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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, a real page-turner
Despite being a peace-nik, I can't resist histories of World War II. One reason is that so many things could have turned out differently at so many key points of the struggle. Another is that personalities really mattered.

One personality whose story merits this excellent book is Harry Hopkins. Hopkins was a social worker (and founder of the National...
Published 22 months ago by R. Schwenk

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth Reading But Limited
This book is a well done story of how Hopkins, a foreign affairs naif, became a key player in the big league political/military maneuvering in World War II. It was a new perspective for me and I read a lot of WWII history. What puzzled me is that the author obviously came to like his subject and is always ready to make excuses for him. This is surprising because the...
Published 17 months ago by Bonner '62


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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, a real page-turner, October 27, 2012
This review is from: The Hopkins Touch: Harry Hopkins and the Forging of the Alliance to Defeat Hitler (Hardcover)
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Despite being a peace-nik, I can't resist histories of World War II. One reason is that so many things could have turned out differently at so many key points of the struggle. Another is that personalities really mattered.

One personality whose story merits this excellent book is Harry Hopkins. Hopkins was a social worker (and founder of the National Association of Social Workers) who rose to prominence during the New Deal, ultimately becoming Franklin Roosevelt's right-hand man, alter-ego, and go-to guy for all the most difficult problems. (Think of Robert Kennedy's many roles during his brother's presidency.)

It was natural that Harry Hopkins would end up as the liaison among the big three: FDR, Churchill, and Stalin. All three trusted him. All three valued his "touch": his ability to get to the root of the issue, his ability to defuse tensions, and his ability to handle three world-class egos.

Readers of this book will need to have a cursory knowledge of some of the main events of the war:
* Britain's desperation after the fall of France in 1940.
* The power of isolationism in the U.S. prior to Pearl Harbor.
* The scale of the sacrifice of Soviet lives to defeat the German army with little assistance from the Western allies.
* The desperation with which the U.S. wanted the Soviets to enter the war against Japan.

Important historical questions form a compelling backdrop to the story:
* What moral responsibility did the Western allies have to sacrifice soldiers in order to draw off German strength from the Eastern front during the Soviets' darkest hours?
* What moral responsibility did the Western allies have for the imposition of Stalinist dictatorships throughout eastern Europe after the war?

Of course, Churchill nearly steals the show in any story of the war. He becomes a somewhat pathetic figure as he realizes that Britain will NOT be one of the dominant post-war powers. Nevertheless, the man had a way with words and a genuine affection for Hopkins and Roosevelt. (Incidentally, how is it that he could consume so much alcohol and manage to outlive FDR, Hopkins, and Stalin?)

But it is Hopkins' story from beginning to end. I can't help but admire a man who repeatedly jeopardized his health (every overseas trip was life-threatening) for the good of the world. He seems to have been greedy for nothing but the opportunity to use his "touch" in the background to forge and maintain the alliance that defeated Hitler.

Other books of interest, especially regarding the end of the war:

