49 of 54 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified 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. At over 500 pages, the length may discourage the general reader, despite the accessibility of Roberts' narrative. The knowing student of the Second World War may find few startling revelations in Roberts' even-handed conclusions, but much to enjoy in the details. "Masters and Commanders" is highly recommended to students of the strategy of the Second World War.
22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on January 12, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified 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.
Other diarists are also prominently used, but in the main they were members of Brook's staff and reinforce his opinions. (Churchill's doctor is one of the few British voices presented who was not a protégé of Brook's.)
The problem is that Brook's diary casts him in a very unflattering light. He comes across as arrogant, obstructionist, hidebound, narrow-mined, petulant, trapped in the past, and at times even defeatist. He is adamant in his drumbeat that he -- and only he -- has the vaguest notion of what strategy is, both in the abstract and with respect to the war; only his ideas have any value and everyone else is ignorant, foolish, hopelessly incompetent as strategists whatever other virtues they may have, and sometimes even dangerous and mad.
Brook writes this way about everyone from Churchill to Marshall to Roosevelt to the members of the US Joint Chiefs and even to other British officers (though not his personal staff officers). He despairs of the state of the British officer corps, impugns the British fighting man, and is dismissive of Americans.
In fact the only two people who do not raise his ire to near fever pitch are Gen. Douglass Macarthur, the most arrogant and divisive of US generals and -- incredibly -- Stalin; this last despite the fact that Brook was a staunch anti-Bolshevik. This does not inspire confidence in his judgment.
The problem here is that Alan Brook was indeed a great man and excellent general with a impressive strategic grasp (although I cannot say that this book convinced me he was the brilliant strategist he is usually made out to be). He was fair-minded, gracious, firm, determined, humane, had an extraordinary grasp of detail, was an excellent administrator and an inspiring leader. His actions on the battlefield just before and during the Dunkirk evacuation were exemplary. The high degree of admiration he inspired in everyone he worked with, British and American and Russian, was almost universal, even among those -- or especially among those -- with whom he had the most bitter disagreements (which seemed to be almost everyone at some point or another) and yet remained on good terms with. There can be no doubt that Brook's contribution to winning WWII was enormous.
Roberts makes all of this clear and shows Brook's pleasant human side as well, so what is the problem?
The problem is that Brook's diary was his safety valve -- the necessary outlet of a humane man with strong emotions who had been through WWI, the death of his adored young wife in an auto accident that happened while he was driving, and who then, because of his superior abilities, was given the job managing the largest conflict in history. So yes, in his off-hours he got a little cranky.
But this has unfortunate ramifications for the portrayal of Brook. No matter how hard Roberts tries to add balance to the free-flowing invective of Brook's diary, it is quoted at such length in this long book that in the end balance just can't be satisfactorily achieved. We are left wondering which is the real Brook -- the firm and seemingly brilliant leader who is the lynchpin of victory or the small-minded dyspeptic crank who disparages anyone and everyone in his diary? In the end, it seems impossible to say.
The matter is not helped by quoting so extensively from the diaries of those closest to Brook, who often echo not only his conclusions but his emotional views as well. This reinforces the negative view of Brook and seems to suggest that he surrounded himself with people as bitter and flawed as he appears in his entries. Yet, these men too were officers of extraordinary competence and ability and the cattiness, blatantly biased judgments, and intemperate opinions of their private diaries seems never to have manifested itself in pubic or unduly effected their work.
Of course this is probably an unavoidable problem when trying delve into the minds of great men operating under pressures exceeding that anyone else has ever experienced. It is literally mind-boggling. Brook and his officers are not just extremely smart and dedicated, they are complex human beings. We cannot know how much of what they privately wrote was just hyperbole and to what extent it reflected their actually beliefs. Of course, to adequately convey this complexity in a book is a daunting prospect, and Roberts deserves just praise for doing as well as he does.
But there is a larger problem here: Brook is juxtaposed most directly with the two other leaders with whom he worked most closely: Churchill and Marshall.
Churchill is character of Jovian stature -- a vastly large-than-life genius who seemed to eclipse almost everyone and everything around him. Churchill's talents are the stuff of legend, seemingly uncontainable and uncontrollable. Brook found himself chained as it were to this colossus, constantly battling Churchill's wilder flights, boundless ideas, expansive vision for the war (Churchill was himself -- and knew himself be -- no mean strategist) and bombastic temper. Brook considered the hardest part of his extraordinarily hard job to be "keeping Winston on the rails," (something he did very well).
