Steve Vogel is a veteran reporter on the National staff of The Washington Post with long experience covering the military. His first book, "The Pentagon: A History," was published by Random House in 2007. He is the author of the forthcoming book "Through The Perilous Fight," an account of the British invasion of the Chesapeake in 1814, to be published in the spring of 2013 by Random House.
Brehon B. Somervell isn't a name you hear much. He was a Brigadier General in the months before America's involvement with World War II. He foresaw the need to consolidate the U. S. Army's command in a single structure rather than the seventeen locations it currently occupied in Washington, D.C.
Over a weekend, he and his surprised aides created the basic plans for what was then the world's largest building, what we know today as the Pentagon.
Somervell not only was responsible for the Pentagon, but ultimately managing the supply system that kept 13 million U.S. troops around the world supplied with bullets, beans and everything else they needed. General Richard Groves went on to manage the Manhattan Project which developed the first nuclear weapons.
The story of the fulfillment of Somervell's vision is absolutely fascinating. Steve Vogel is an exceptionally able writer who brings to life the daily adventures of men and women who more than sixty years ago built and then populated the Pentagon. There isn't a dull page in the book as Vogel describes the race to complete the building, which Somervell had said would take a year. The enormity of task and how ordinary men rose to meet the challenge comes across powerfully in Vogel's prose.
Vogel traces the decades of the building's life, how it was manipulated, expanded and altered to meet the needs of successive generations. (President Roosevelt, we are told, didn't forsee any military need for the building after WWII and had planned on it becoming an archive. As it turned out, that insistence was fortuitous.)
The story includes an interesting retelling of the great march on the Pentagon in 1967.Read more ›
Vogel makes the WW2 era come alive in this enteraining and informative look at the history of the conception, design and construction of the largest office building in the world. While the front line guys were defending the free world from the axis powers, the Corps of Engineers and others were working just as hard in DC to get the headquarters building built. Also included is the 911 attack and amazing reconstruction from the devastation.
A brilliant achievement. Perhaps the finest history book I've read since David McCullough's "The Path Between the Seas" and "The Great Bridge." There isn't a dull page uninteresting paragraph in the entire book. What is most fascinating is you need not be interested in the military to find the book thoroughly engrossing.
Was it a coincidence that the ground-breaking was on 9/11/41? I don't know, but that's one of the many interesting things that I learned from reading this book. The author also gives you great background on the Pentagon as well. I found it very interesting how the mindset of defense spending was so different from what it is like today. Who would argue over where to build a structure today? Any military or general history buff (life myself) would enjoy this book!
This book retells the well known story of how the Pentagon, well known as the world's largest building was built. There is nothing really relevatory in it. The story focuses almost exclusively on the governmental infighting over building it and there is not a single compelling character among the main characters that Mr. Vogel places at the heart of the story. The section between the building and the 9/11 attacks do not contribute to the story at all.
The only reason I don't rate this story any lower is the section on the 9/11 attack. This is an often overlooked aspect of 9/11 and for the only part of the book, Mr. Vogel writes a compelling story about the sacrifice at the Pentagon and the amazing effort to rebuild it all within one year. The characters are compelling and well written, not presented as bureaucrats like the first half of the book. Thankfully this keeps the book from being a total bore.
Mr. Vogel has written a very interesting history of a unique and famous building. Of course, it isn't just the building, it's the people, the times, the purpose for the building at the time it was built, the unfolding drama of the United States taking its place in the world after World War II, the Viet Nam protests, and most compelling, the September 11 attack on the Pentagon. I must say that initially, I did not think I would want to read a 500 page book about a building, even if it was the Pentagon; but as I perused the pages and the pictures, I thought: this could be very interesting. And it was. The book was very readable, and very insightful. You will learn quite a bit about how people handle power and influence. The brief overview of James Forrestal and other early Defense Department leaders was quite interesting. I found myself quite taken by the descriptions of the courageous people who first built the Pentegon and later, the even more courageous people who, in one year, repaired the extensive 9/11 damage. I commend this book to all who seek to understand more, not only about the Pentagon, but about Washington in the 1940s, the military, and the transition of America to a world power after World War II.