When Presidents Lie: A History of Official Deception and Its Consequences

The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent biography of one of the leaders of the Allied victory in World War II, November 7, 2012
This review is from: The Hopkins Touch: Harry Hopkins and the Forging of the Alliance to Defeat Hitler (Hardcover)
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There were many men of great influence in the twentieth century, many for the better and many for the worse. One of the most influential men on the positive side was Harry Hopkins, considered for years to be the deputy president to Franklin Roosevelt. Hopkins was a major figure in implementing the New Deal, but rose to his highest level during World War II. He had a significant effect on policy making and was perhaps the only American trusted by the Soviets and the British.
There were many times during World War II when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was angered by a real or imagined slight and it was Hopkins that smoothed things over. Hopkins was so highly regarded by Joseph Stalin that there was an event where Stalin committed a major breach of protocol when he broke the pattern to go over and warmly greet Hopkins. Considering the level of mistrust and paranoia Stalin exhibited, this was an amazing event.
As Roll points out, Hopkins was regularly criticized by opponents of Franklin Roosevelt, and he served a valuable purpose in being a lightning rod for that criticism. There were times when Roosevelt developed a policy and then had Hopkins work at it, but when there was criticism Roosevelt was slow to cover Hopkins' back. Yet, to his eternal credit Hopkins kept his focus on the most critical goal, the defeat of Nazi Germany. Roll points out many things that could have been done differently, from bombing the infrastructure of the death camps to standing up against Stalin, but it all came back to the fact that Hopkins knew that the war had to be won. He also knew that the German armies were defeated on the plains of the Soviet Union and the over 25,000,000 deaths in the Soviet Union must be acknowledged.
One of the easiest and most dangerous things that can be done is to criticize the actions of the Allied leaders in general and Hopkins in particular over their decisions in World War II. While Roll does a bit of that, it is all contextual in nature rather than in hindsight. Roll does not forget that these were men under great pressure and that incorrect actions could literally cost hundreds of thousands of lives.
One of the best political operatives of all time, Harry Hopkins was arguably the second most powerful man in the Roosevelt administration. He literally did whatever was asked of him and this biography does much to reintroduce one of the greatest men of the twentieth century to the modern reader. One interesting fact is the frequent mentions about how men had to regularly carry President Roosevelt from place to place. Roosevelt's disability is something that needs to be mentioned more in historical analysis, for it was a fundamental component of his personal life. It also demonstrates that being confined to a wheelchair does not restrict the potential of the occupant.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Asks for nothing except to serve....", October 30, 2012
This review is from: The Hopkins Touch: Harry Hopkins and the Forging of the Alliance to Defeat Hitler (Hardcover)
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My American history classes covered the founding of our country in great detail but never quite made it up to the Great Depression and World War II; thus there are gaps in my knowledge that I occasionally try to fill in by reading. "The Hopkins Touch," by David Roll tells the story of a man who was instrumental in shaping history from the Great Depression up until the start of the Cold War; who hobnobbed with world leaders like Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin, but whose programs also benefited hundreds of ordinary Americans affected by the economic crisis of the times.

Born in 1890 in Iowa, Harry Hopkins was the fifth child of a harness maker with a penchant for gambling and a deeply religious mother who believed in service to others. Though a lackadaisical student while in college, Hopkins became inspired by two professors, eventually deciding to go into social work as a result. The skills and experience he acquired proved invaluable during the Great Depression, when he was named head of Temporary Emergency Relief Administration, then later the Works Progress Administration by President Franklin Roosevelt. This marked the beginning of a fourteen year relationship. Plagued by poor health, marital troubles and opposition by conservative critics, Hopkins would nevertheless provide invaluable aid to the President as a diplomat, critic and friend, putting his stamp on history, though usually behind the scenes. Believing that a wartime alliance with Great Britain and Russia that provided economic cooperation with the US would result in victory, he helped shape policies that brought just that about, including implementing a lend-lease program for Great Britain, giving the country access to badly needed weapons to defend themselves against the Germans.

Although Roll clearly admires his subject, he does not shy away from discussing the less saintly aspects of Hopkins (he had his wife investigated by the FBI at one point), even portraying Roosevelt as a complex man who often dissembled to achieve his goals. In the acknowledgements, Roll quoted one source he came across while seeking a publisher who said that Hopkins, as a subject, "is not generally recognizable." Overall, "The Hopkins Touch" does an excellent job in portraying Hopkins as a multi-dimensional and influential historial figure and bringing him into sharper focus for those who may not be aware of all he achieved.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The indispensable man, December 10, 2012
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Personne (Rocky Mountain West) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Hopkins Touch: Harry Hopkins and the Forging of the Alliance to Defeat Hitler (Hardcover)
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There are hundreds of photographs of leaders of the great alliance that won the Second World War. In many of those pictures it's possible to see the same gaunt figure somewhere in the background. That figure is Harry Hopkins. In some accounts he's a walk-on, a Roosevelt aide and little else. In others he's a Svengali: an Anglophile, a Red. In reality, Hopkins was perhaps the most effective and noteworthy public servant this country has ever produced.