If Churchill comes across as incredibly charming, engaging, infuriating; a titanic intellect with an ego to match, equally capable of the most dismissive cruelty and the most beguiling grace and boundless affection, Gen. George Marshall is something of a different order altogether: the only General Churchill was ever afraid of.
Marshall seems to be the undoubted hero of the piece: the omni-competent, eternally gracious, unshakeable and unflappable leader, seeing farther and deeper and more incisively than anyone else into the prodigious morass that was the problem of WWII. It was Marshall, not just more than anyone else but almost uniquely, who was thinking and planning for the aftermath of WWII while he still fighting it. After the Allied victory, it was Marshall who, as Secretary of State, put his plans into effect and literally remade a shattered world.
Against Brook's private rages is set Marshall's phenomenal strength and calm: perfectly modest, completely selfless, unfailingly gracious, guiding but never bullying, rarely raising his voice and never losing his temper; seemingly unaffected by stress or the incredible rigors of his job, moving through the cataclysmic events of WWII with a natural ease and overriding command that are seemingly Not Of This Earth.
So what's wrong with this picture? Only this: Churchill wrote volumes, all of the highest literary quality, unmatched as a wartime memoir by anything except perhaps Caesar's Commentaries, and (like Caesar's Commentaries) essentially political documents that tell us nothing the author does not wish us to know (and fudging a few things along the way, as Caesar did.)
On the other hand, Marshall wrote nothing at all (he was offered $1 million for his memoirs but turned it down). We have no window into his soul as we do with Brook; we do not know how he dealt with the enormous pressures he was under, by what private means he maintained his Olympian calm and perfect focus.
( As an aside, it also does not help us see Marshall the man that he is so often and unavoidably juxtaposed with Adm. King, CNO USN, who was nominally his equal on the Joint Chiefs, and who was described by his daughter as the "most even tempered man in the Navy -- he is always in a rage". Moreover, set against Marshall's manifest virtues are King's well-known vices: intolerance, liquor, and seducing other men's wives. But King was also brilliant strategist and a fighting admiral with few equals in WWII or any other war. )
Had Marshall kept a dairy, we might see him revealed as being as human and fallible as we see Brook. If Brook had not, we might see him as a man of the same stature as Marshall (as in fact many did at the time). So the narrative is inherently unbalanced. No matter how the author plays up Brook's virtues, which were many, and points out Marshall's shortcomings and mistakes (which are debatable) it never quite convinces and is all too easily forgotten in the dense wealth of details.
Thus, Roberts's sources and his desire to extract and assess the maximum amount of data from them, which he does masterfully, drive his narrative and in the end -- and I think quite inadvertently -- make his protagonist look small; a mere mortal trying desperately to deal with titans.
Perhaps there is something of an old heroic romance in that, but I do not think it was what Roberts intended. Even if he did, these men were peers and while as a group they were peerless, I would have preferred to see them considered more on the same plane.
I also have minor technical quibbles with a couple of the author's assertions, but all the same, Masters & Commanders is a very good book.
40 of 45 people found the following review helpful
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. The truth is that Churchill often subordinated military reality to political fantasies, Roosevelt was a mediocre intellect who was influenced by cronies who were very pro-Soviet (and even Soviet agents,) Brooke was a general who had never won a battle but felt he knew everything and that Americans were all idiots, and Marshall (like Eisenhower) had never commanded troops in battle. That they struggled through to victory seems like a miracle. How that came about is the subject of this book.
In short, the American plan was to build up their forces as rapidly as possible and strike across the Channel into France at the earliest opportunity. Marshall and Roosevelt felt the shortest path to victory lay through France to Germany with the Soviets coming from the East through Russia and Poland into Germany. The British had known only defeat by the Germans until October, 1942, and wanted to nibble around the edges of the Germany conquests until the German Army lost much of its combat effectiveness. This approached was supported by all the post-war analyses of effectiveness that have shown that the German soldier was clearly better than his Soviet, British or American counterpart by as much as fifty percent. Brooke, in particular, seemed to overrate the Germans to the point where it eliminated aggressiveness on his part (but only toward the Germans -- he retained it toward the Americans.)
