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Roosevelt's Centurions: FDR and the Commanders He Led to Victory in World War II Hardcover – May 28, 2013

4.6 out of 5 stars 70 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“When I was a boy growing up in the South Bronx, my heroes were Roosevelt’s centurions. As a soldier for thirty-five years, I made them my mentors and models. These men were heroes. They were fallible and occasionally vain, but we were certainly blessed to have such Americans leading the Greatest Generation during the world’s greatest conflict. Of course, the greatest centurion of them all was FDR himself, who knew how to lead his commanders, stroke their egos, and get the best from them, yet never left any doubt as to who was commander in chief. Joe Persico, my valued collaborator on my memoirs, has brought his formidable talents to bear to bring the centurions to life. He is at the top of his game in this defining classic.”—Colin L. Powell, General, U.S. Army (Retired)
“Benefiting from his years of studying Franklin Roosevelt and his times, Joseph Persico has brought us a briskly paced story with much wisdom and new insights on FDR, his military liege men, World War II, and political and military leadership.”—Michael Beschloss, author of Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America 1789–1989
“Long wars demand long books, but these are 550 pages of lively prose by a good writer who knows his subject. . . . A fine, straightforward politics-and-great-men history.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Persico makes a persuasive case that FDR was clearly in charge of the most important decisions of the American war plan.”—The Washington Times

“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
“With rigorous research, a fine eye for detail, and an entertaining ability to recount history, Joe Perisco deftly portrays the men behind the man, in addition to skillfully presenting the star himself, FDR, as recruiter in chief. A must-read for Americans concerned about war leadership then and now.”—Evan Thomas, author of Ike’s Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World
“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.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First Edition edition (May 28, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400064430
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400064434
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.7 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #684,350 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Todd Bartholomew VINE VOICE on May 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover
People often forget FDR's role as Undersecretary of the Navy during the First World War, and clearly he learned many lessons from the prosecution of the war and the country's war effort. While an admirer of Woodrow Wilson FDR likely clearly saw Wilson's limited grasp of acting as Commander-in-Chief and carrying out the prosecution of the war and learned from it. As Persico points out, following the German invasion of France FDR knew the U.S. needed to gird for war and needed to do so as quickly as possible. FDR also knew that as Commander-in-Chief he knew he would be held accountable for the prosecution of the war and conduct of the war effort and set about surrounding himself with the most capable civilian and military leaders he could find. Clearly FDR followed the Lincoln example by assembling a wartime cabinet comprised of the best and brightest regardless of party affiliation or political persuasion. More importantly, as Commander-in-Chief, FDR made it clear he would be making the major strategic decisions and it would be up to the civilian and military leadership to carry out his decisions. In that respect FDR was truly our first CEO style President, controlling the levels of the war effort and giving marching orders on a par with Lincoln; a point Persico makes quite clear. Many of the civilian leaders had been isolationist as a result of America's experience in the First World War, but FDR needed their expertise and many gradually came around to FDR's internationalist point of view. The military leadership however was not in FDR's camp and most line officers had not supported his election and subsequent re-elections, but deferred to his judgment and rationale, eventually coming to respect and admire his leadership.Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
This is a US Army-centric view of the commanders of World War II. The author's expertise is not the US Navy of World War II, and it shows in the details. Some examples: Page 11, The author calls the bases exchanged in the "destroyer for bases" arrangement to be of "minimal usefulness." Rather, they were key in providing the airfields that closed the mid-Atlantic air-coverage gap so crucial in the Battle of the Atlantic.

The author's shakiest ground is Guadalcanal. Page 321, he says "King directed Nimitz, in whose sector Guadalcanal lay, to prepare for the invasion." True on the face of it, but Guadalcanal started in MacArthur's section of the Pacific, and the reasons for shifting it to Nimitz merit being included in a book on the commanders of the war. On page 431, he says "5,775 of the 60,000 U.S. Marines and soldiers engaged were killed or wounded" at Guadalcanal. Notably missing in his wording are any Navy losses. Hornfischer, in "Neptune's Inferno: The U.S. Navy at Guadalcanal" gives the total dead as 5,041 navy sailors and 1,592 Marines and Army soldiers, totaling 6,633. Navy deaths at Guadalcanal were 75% of the total.

Page 581, the author mentions the six battleships with 16-inch guns present at Normandy. All the 16-inch battleships were in the Pacific. The ships at Normandy had 14-inch guns.

On page 637, the author says "The issue of Britain's naval role in the Pacific was left unresolved." On the contrary, it was resolved, with FDR overriding Ernest King. 15 ships of His Majesty's navy were present at the Tokyo surrender, including 2 Royal Navy battleships, and 2 Royal Navy escort carriers.
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Format: Hardcover
Author Joseph Persico has written about Roosevelt in the past and has used his extensive knowledge and background to provide a fascinating account of Roosevelt's relationship with the generals, diplomats, and politicians he led and who influenced him in making his most monumental decisions. Persico gives us a president that was charming, likeable, a political genius, and an experienced naval man, but also a man who was manipulative, frequently petty, always wily, and most often an enigma.

Persico makes a strong case that Roosevelt was in charge as commander in chief, a position he took very seriously. Some recurring examples are the President's siding strategically with Churchill in Africa, Italy, and the Mediterranean at the expense of Normandy and against the advice of his military advisers, most notably George Marshall; how often Roosevelt would allow Stalin to do as he pleased in order to keep the Soviets fighting; how he allowed MacArthur to return to the Philippines despite the Navy's island-hopping strategy; and how his appointment of Hap Arnold to the joint chiefs of staff ensured the Army Air Corp had equal footing with the other branches of service.

Besides the fascinating details of the insider squabbles, the author provides a unique glimpse into the character and personalities of the major figures influencing the war effort: Marshall, Hap Arnold, Churchill, Stalin, Eisenhower, Ernest King, Omar Bradley, Joseph Stillwell, Montgomery, Patton, et al. It is compelling to have such insightful analysis into so many different personalities in one volume, and I highly recommend it to any reader interested in a first-rate biography of Franklin Roosevelt during the war years or WW II historiography in general.
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