The product of a humble Iowa background, Hopkins became known as an effective social worker. He not only helped to found the WPA, but he became its first director. He was intently focused on the goals he wished to achieve (the 'root of the matter' as Churchill later said), moving aside secondary distractions until those goals were reached. His ability to read other people was legendary, as was his ability to make friends of implacable foes. Hopkins came often to the attention of Roosevelt, eventually becoming his most trusted advisor. He rarely had an official title and was barely paid--if at all--for his work. Given a small bedroom in the White House, Hopkins was rarely out of arm's reach of the President. When Roosevelt asked Hopkins to turn that legendary focus to waging war, Hopkins turned on a dime. Social work disappeared completely: labor was replaced by industry.

Thus far, Hopkins' description might be applied to any up-and-comer. But the story is much more interesting. In this most public part of his career, Hopkins endured health deprivations that would have stopped the work of most. Stomach cancer in early middle age had required the removal of most of his stomach, with that surgery causing complications of its own. Hopkins lived in a state of perpetual malnourishment. That White House bedroom became an office, with Hopkins in pajamas holding meetings and conducting business late into the night. Every trip abroad--and there were many--was followed by weeks in hospital, countless transfusions and prescribed diets (which were generally ignored). Yet Hopkins was always eager to fight the fire, to smooth the transaction, to bring restive leaders together.

It is of course a reasonable goal of any historian to understand the motives of the characters that make up that history. As with any human, we can never know what was at Hopkins' very core. It certainly wasn't money--he never made much and was essentially broke when he died. The power he accumulated was always in the service of Roosevelt (and one final mission for Truman) and it appears he kept those goals in mind above all else. But it's fair to say he often understood the goals of world leaders better than they understood themselves. He flattered. He misdirected and occasionally lied. He caroused if necessary. He met one-on-one when needed and avoided those meetings when they would have been counterproductive. But he was always the man that national leaders--whether British, American or Soviet--wanted at the table. Even when national goals were widely divergent, he was the man they all trusted. His poor health was known by all. They knew what they were asking him to sacrifice when they put him on yet another flight to Moscow. Or London. Or Tehran. In the end there was nothing left to give. Hopkins survived the war by only months.

For me, the most important part of this much-appreciated book was the way it conveyed the flux, the dynamism and fluidity of war strategy. It's easy to list the events (Hitler invades Poland, Pearl Harbor, North Africa, Normandy), but it's much harder to convey how those decisions hung by a thread. If Harry Hopkins hadn't been there to sooth feelings, to cajole, to tease or offer blunt assessment, things would certainly have gone in different directions. We can argue about particular decisions--that's part of the enjoyment of history. But it's like arguing about whether Ty Cobb could have hit Pedro Martinez. We are left with what was. Harry Hopkins, the indispensable man, was at the center of it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth Reading But Limited, April 17, 2013
This review is from: The Hopkins Touch: Harry Hopkins and the Forging of the Alliance to Defeat Hitler (Hardcover)
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This book is a well done story of how Hopkins, a foreign affairs naif, became a key player in the big league political/military maneuvering in World War II. It was a new perspective for me and I read a lot of WWII history. What puzzled me is that the author obviously came to like his subject and is always ready to make excuses for him. This is surprising because the book gives us so little on Hopkins the man and how he ever came to be a Time cover boy (twice). The author notes repeatedly that Hopkins owed his influence to how he was able to sooth ruffled feathers (mostly Churchill's) and build relationships (with Stalin mostly by giving in to him). However there is never any real sign of this fixer and insider who could make things all better. When the author occasionally tries to give examples of Hopkins' interpersonal skills at work they inevitably left me thinking that you must of had to have been there. There is a lot of talk about Hopkins' health and it was amazing to read of his long sick leave absences in the midst of the war. It is hard to imagine a policy maker today being repeatedly away for weeks and months but still keeping such a critical position. It was also new and interesting to realize how FDR shut the State Department out of important negotiations.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A deft touch..., November 11, 2012
By 
Quixote010 (columbus, ohio) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Hopkins Touch: Harry Hopkins and the Forging of the Alliance to Defeat Hitler (Hardcover)
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Historical figures...especially those identified with WWII...fall in categories: American leaders, British leaders, German authorities, war generals, etc. And then there are those that are perhaps unclassifiable, but who played a far more significant role than historians have ascribed them. Harry Hopkins falls into this lot.