The British talked the Americans into Torch, the invasion of North Africa, against Marshall's better judgment (even to the end of the war.) The conference at Casablanca was seen by the Americans as a British victory, one which they would not allow again. In a very large sense, Churchill and Brooke overplayed their hand as experts among innocents, and after obtaining American agreement for Husky and the subsequent invasion of Italy (and the mission creep up the Italian peninsula), the Americans hardened and paid the British back with interest. Churchill's much-loved diversions like Norway, the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean were simply discarded out of hand by Marshall and Roosevelt when they came up.
Eventually, of cource, the United States carried the lion's share of the fighting and as early as the summer of 1944, Great Britain could no longer supply replacements to maintain its fighting strength. Brooke's many battles to delay Overlord and divert troops into areas to serve British imperial interests ultimately came to grief. After the spring of 1944, the American planners were totally dominant, and British influence on strategy became minimal. In retrospect it seems incredible that Brooke expected to be named Supreme Commander in Europe when ultimately two-thirds of the forces would be American.
There are many interesting side elements in this work such as the British using large numbers of Canadian troops, resources and financial support without giving the Canadians a seat at the planning and control table. In fact, the British spoke for all the Dominion forces, Australian, Indian, South African and New Zealanders without sharing power while usually including them in tabulations of British strenght. And when a Dominion government went against the British as did the Australians in calling for their two divisions to be returned from the Middle East to defend Australia, Churchill became angry beyond control. It was no small wonder that the American planners felt that the British were just using everyone else to defend or regain their empire. Americans would do everything they could to defend England but not British interests throughout the world.
Oh gosh, I could go on and on like this for many pages -- there are so many issues fully discussed in this work. The subjects come alive through their diaries and post-war writings, much of which the author quotes with the comment that they were unfair, misleading or untrue. Yes, both sides lied to each other, sometimes angrily and with great passion. Unfortunately, Roosevelt generally refused to have notes taken at his meetings and then never got the chance to present his side in print. Nonetheless, the author has managed cover Roosevelt's input and decisions very well.
In conclusion, this is an extremely valuable work and destined to become a classic on World War II. I recommend this work without reservation and commend the author for his fine writing and scholarship. We are all the better for his work.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on May 27, 2014
Every time I pick up a new book about WWII I find myself reflexively wondering about the nationality of the author. The tone and theses of these histories tend to break predictably along national lines. British historians, in specific, tend to focus on the foibles of the American war effort and the American leaders who somehow bumbled their way into eventual victory despite drunkenness, hubris, stupidity, Anglophobia, and collective myopia. It's a tired critique, and one that entirely misses the more salient facets of this period in history.
For starters, British historians insist of focusing solely on the war against Germany. This is understandable for many reasons, greatest of which is that Germany was the wolf at Britain' door. But the mistake that British historians make is to extrapolate their fears and concerns over Germany to an American leadership who possessed a fundamentally different world view. This manifests itself time and again in a trivialization of the Pacific War. Throughout this book, Roberts continually denigrates the concerns of the USN over the Pacific War as the incoherent ramblings of the curmudgeonly Admiral King. Just as it was with the British high command during the war, there is little understanding of the challenges faced by the US in what was the largest theater of the war. Instead, the Pacific is treated as the misguided fascination of a revenge-minded American public that lacked the ability to understand the nuances of global strategy. Moreover, British historians fail to understand the position of American commanders who were reluctant to consign units to years of garrison duty in England when there was no apparent urgency on the part of the British to attack the Nazi army in Western Europe.
The other real issue that rankled me about this book is the author's claim that mistrust among the high commands was solely an American preoccupation. Any American general who professed any doubts about the Imperial undertones of British strategy was labeled an Anglophobe and a bad ally. The reality is that many a British officer up to and including Sir Alan Brooke held strongly anti-American views, up to the point that many of them (Monty especially) relished the Battle of the Bulge as the great American comeuppance. Brooke himself was quite anti-American, and this feeling dominates many of the private thoughts recorded in his war diary. Rather than view the US as a building power that would one day dwarf Nazi Germany in military power, Brooke saw America as a persistent impediment to victory right up to the final days of the war. Roberts denies Brooke's anti-Americanism throughout the book. Roberts spares no words, though, in lavishly documenting anti-British feeling among American officers like Stilwell, King, and Wedemeyer. The fact is that mistrust was rampant on both sides of the Atlantic, and both nations believed they knew best how to win the war.
