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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In 1919 Woodrow Wilson came to Versailles almost universally praised as the embodiment of the hopes of the world for a more peaceful future. Nine decades later, there is a general consensus that his idealism and rigidity led to disasters at the peace conference and during the immediate postwar period. Historian Fleming presents what some may regard as a hatchet job. He portrays Wilson, sometimes unfairly, as vain, bigoted, intolerant, and quite willing to use governmental power to repress even mild dissension. Yet, if Fleming's personal attacks are over the top, his analyses of the consequences of Wilson's decisions are on the mark. To obtain French and British acceptance of the League of Nations, Wilson accepted their blatantly unjust punitive measures against Germany. Then, his refusal to compromise doomed acceptance of the League of Nations in the U.S. Senate. His "war to end all wars" led directly to an even more horrible conflagration 20 years later. This is a generally credible indictment of a man whose good intentions failed to deal with reality. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"[Fleming's] latest book is filled with wonderful quotations, salient facts and deft characterizations .... He tells a gripping story." -- New Leader

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (May 26, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465024696
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465024698
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (50 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #652,788 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

"How do you write a book?" 24 year old Thomas Fleming asked bestselling writer Fulton Oursler in 1951. "Write four pages a day," Oursler said. "Every day except Sunday. Whether you feel like it or not. Inspiration consists of putting the seat of your pants on the chair at your desk." Fleming has followed this advice to good effect. His latest effort, "The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers," is his 50th published book. Twenty three of them have been novels. He is the only writer in the history of the Book of the Month Club to have main selections in fiction and in nonfiction. Many have won prizes. Recently he received the Burack Prize from Boston University for lifetime achievement. In nonfiction he has specialized in the American Revolution. He sees Intimate Lives as a perfect combination of his double talent as a novelist and historian. "Novelists focus on the imtimate side of life. This is the first time anyone has looked at the intimate side of the lives of these famous Americans, with an historian's eyes." Fleming was born in Jersey City, the son of a powerful local politician. He has had a lifetime interest in American politics. He also wrote a history of West Point which the New York Times called "the best...ever written." Military history is another strong interest. He lives in New York with his wife, Alice Fleming, who is a gifted writer of books for young readers.

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

106 of 116 people found the following review helpful By Andrew S. Rogers VINE VOICE on September 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a fascinating, entertaining, and truly eye-opening book. Like Thomas Fleming's earler The New Dealers' War: FDR and the War Within World War II, "The Illusion of Victory" is not only a great survey of events that shaped the modern world, but also a much-needed puncturing of one of the twentieth century's most over-inflated reputations (in the former case, FDR's, in this one Woodrow Wilson's) and a very timely reminder of how war overthrows all aims. Most of all, though, this is just extremely well-written history. It is definitely worth a read.

Today, more than three-quarters of a century after the end of the first world war, the myths of that conflict, of America's place in it, and Woodrow Wilson's role in keeping us out, and getting us in, are more pervasive than ever. Fleming reveals not only what a failure Wilson truly was, but how the idealism for which he is so celebrated today was not only sacrificed on the altar of international politicking and hatred, but was poisoned even by the president's own messiah complex and uncompromising partisanship. Fleming paints Wilson as a truly unpleasant figure. And while I can imagine that many readers might consider this an overly negative portrayal -- and accuse Fleming of abandoning the serene and godlike objectivity so many historians maintain (or simulate) -- Fleming has the facts to back up his conclusions. The energy with which Thomas Fleming gores sacred cows like Wilson and FDR is one of his more distinctive characteristics, and it's one I, for my part, particularly value.

As I said, there are many especially timely lessons contained in this book.
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49 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Barrett Tillman on January 13, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Fleming has admitted that he had to abandon the prejudices of a liberal New Jersey upbringing to arrive at an objective assessment of FDR (The New Dealers' War) and Wilson. He certainly has done that. Frequently he crosses over the line of purely objective historian into political and personal commentary, but his assessments all stand scrutiny. While "Illusion" contains some factual errors (note that Fiorello LaGuardia flew in Italy, not France) none are related to the major subject and none detract from Fleming's thesis: Woodrow Wilson's hypocrisy, arrogance, and hunger for power overcame his early idealism, leading to one of the greatest failures of any American administration. Fleming's description of the scheming and lies of Edith Galt Wilson and presidential doctor, Adm. Grayson, foretold comparable lies from FDR's naval aides in WW II. Mrs. Wilson emerges as the Shrew From Hell, reminiscent of the Clinton White House but without Hillary's softer, feminine side (!)

Fleming details Wilson's failure in every major aspect: his refusal, after months of immobility, to hand over to his vice president; persistently ignoring vital domestic issues such as massive strikes and riots, a winter coal shortage, and persecution of minorities, to say nothing of the Prohibition debate. Wilson's tolerance for the continuing postwar naval blockade of Germany ("the worst atrocity of the war" says Fleming) led to thousands of deaths by starvation--this from the president who vowed to conduct "a war without hate."

Yet after all that, WW still felt he deserved a third term and declined to endorse his own son in law for the nomination.

Well done--again--Tom Fleming.
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29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Fisher on November 30, 2003
Format: Hardcover
One of the first things I look for in books of this genre are the references. Had Fleming been less diligent in annotation, I might agree with critics who found errors or disagreed with his analysis. However, I found it a stimulating read precisely because it presents an alternative point of view.
As it's the first printing, one hopes the factual errors will be corrected for later editions, however, the value of the book is in seeing the period as the prelude to a century of wars rather than the war to end war.
The wars within and without our borders evolved from this period. It was an ending and a beginning. Fleming makes his prejudices quite clear so that readers can take them for what they're worth. However, the book is very timely as we enter a new century defined, to date, by war.
Questions of succession and globalization as well as questions of homeland security are defined in a new way by seeing how they played out almost a century ago.
No one book should be considered the defining statement of such a tumultous time. But, I truly believe this work by Fleming is important to the dialogue.
The very idea of a president not respecting his own advisers, being out of the country for months at a time, and allowing his wife to have more control over his office than elected and appointed officials should be anathema in any age.
This is more than a discussion of Wilson and the war. It is an illustration of the politics of power and the reasons why our constitution defines things as it does. It also illustrates how the constitution can be sidestepped by egos over intellect.
Whether one agrees with Fleming or not, this is a timely and necessary discussion.
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