A social worker by trade, Hopkins is scattered throughout the Franklin Roosevelt era and, as deftly described by author David Roll, a principal participant in the New Deal and the subsequent Lend-Lease programs notable to the 32nd President of the United States.

Hopkins has been the figure of other books, but in recent years, his contributions and influence among international leaders and particularly Roosevelt has been lost. Using recently discovered materials in addition to other biographical depictions, Roll reminds us that it was the continuously ill Hopkins who proposed and pushed various significant work and war plans that earmarked Roosevelt's terms. As administrator, Hopkins distributed millions of dollars thru his Works Progress Administration (WPA)to employ people with various occupations including artists, writers, teachers and builders. Today, many buildings still remain from a massive reconstruction undertaken because of the WPA.

As Roll notes, Hopkins was a well-liked, brilliant political manipulator. As WWII evolved, it was Hopkins Roosevelt relied upon to serve as an intermediary between all the allies, particularly Churchill and Stalin. Both took an exceptional liking to Hopkins and his interactions with them allowed Roosevelt maintain a steady path as nations and political cultures collided.

Despite a rehashing of known details, this book is not a tedious read. Those who enjoy biographies or events evolving from the Great Depression through WWII will find this book fulfilling, enjoyable to read, well-organized, and interesting. Harry Hopkins should be remembered.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rainmaker, November 15, 2012
By 
Charles M. Nobles (Tulsa, OK United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Hopkins Touch: Harry Hopkins and the Forging of the Alliance to Defeat Hitler (Hardcover)
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In some segments of the business/legal world a person with the extraordinary talents of Harry Hopkins would be known as a Rainmaker. This is someone that makes things happen, usually very important things, and does so in a quiet, almost imperceptable manner. Such a person was Harry Hopkins.

This book is the latest effort to document and understand what is generally considered to be the most influential and powerful man in the Roosevelt administration. It is a well written, highly readable account of a most extraordinary man and his relationship with FDR and his crucial contributions to the war efforts of not only the United States but Great Britian and Russia as well.

The book provides a good overview of the World War II era and the Allied leaders including Churchill, Stalin, Eisenhower, Marshall, and numerous others. However, the story and profile of Harry Hopkins and his amazing contributions to the war effort is what makes this book so worthwhile.

Hopkins was a personal friend of Roosevelt's and ultimately possessed authority second to Roosevelt in both domestic and foreign affairs. He lived in the White House and solved political problems, some said fixed them, when Roosevelt for a variety of reasons could not do so. He wrote speeches for Roosevelt, was perhaps his closest advisor, and with a skill and determination of legendary proportions was able to win the trust and confidence of both Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin. He did all of this without an official title or any type of executive branch power. His power eminated from FDR, all that he needed. The story of how he managed to placate Stalin when Churchill refused to invade Europe in 1943 and left Russia virtually alone to battle the Nazi's is remarkable. It is very doubtful that there has been anyone quite like Hopkins in the executive branch of government. Many historians are of the opinion that Hopkins was among a small group of political leaders that managed the war for the Allies to a successful conclusion.