Aside from these broad objections to the overall tone of this book, the book is not especially well written. It dawdles needlessly on certain details, rehashing the Sledgehammer/Gymnast debate where good narrative storytelling compels an author to move the plot forward. Roberts's prose isn't especially descriptive, and I found myself skipping over entire paragraphs whenever I felt him backsliding into redundancy.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
A book for those with a serious interest in the formation of the grand military strategy that eventually led to victory in Western Europe during World War II.
Andrew Roberts focuses on the battles fought, not in the field, but in the war planning rooms and wartime conferences between the U.S and U.K. sides, with the major focus being placed on Generals Marshall and Brooke and political leaders FDR and Churchill. Mr. Roberts profitably makes use of contemporary diaries of various direct participants to weave his interesting history.
This is not a book for readers seeking a general history of World War II: Combat generals rarely are mentioned; the war with Japan is only brought up when it might have affected resource allocations for the European theatre; Russian and German fighting is in the background.
Again, quite a very good book for the reader seeking to understand how the two great English-speaking allies worked--and often disputed--at the pinnacle over the greatest of political and military stakes.
(One question: Who wrote the caption for picture 13, which specifically points out General Patton's "pearl-handled revolver"? I have always understood the general's hand weapon to be ivory-handled since "only a New Orleans pimp would carry a pearl-handled gun.")
55 of 73 people found the following review helpful
on May 12, 2009
Andrew Roberts was always just ahead of me as I wrote my own book (WINSTON CHURCHILL: THE FLAWED GENIUS OF WORLD WAR II). The great team at the George C Marshall Archive that I met were people who looked after him just as well and gave him a great Virginian Thanksgiving Dinner. While I don't always agree with Roberts book - I think more highly of the fighting prowess of the average American soldier, like my wife's uncle who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, nevertheless it is vital to understand that two of the most important people in World War II were the British Chief of the Imperial General Staff Sir Alan Brooke and the American Chief of Army Staff General George C Marshall, someone whom even Churchill recognized as the man who organized victory. Roberts' book and mind complement each other, as his is more from a British angle whereas mine tends to be more pro-American, even though I am British myself! Enjoy both our books and decide for yourself whether Brooke or Marshall was more important. Dr Christopher Catherwood, Marshall Lecturer at the George C Marshall Foundation of the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington VA in 2009 (online at the Marshall Foundation: [...]) and author of WINSTON CHURCHILL: THE FLAWED GENIUS OF WORLD WAR II, available on Amazon (Berkley Caliber imprint of Penguin 2009)
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on November 25, 2008
This fascinating book, thick with historical data and insights, makes a riveting read. Whilst having no wish to quarrel with previous reviewers, for this reviewer, the book's strength is to be found within the all too rare combination of the elucidation of pertinent details and the subsequent compilation and marshaling of this data in order to reach coherent conclusions. The hi-lighting of detailed minutiae is only of secondary value, it would appear, if any historical advances are unable to be procured from it. Fortunately, this fastidiously researched volume abounds in both.
It is a lengthy read, at round 670 pages, and is at times dense in the chronicled information it conveys. It is an honest read, too, and this reviewer profferes that an alternative title could well have been formed along the lines of 'How Roosevelt, Churchill, Marshall and Alanbrooke very nearly didn't Win the War in the West'! Indeed, some readers - especially those none too conversant with the internecine bickering that went on in and around the corridors of power prior to the D-Day Landings, for example - might be quite take aback at the apparent abrasiveness and the various fractious dealings which formed part of the staple diet of 'Allied' conferences, rhetoric and debate.
This reviewer would want to take issue with one or two points in previous press reviews which have suggested that, whilst Andrew Roberts' book remains a immense achievement, it establishes and thus contributes only slight, minor historical detail to the ongoing research into the WWII fray. Surely this is both to ignore key passages and sections of the book and to miss the point. Firstly, from an historical perspective, Roberts has successfully revealed a number of new 'primary' sources (in the forms of 'oral' reports and written chronicles, diaries et al) and, secondly, this information helps us to somewhat 'recalibrate' certainly, and possibly even to reassess the methods and the roles of a number of key policymakers. Again, this would appear to illustrate the author's successful achievement in having interpreted the mass of available data and having translated this into 'applied history'.
