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Masters and Commanders: How Four Titans Won the War in the West, 1941-1945 Hardcover – May 5, 2009


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Roberts offers an outstanding example of a joint biography in this study of the actions and interactions of Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, George Marshall and Alan Brooke. The president, the prime minister and their respective army chiefs of staff were the vital nexus of the Anglo-American alliance in WWII. The path was anything but smooth. London-based historian Roberts (A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900) demonstrates his usual mastery of archival and printed sources to show how the tensions and differences among these four strong-willed men shaped policy within a general context of consensus. The politicians had to master strategy; the soldiers had to become political. The result was a complicated minuet. The increasing shift of power in America's direction coincided with the achievement of the central war aims agreed on for the Mediterranean and with the viability of a cross-channel attack. Last-minute compromises continued to shape grand strategy, a good example being the choice of Dwight Eisenhower over Brooke to command Operation Overlord. Flexibility and honesty, Roberts concludes, enabled focus on a common purpose and established the matrix of the postwar Atlantic world. 16 pages of b&w photos, 7 maps. (May)
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From Booklist

As the post-war battle of the memoirs revealed, the World War II Anglo-American alliance wasn’t one of unbroken harmony. Its acrimony over grand strategy bursts forth in this history of the four men responsible for final decisions: FDR, Churchill, and their top military advisors, George Marshall and Alan Brooke, respectively. Both to humanize the pressure on figures now memorialized in bronze and to serve as Clio’s arbiter of impassioned disagreements over the optimal strategy to defeat Nazi Germany, Roberts examines how arguments played out amongst the quartet and those in their orbit. Suspicious that the British weren’t dedicated to launching a cross-channel attack, the Americans had no appreciation, felt the British, for the risk of a premature D-Day. Assessing the strategic correctness of what ensued—the campaigns in North Africa and Italy, followed by Operation Overlord—Roberts splits the difference by validating both Mediterranean operations up to fall 1943 and American resistance to them thereafter. Roberts reinforces his reputation for high-quality military history with this comprehensive synthesis of primary sources about the fundamental strategic decisions of WWII. --Gilbert Taylor
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (May 5, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061228575
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061228575
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #268,470 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

This weighty tome is an interesting entry into the World War II discussion.
David W. Nicholas
Unity of purpose/command, clear objective, economy of force, decisiveness...all these are critical principles of war for both soldiers and politicians.
Yet Another Customer
The author has thoroughly researched the subject matter, quoting extensively from contemporaneous diaries, letters and memoranda.
Dirk Nomad

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 53 people found the following review helpful By D.S.Thurlow TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 6, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In "Masters and Commanders", British historian Andrew Roberts combines the availability of several private memoirs and diaries with the official record and published accounts to evaluate the US-UK strategic partnership that produced victory in the West during the Second World War. Roberts focuses on the complex relationships between President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill as heads of government with each other and with their senior military advisors, General George Marshall and General Sir Alan Brooke.

Roberts reconstructs the formal and informal interactions of Roosevelt, Churchill, and the Combined Chiefs of Staff from their first conference in Newfoundland in 1941 to their last at Yalta in 1945. He examines the contentious debates over strategy, resources, and politics with an eye to the way personality and professionalism shaped the outcomes between strong-minded and capable leaders. In the process, he provides welcome sunlight on the contributions of Marshall and Brooke, overshadowed in history by more publicized leaders such as Eisenhower and Montgomery.

Roberts very capably captures the shifting dynamic of the US/UK alliance between 1941 and 1945, as initially superior British experience and forces in being eventually gave way to the maturing strategic thinking and far vaster resources of the Americans. In the process, Roberts closely reviews a number of topics of enduring interest to students of the Second World War, including the timing of OVERLORD, the efficacy of the Mediterranean strategy, and the influence of post-war considerations on the invasion of Germany.

"Masters and Commanders" walks an intriguing line between serious scholarship and popular history.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Pleiades on January 12, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Masters and Commanders is an excellent, extremely detailed account of the occasionally humorous, often acrimonious, always fascinating interactions between the four principals most responsible to for guiding WWII: Generals Alan Brook (CIGS) and George Marshall (US Army Chief of Staff), and British PM Winston Churchill and US Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Historian Andrew Roberts does a masterful job of telling a very complex tale, relying heavily on the personal diaries on the men directly involved with determining Allied strategy for WWII, not just for Europe but ultimately across the entire conflict. Anyone with an interest in how a small group of extraordinary men arrived at the most momentous decisions yet taken by the human race, literally concerning the life and death for 10s of millions and with consequences affecting every person alive, then and now, will want to read this book.

Roberts is British and while his sympathies are obvious, his writing is fair and he is unsparingly in pointing out the flaws in his principals and their arguments and positions, whether they are British or American. His praise for their good -- often great -- points is likewise fair, genuine and unforced.

So why the "but"?

I think for all its merits, Roberts introduced a structural flaw into his book by virtue of the sources he relies on; the very thing that makes his book unique. Unavoidably, his main protagonist is Gen. Sir Alan Brook -- unavoidable because this is the man with whom Roberts' sympathies most clearly lie and because Brook left a detailed, day-by-day diary of the events narrated. Brook's diary is the thread that holds the narrative together.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderful book covering the interpersonal dynamics at the highest levels of command betwen the British and Americans in World War II. It is NOT for the casual reader, except that many of Roberts' presentations should become common knowledge among all those interested in World War II.

The author in an Englishman, and the book is written in British English. He must be commended for his even-handedness as I could detect in only a very few places a slight pro-British bias. An example would be in his discussion of Dragoon (which the author felt was unnecessary) that the effort should have been made in the Scheldt estuary to open up Antwerp, but then he fails to mention that the Scheldt could have been opened immediately after Antwerp was captured and that it wasn't was strictly due to Montgomery's negligence. There are other small items missing (can't cover everything in only 585 pages) such as why the British were on the left flank in Normandy (that was then used as the reason why the British would gain control over Northern Germany.) The planner who put Montgomery on the left flank was General Frederick Morgan, the British General in charge of the planning for the cross-Channel invasion while Eisenhower and the armies were slaving away in the Mediterranean.

That being said, there is so much good here I don't know where to begin. The problems in running the Allied show were immense and almost every other book on World War II simply skates over the very real problems between the British and Americans as if we were always one big happy family.
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