This book is not quite as detailed as Robert Sherwood's but is certainly a must read for anyone remotely interested in the story of the management of World War II by the Allies and the significant contributions made by a true Rainmaker...who said all he ever wanted was to serve his country. I suspect this book will soon become a best seller and for good reason. Highly recommended.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In the Shadows No Longer, October 30, 2012
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This review is from: The Hopkins Touch: Harry Hopkins and the Forging of the Alliance to Defeat Hitler (Hardcover)
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I am glad that I read "The Hopkins Touch: Harry Hopkins and the Forging of the Alliance to Defeat Hitler" by David Roll. I was drawn to it since it deals with a period of history that has always fascinated me. However, in all of the years that I have read about President Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and the other individuals who shaped the drama of the Great Depression, its end, and World War II, Hopkins has remained a shadowy figure.

I have never until now learned enough about him to see him as anything but a shadowy figure on the periphery of greatness. I wondered about his motivation and his involvement with the New Deal in the way one always wonders about those who seem to just live in the reflected light of the great ones. This book has made it possible for me to consider him in his own right, and I now know that Harry Hopkins deserves far more consideration than I have given him. David Roll's well-researched book about Hopkins brings him to life and I am grateful to learn about him at long last.

Born on the Great Plains, Hopkins had a strong moral sense and an unquenchable thirst for social justice. Known as a man who could get things done, he worked tirelessly for the New Deal and became a confidante to President Roosevelt and an emissary to Churchill in the days when Great Britain stood alone against Nazi tyranny. He also wrangled with Josef Stalin as the Alliance that won the war was formed. Although chronically ill for most of his adult life, he worked tirelessly to get things done for the good of the nation and of the world. He was in a unique position where he could speak for the President without officially representing the President, thus being able to accomplish things that the President could not afford to do politically. In doing so, he received a lot of criticism, and yet continued to do his work without the adulation that most men would seek.

Drawing on never-before- accessed accounts and research materials from the Hopkins family, Roll has brought Harry Hopkins forward in a wonderfully readable and entertaining volume. It is not to be missed.
The Hopkins Touch: Harry Hopkins and the Forging of the Alliance to Defeat Hitler
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Biography of Harry Hopkins, November 15, 2012
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This review is from: The Hopkins Touch: Harry Hopkins and the Forging of the Alliance to Defeat Hitler (Hardcover)
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After reading the William Manchester -- Paul Reid biography of Winston Churchill, "The Last Lion" which covers Churchill's extraordinary role in WW II. The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965, I had the good fortune to increase my understanding of the WW II Alliance through reading this new study of another important WW II figure, Harry Hopkins. David Roll's "The Hopkins Touch: Harry Hopkins and the Forging of the Alliance to Defeat Hitler" is the most recent study of Hopkins, whose role in WW II played out in the shadow of his "Boss", President Franklin Roosevelt. A partner in a large Washington D.C. law firm, Roll somehow found the time to research and write this detailed study of a surprising WW II figure.

As Roll points out, Harry Hopkins (1890 -- 1946), was an unlikely confidant for Roosevelt. Born in Iowa to struggling and wandering parents, Hopkins could not have been more different from the president. But the two men became close. Roll quickly covers Hopkins early life, his education as a social worker, his failed first marriage, and his early career to get to Hopkins' role in working first for Governor and then President Roosevelt as part of the New Deal. Hopkins gained the president's trust through his dedication and administrative skills as head of the Works Project Administration. He served as Roosevelt's Secretary of Commerce for a time. Important as Hopkins' domestic role was in the New Deal, the focus of Roll's book is on Hopkins' activities as Roosevelt's most influential advisor during WW II.

Roosevelt was a complex, many-faceted individual who did not share his confidences lightly. Hopkins became a figure the president could trust. In 1940 following the death of Hopkins' second wife, Roosevelt invited Hopkins and his young daughter to live in the White House. Hopkins remained a resident of the White House for nearly three years, even after his remarriage.