There is plenty of historical meat within this work and it should appeal to the interested/well-informed general reader on the one hand and the historian (and possibly even the military tactician) on the other. IThis reviewer found the sections relating to the Allies' 'sweep' across Europe especially interesting and I must congratulate Andrew Roberts on handling the material (which remains a sensitive substance within certain quarters and factions) very well, with confidence and authority. Narratives pertaining to the reticence with which Brooke approached the invasion of France, the mood swings and what amounted to the basic pessimism of Churchill et al will never sit easily with some, yet to gloss over delicate topics such as these would be to gloss over history and to, ultimately misrepresent it. As Quiller-Couch put it, we sometimes have to be prepared 'to murder our darlings' ... occasionally these need to be historical or conceptual little treasures, too!
In a nutshell, this volume accomplishes a great deal, to the mind of this reviewer, at least. It is eminently readable, dense with data, and offers measurable and definite conclusions based on the material within. As ever, this work, too, will now be subject to the rigours of historic analysis itself. This reviewer suspects that it will fair pretty well.
Michael Calum Jacques (author of '1st Century Radical: the shadowy origins of the man who became known as Jesus Christ')
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2010
This is not a book for readers who do not have a basic mastery of the essential facts of WW II. The chronology and the main issues must be familiar to you or you will get lost. But any WW II history buff should be delighted by Andrew Roberts' crisp and interesting writing, the new materials and sources he resorted to and above all, the skill with which he tells the astonishing story of what went on behind the scenes. Of course, one knew that Marshall was less than keen on a campaign in Italy and that Roosevelt was sincere when he said "of one thing I am certain, Stalin is not an imperialist" ( ! ! ! !) but getting into the details of the often stormy relationship between Alan Brooke and Churchill, for instance, is fascinating. Brooke's contempt for anyone else's strategic ability - all idiots except himself according to his diary - is equally surprising. Churchill's dream of a "soft underbelly" of Europe, or the "Lubjlana gap" and other such military nonsense will lead many a reader to tone down somewhat one's admiration for the great man. At the end of the day, Marshall and the (U.S) Joint Chiefs were right to want to concentrate on Overlord but Brooke and the (British) Chiefs of Staff accurately predicted that Italy would draw resources from Hitler's Wehrmacht. I did not know that FDR agreed to the Italian campaign in large part because the alternative would have been to leave the army idle until Overlord, which was several months away and he couldn't afford that because the 1944 election was looming..... One cannot help thinking what a pity it is that so many soldiers had to die whilst the "allied" gentlemen in the Combined Chiefs of Staff were squabbling. An amazing book. Don't miss it !
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2013
The book being reviewed is "Masters and Commanders', written by Andrew Roberts. The subtitle is "How Four Titans Won the War in the West, 1941-1945". The subtitle is a far better descriptor for the book than the title. The four titans, who were selected by the author, are: Winston Churchill, General Alan Brooke, Franklin Roosevelt, and General George Marshall. One of the main reasons for the selection of these particular four men was the author's access to diaries from these and other individuals, which allowed him to reconstruct strategic planning events of WWII and to show the behind-the-scenes thinking of those concerned. Obviously, the other main reason for choosing these four was that Churchill was Prime Minister of Great Britain, Roosevelt was President of the United States, Brooke was the top military strategist reporting to Churchill, and Marshall was the top military strategist reporting to Roosevelt.
This 584 page book focuses on the European theatre of WWII, and avoids getting very deep into the other battle zones around the globe. The author is British and sees WWII history from the British perspective. Remember that Hitler's bombing, air battles, and submarine warfare took a heavy toll. Britain needed help and needed it fast in those desperate days. The British colonies and former colonies did what they could to provide relief. The USA was the country with the potential to really help Britain, but an isolationist, antiwar attitude pervaded our land. Many did not want to get involved yet again in European wars after the experiences of WWI with its grisly, bloody toll. Roosevelt used the bully pulpit, as well as his persuasive skills to change attitudes, to rearm the USA and to make it into the arsenal for democracy. American readers of this book might chafe at the missing Pacific War stories. After all, it was Japan that secretly attacked us and many Americans wanted immediate revenge. In reading the book, I felt that something was missing. Indeed there was, because WWII was a truly global event.
