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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
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. It truly seems the stars were aligned for America's success in prosecuting the war as the civilian and military leadership FDR assembled were perhaps the best and brightest ever assembled and the names are among the pantheon of greats...Patton, McArthur, Eisenhower, Halsey, Bradley, Nimitz, and so many more. FDR might as well be called the Father of the Air Force as he was foremost in seeing the necessity and utility of focused and targeted bombing of strategic targets to hasten the war's end, specifically with long-range bombers, but also the need for fighter escorts, radar to detect incoming enemy bombers, and the conduct of aerial warfare in a way previous generations couldn't grasp. The centrality of aircraft carriers to naval warfare certainly wasn't lost of FDR and indeed much of our current Armed Forces owe a debt to FDR's configuration and deployment of strategic resources throughout the Armed Forces. FDR grasped that time and space in modern warfare had compressed still more since the First World War and the development of nuclear weapons would compress it still further.

So much of Persico's book is a revelation and puts together things I'd truly never considered or contemplated. Much has been written of FDR and Churchill's close friendship and Persico lays out how much the two had in common especially in terms of strategic thinking and mapping out the course of the war. FDR would often defer to Churchill on military matters due to Churchill's expertise from serving in so many wars and wartime roles. Carrying on the conduct of war throughout a far-flung Empire was certainly illustrative for FDR as both powers were fighting a war on two fronts. Persico even gets at the rationale behind the North African and Italian campaigns rather than attempting a landing at Normandy earlier. North Africa and the Mediterranean were central to the British Empire and their supply lines, especially oil. With the Mediterranean unsecured Britain was reliant on oil from the Americas rather than the Middle East, lengthening the supply lines and increasing the potential for disruptions. Without a secure supply of nearby Middle East oil attempting a European invasion earlier than 1944 would have been folly; a point I hadn't even considered and one that's often lost. I'm struck by how much of the structure and organization of our current Armed Forces are the result of FDR's organization and strategic thinking. That we have carrier fleets capable of projecting military power to virtually any corner of the world, bombers and fighters capable of circling the globe to bomb enemy targets, and so much more is the legacy of FDR's wartime leadership. Regardless of what you think of his personal life or politics FDR played an enormous role in shaping our post-World War II world whether we realize it or not.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on June 17, 2013
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.

Page 678, the author lists the 5-star admirals and generals of the war. He omits "Bull" Halsey.

Lastly, the image of sailors singing on the fantail at Argentia, New Foundland, is captioned to have taken place onboard HMS Duke of York. It was onboard HMS Prince of Wales.

Throughout, the author slights William Leahy, who was the prototype Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the first to be appointed to 5-stars. Walter Borneman, in "The Admirals: Nimitz, Halsey, Leahy, and King--The Five-Star Admirals Who Won the War at Sea" has Leahy running the government during FDR's decline.

Bottom line: for the Navy commanders of WWII, read Borneman.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on May 29, 2013
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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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on June 21, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I was young in the 30's but I knew of this man and of the many actions he started. The book is so exciting and so thorough. I'm writing down the name so all his "actors"... a great bunch of capable men who led us during the dire days to come of WW2
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This work provides a top-down view and analysis of how the Allies defeated fanatical German and Japanese desires for world domination. The genius of FDR is viewed in terms of how he affected the necessary people and events to realize an Allied victory. The timelines followed are those of the FDR Presidency and the lead-up to, evolution of, and resolution of WWII. One is left with the feeling that without an FDR, or a similar icon, the prosecution of the war and its result could well have been far different. A Germany or a Japan lead by an FDR, or perhaps a Churchill may have proven victorious.

FDR, as are his minions, is presented in an objective manner, detailing his strengths and his shortcommings, not to speak of his tragic and profound physical impairments. This allows the reader to grasp and appreciate the significance of FDR's accomplishments in human terms, and how he interacted effectively with literally dozens of personalities and constituencies. At all times, he exhibits leadership and applies management skills in his dual roles of President and Commander in Chief. He inculcates the trust, respects, and admiration of the country, as he does the same with fellow world leaders and subordinate military officers and civilian leadership. This results in his being surrounded by brilliant military and civilian leaders who are allowed to function to their optimum effectiveness.

The author dedicates an inordinate amount of the book to Army exploits, far less to Navy, and little ot the Marines and Air Force. This may stem from the preponderance, in number, of Army casualties, and coincidentally, the dominating personnas of McArthur, Patton, Eisenhower, Marshall, and Bradley. The bottomline effectiveness and message of the book, is still sustained. A relatively small group of highly dedicated, skilled, motivated, and yet also flawed individuals rallied around FDR and our flag to save the world from German and Japanese domination and peril.

I highly recommend this read, perhaps a part of other reads on WWII and FDR, etal.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on October 14, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I found this to be a thoroughly enjoyable book and will definitely look into some of Persico's other books as well. Although Roosevelt and World War II are surely among the most written about subjects in US history, the author's style and approach made this book a very pleasurable read and not a work that seemed tedious or repeating what I have already learned about this period of history.

I find that history is fascinating primarily because of the personalities involved and how they behave, interact, and react, particularly during crisis or monumental times. The dynamics and interactions between Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin, and others were fascinating and enlightening, providing new windows into these figures as well as into the twists and turns of how the war played out. Persico used a very readable, conversational style throughout the book, and added brief biographical looks into the important personalities as he introduced them into the story. He used this tool to good effect, and his summary of the larger issues in the final chapter was also very enjoyable.