Roll's book shows the extraordinary role Hopkins played in both domestic and foreign policy in the WW II years. Early in the war, Roosevelt sent Hopkins to England to meet with and assess Churchill and Britain's capacity to sustain the war against Hitler. Hopkins played a pivotal role in the passage of the Lend-Lease legislation and in implementing the assistance it provided to Britain and the Soviet Union. He worked unobtrusively to bring Roosevelt and Churchill together both before and after the United States entered the War. At Roosevelt's instruction, he made a private visit to Stalin and to a surprising degree was able to win Stalin's trust. The Soviet leader said Hopkins spoke "po dushe" -- from the soul.

According to Roll, Hopkins' greatest contribution to the war effort was in the early days of the Alliance, following the United States' entry into the war and the German invasion of the Soviet Union. The military leaders in the United States pressed for an immediate landing in France with Churchill wanted instead an invasion of French North Africa. The question of strategy threatened to divide the Alliance at the outset. Hopkins worked carefull with both Churchill and the American political and military leadership to bring about a basic agrement on Churchill's strategy. Hopkins role was that of a peacemaker and a compromiser in bringing highly opinionated principals together. Roll's book documents the many ways Hopkins functioned throughout the war, including through the early days of the Truman administration, to get the Alliance to work smoothly.

The "Hopkins Touch" refers to the qualities that Roll finds made Hopkins an effective foil for Roosevelt. According to Roll, Hopkins had extraordinary people and negotiation skills developed from his career as a social worker. He knew when to talk and when to listen. He was able to win the trust and affection of a diverse group of leaders. Hopkins tended to be a linear thinker who tried to remain focused on the point at issue in a discussion rather than to wander, equivocate, and improvise, as Roosevelt frequently did. Hopkins showed an ability to cut through red tape and jargon and get to the heart of a question. Churchill frequently and admiringly called Hopkins the "Lord Root of the Matter". Roll finds that Hopkins showed an almost intuitive grasp of what Roosevelt wanted and worked to achieve it. When the situation warranted, Hopkins worked subtly to bring his own ideas to bear.

The Manchester/Reid study of Churchill and Roll's book about Hopkins cover many of the same momentous historical events and personalities. The portrayal of Hopkins in Manchester/Reid and of Churchil in Roll complement and reinforce one another. It was valuable to see portrayals of the Alliance from biographies of British and American leaders.

I learned a great deal about the shaping events of the 20th Century and of the contemporary world from these two studies. In particular, Roll's book focuses on the American side of the Alliance. It describes an unlikely hero who worked behind the scenes, who made good his claim that he sought "only the opportunity to serve", and who, through tact, judgment and the trust he inspired, was able to play an important role during a critical time in history.

Robin Friedman
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars forgotten influence, December 26, 2012
This review is from: The Hopkins Touch: Harry Hopkins and the Forging of the Alliance to Defeat Hitler (Hardcover)
Behind every successful leader, in this specific case the President of the United States, stands at least one person of whom it can be said is the "power behind the throne." In Franklin Delano Roosevelt's case, that man was Harry Hopkins, an Iowa-born social worker who had been an integral part of the success of the New Deal at its beginning and by the time of the invasion of France by the Germans in 1940, had become Roosevelt's most trusted advisor. As the war continued, he would become a trusted confidante of not only Winston Churchill but Josef Stalin as well (in the case of the latter, for a fellow human being, politics and ethnicity aside, no mean feat). Being trusted by the Big Three would be a tremendous burden for any number of people and Hopkins did it while being consistently ill with some malady or other, many of them life threatening. The fact that he performed as well as he did speaks volumes for the man's spirit and sense of dedication. His association with Stalin has led more than one person to think Hopkins the head Communist in Roosevelt's administration.
This is an excellent biography of one of the most influential men of the twentieth century, until now, almost forgotten.
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