The concept of "Germany First" was agreed to between Churchill and Roosevelt, which meant that the Pacific War would be put on a slow track and the European war on a fast track. About three times as many American men and weapons went to Europe than to the Pacific. During many of the strategic planning sessions between the allies, this topic of "Germany First" was of paramount importance. Churchill knew how vitally important the USA was to Britain's survival and wooed Roosevelt and his agents skillfully. Yet, the British military strategists had little respect for the American's military know-how and tried to manipulate them accordingly. Perhaps, the most contentious, continuous conflict was over the American plan to invade the European mainland by crossing the sea from Great Britain. The plan had various code-names, but Overlord was the final name for it. The British said the right words in support of it, but privately despised and feared the plan. Consequently, they undermined it relentlessly. The author thinks that it would have been a disaster of immense proportions if Overlord had been implemented before 1944 as the Americans fruitlessly insisted upon. At first, it was reassuring for the Brits to have tens of thousands of American troops on their soil as a deterrent to a Nazi invasion. However, the pretense for their positioning, Overlord, was delayed and delayed by the British side of the alliance. Roosevelt knew that he had to demonstrate to the American public that we were actually fighting Nazis as idle months ticked by. Consequently, he conceded to the British plan to retake Northern Africa from the Nazis and move on to invade Italy. The author belabors the stressful conferences, where these strategic battles were fought tooth and nail by American and British attendees. That is why I think the book could be also be titled, " 600 Pages of Arguing, Bickering, Bullying, and Manipulation".
The author admits that his famous foursome were really not the most influential leaders of WWII. Both Hitler and Stalin had vastly more influence. Tens of millions of Russians lost their lives in this war and four out of five German deaths occurred in the Eastern Front. When the Russians mounted their counteroffensive, they gobbled up country after country in the process. At Yalta, they had overwhelming military presence, which gave them a mighty negotiating position as the world was carved up.
Finally, we come to the question as whether I recommend that you read this book. I would say that if you are already a WWII scholar, and want to see the inside story of these four leaders in great detail, then yes. On the other hand, if you know little about WWII and want a book which gives you a knowledge of key battles, comparative weaponry, personalities, and a global perspective on WWII, then this is not the book for you.
Ralph D. Hermansen, August 1, 2013
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 13, 2009
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Masters and Commanders
It is commonly asserted that about two-thirds of business mergers ultimately fail, usually because of an inability to mesh the cultures of the new partners. True in business, that seems also true in politics, especially when several nations, each with its own interests, attempt to work together in war to defeat a common enemy. Thus it was no easy task for the British and Americans to merge their forces in order to defeat their deadly foes in the Second World War. In this meticulously documented, but engagingly written book, Andrew Roberts explains how the two heads of state, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, and their two senior military advisers, Generals George Marshall and Alan Brooke, charmed and debated and disparaged each other, but ultimately arrived at a consensus that allowed them to set out consistent policies and, ultimately, to win the war.
Roberts is British, and his account has a British perspective perhaps, but that is understandable since the two democracies began their alliance before America had been attacked, and when the immediate threat came from Nazi Germany, which had almost effortlessly gobbled up western Europe and was preparing to swallow the "sceptred isle" as well. Much emphasis is given to the development of the "Germany first" policy, which was a tough sell to America after the assault on Pearl Harbor.
Roberts does a good job of describing the character and traits of his four protagonists, none of them a shrinking violet. They emerge from his pages as powerful personalities who did not submerge their own ideas readily, but could eventually put the broad interests of their military enterprise ahead of personal pride. Their German opponent, Adolf Hitler, considered himself omniscient and never had to defend his ideas against the differing opinion of a subordinate. He ruled supreme, commanded without regard for his generals' apprehensions and concerns, and...lost.
The author has recently published (in Britain, not yet in America) The Storm of War, a one-volume account of the Second World War. Masters and Commanders makes an excellent prelude to the new book. For those who enjoy the first book as much as this reviewer, it will be pleasing to know there will be another, for dessert.