales for Chevrolet and proved to Henry Ford that people would buy something other than black. Knudsen believed in precise tooling of parts so that product moved smoothly down the production line. He had no regard or time for "craftsman" techniques in manufacture. He wanted parts to be precise and fit together without coaxing by a person with tools.

Henry Kaiser is also prominent in this book and rightly so. He was a man of immense personal charm, and dreamed on a very large scale.
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