I give the author high marks for presenting to us a work that is fresh and a pleasure to read, even though the subject has been covered and dissected in innumerable works previously.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 27, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
John Persico weaves a story into this work that is entertaining as well as crucially informative for those who want to understand the American military players of WW II. The work sheds much needed insight on a little known aspect of FDRs impact as a war leader. To compare FDR with Lincoln in his grasp of choreography of military personalities and in his understanding of the powers of the president as Commander in Chief in war time now become reasonable, understandable and clear.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 17, 2013
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Persico's book is a remarkable summary of Roosevelt's leadership as Commander in Chief, as seen through the prism of the men he chose as his closest subordinates, both civilian and military. In the end, you will learn nothing new here, because most of the biographic information and anecdotal tales have been explored in other histories and biographies. Persico does, however, frame the interaction between Roosevelt and his hand-picked "centurions" against both the backdrop of the war itself and the political realities that the president confronted, as he sought to draw the American people into and through this very necessary war.

Two warnings: Persico's perspective is horribly Army-centric. His analysis of the naval leadership of World War II is a thin gruel, when compared to the robust characterizations of their Army counterparts. Does anyone, anywhere know anything about Admiral Ernest King? I am sick to death of watching him dismissed as a womanizing drunk, who "shaved with a blowtorch" but "wanted to fight". If Roosevelt was indeed the war-leader that Persico affirms, there must have been more to his Commander and Chief of the US Fleet.

I also feel that Persico too glibly dismisses Roosevelt's acquiescence to Churchill's desire for a Mediterranean front. I believe that North Africa, Sicily and Italy were necessary precursors to a cross-channel invasion; both as petri-dishes to test the tactics of massive invasions and crucibles in which to better forge and hone our implements of war. I am skeptical that an invasion of southern France in 1943, after North Africa and Sicily and in lieu of Italy, would have significantly shortened the war. His thesis, however, is intriguing and worthy of consideration. The fact that Persico so rigorously challenged my perceptions of Roosevelt the wartime leader does much to recommend his work.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Joseph Persico is an esteemed historian. Persico has written several books on POTUS Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945):
"Franklin and Lucy" about FDR's long love affair with Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd and Roosevelt's Secret War are both excellent works. Persico has also authored well known works on the Nuremburg trials and a biography of CBS newsman Edward R. Murrow.
In this new book, the author tells the story of FDR and the men who helped make Allied victory in World War II over the Axis powers a reality. The book is notable for the profiles it gives of such leaders as Generals Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley
and Marshall, Hap Arnold, Vinegar Joe Stillwell, Douglas MacArthur and such naval leaders as Bull Halsey and Admiral Ernest King. Winston Churchill the legendary Prime Minister of Great Britain is featured as are Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union.
The book is a chronological popular history of the war from the attack on Pearl Harbor until the final unconditional surrender of Germany and Japan. The range of the text covers both the European war and the war in the South Pacific. It is well illustrated and includes a good bibliography and footnotes. The style is plain and easily comprehended by the general public. Persico knows how to write in a popular intimate style which captures the reader and keeps her/him hooked. I devoured the book in a few days!
Persico's book is filled with quotable quotes. Among a sampling of them selected by your humble reviewer:
"The Army that George Marshall took over in 1939 was, for a country the size of the United States, pitifully weak."-p. 25
"Roosevelt found it difficult to reconcile a Germany run by bullies with his boyhood experiences."-p. 30
"Franklin Roosevelt was the first world leader to know definitely that Hitler planned to attack the Soviet Union."-p. 55
"It would be difficult to conjure anyone with a more visceral hatred of communism than Winston Churchill."-p. 57
"FDR had a gift...to detect a kindred soul."-p. 86
"All of his life, Eisenhower was to display a near fanatical sense of responsibility."-p. 194
"Under FDR's tenure the United States took in more Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria than all other countries of Europe and the Western Hemisphere combined."-p. 236
"Putting men in uniform presented a constant challenge."-p. 249
"Eisenhower dealt with his old tank partner George Patton as if handling a stick of dynamite."-p. 281
"...the only certainty in dealing with Franklin Roosevelt was uncertainty."-p. 344
"Eisenhower's vision of the role of airpower was to render the Germans immobile by bombing rail yards>"-p. 338.
"Stalin's fulfilled promise to support D-Day with a parallel Soviet offensive was an exception to the narrow Soviet idea of partnership."-p. 374
"Along with his bullying...Patton had a fingering feel for the GI's psyche."-p. 412
The book is also good on the war in China and the difficulties in working with Chiang Kai-Shek.
On FDR: "By the time of his death, all his battles had been won. Allied Victory was certain...the United Nations...An end to imperialism...would become a landmark of the postwar world."-p. 551
"Franklin Delano Roosevelt ranks with the immortals, with Washington and Lincoln, both as a president and commander in chief."-p. 552
"Roosevelt's Centurions" is an excellent historical account of a momentous and tragic hour in the human story on this conflicted globe. The book is suitable reading for the general reader who has no extensive knowledge of the World War II era. World War II buffs and scholars will also appreciate Persico's tome. The book is well worth your time and money!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on June 21, 2013
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
In his new book on Franklin Roosevelt's choices of and relations with the generals and admirals who led America's war effort in World War II, Joseph Persico brings leaders to life. The book dramatizes how the war was waged by the United States in the four great theaters of battle. Over the years, Persico has mined the Presidential Library at Hyde Park to good effect. The result is one of the best of his dozen books, several of which are abut the life and times of FDR. Notable in this book are rich insights about Marshall, Eisenhower, King, Arnold, MacArthur, Patton and other military leaders as well as Churchill and Stalin and the people around FDR. In describing their roles and relationships, Persico presents wonderful anecdotes that reveal their character and personality. Most notable of all is Persico's portrayal of FDR. You almost feel you are looking over the President's broad shoulders as he maneuvers and cajoles them,
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