on March 10, 2013
In Lynne Olson's substantial new volume, we are plunged into an America both distant and familiar. It is impossible to read more than a few pages before realizing how little our fundamental national character has changed in the 70 years since these events. This is the nation as it was when Hitler's ambitions were becoming reality--the invasions of Poland and the Low Countries, the Battle of Britain. It was becoming evident in distant America that war was coming here. Two schools of thought were beginning to form. The interventionists saw the United States as a key to stopping the growth of Germany. They saw kindred spirits in England and the peoples already under the Nazi yoke. Isolationists cared little about the rest of the world and could not see the point of sacrificing America's youth in yet another European war.
Either of those positions is an honorable place to be, and it's a perfectly good thing to debate them. But this is America and we don't quite do things that way. There were other groups--less honorable--who attached themselves to these positions. It didn't take long for racists, profiteers and zealots to begin questioning the motives of the other groups. Over the course of months, charges of Communism, Fascism, Socialism, anti-Semitism began to be hurled back and forth. News outlets affiliated themselves with one side, issuing scurrilous charges against their opponents. It is not hard to find strong parallels in later events. Debates around Vietnam and Iraq resonate with the same fervor and distrust. Olson doesn't make this point directly. She doesn't need to.
The author has chosen two protagonists to carry much of the narrative. Roosevelt is an obvious choice. As the focus of national policy-making, historians will debate his intentions for centuries. He seemed to know that we would be drawn into the war and he acted in ways that both accelerated and decelerated America's entry. Whether his policy of leading from behind was good policy can of course never be answered. But this book shows that he could be merciless to those he perceived as opponents. He did not hesitate to utilize the loathsome J. Edgar Hoover to work around the constitution. He made friends of enemies and vice-versa. Olson wisely focuses on his actions and not his intentions.
No person was less-suited to be Charles Lindbergh than Charles Lindbergh. As a capable pilot and engineer, he captured the fancy of the nation by his solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927. But he had no tools to deal with the perpetual presence of the mass media. For quite understandable reasons, he built a cocoon around himself, eventually hardening into a rigid and self-righteous beacon of isolationism. He believed himself to deal only with hard fact, having not a single clue about what really made people tick. His many speeches hardened the isolationists and eventually discredited him with the bulk of the nation. But when war finally came, he happily put himself to work as a test pilot, engineer and occasional combatant (all without the knowledge of FDR).
But Lindbergh and Roosevelt are not the only important characters in this time. Wendell Wilkie, the 1940 Republican candidate for president, worked tirelessly for the interventionist cause (inciting the wrath of his own party in the process). One suspects he might have made a fine president, but like FDR himself, Wilkie didn't survive the war. Lord Philip Lothian, British Ambassador, was the rare British diplomat who understood and was comfortable with Americans. At his death in 1940, he was mourned equally on both sides of the Atlantic. The most tragic character is Anne Morrow Lindbergh, the wife of Charles. A popular and talented writer, imprisoned by insecurity, she tried with little success to bridge the world between her own feelings and those of her tone-deaf husband.
This is an exciting book about a period to which we've paid little attention. It was a necessary prelude to a war we still consider necessary. But it's hard not to reflect on our own current incivility and intemperate dialog. Perhaps it's part of the American character.
It's a real tribute to a non-fiction writer when their 28 Chapter, 520-page account of history is a page-turner. The reader won't want to stop reading and when the book is done, the reader will be left wanting to read more.
The overwhelming isolationist feeling in the USA prior to WW II is not that well known to the public. The history books talk about the Great Depression and jump to WW II. This is the story of what happened in the USA between those two great landmarks of American History.
Most Americans probably don't realize how angry the American public was with the British and French after WW I. Great numbers of people felt that the USA had been tricked into getting involved in that "War to End All Wars." Huge majorities of American voters were even angrier with France and Britain than they were with the defeated Germans. Most people on this side of the pond felt that WW II was the direct result of how poorly the victors had treated the Germans after the conflict ended. Their unfair treatment of the German people sowed the seeds of for another great conflict.
This book deals with the two most popular personalities in America at the time. FDR was at the height of his popularity as the pain of the Great Depression lessened and an unknown farm boy had become a worldwide hero because of his solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Charles Lindbergh's "Lone Eagle" adventure provided the world with a brief respite from the everyday problems left by the worldwide depression.
Lindbergh was a shy, private person who never quite adjusted to the fame that descended on the young man after his flight. But he became and remained the most famous adventurer on the planet.
FDR eventually realized that Hitler would eventually become a threat to America, but his hands were tied by Congress. After WW I the government had been content to let America's Army and Navy fall to 10th world power status.
Even after Hitler showed his true intentions of European Conquest, a "Congress Drunk with Pacifism" ignored FDR's and his Secretary State's secret reports on the situation in Europe and the powerful Senator William Borah "dismissed Hull's comment with a contemptuous wave of his hand. He had, he replied, `sources of information in Europe as more reliable than those of the State Department.' They had told him `that there is not going to be any war.'" Those sources later turned out to be a "highly opinionated political newsletter called `The Week," written and edited by Claud Cockburn, a leading British Communist."
From reading this book it is stunning how unprepared America was for WW II. It is almost a miracle that the Allies were able to win it.
One of the most interesting parts of this tome is the information about Charles Lindbergh and his wife Anne and their political beliefs. During their long separations during their marriages, both Charles and Anne had various affairs. Charles, as an only child, had always told Anne he wanted to have a dozen children. He did. He had six by his wife Anne (counting the baby that was kidnapped and murdered) and seven others by three mistresses living in Germany. Two of the mistresses were sisters. So secretive was Lindbergh during his entire life that this stunning information was not discovered until 2003, almost thirty years after his death and two years after Anne's. "
What a fun read.
Those Angry Days covers the fight within the U.S., between 1939 and 1941, over whether to join the war against Germany. It is a fairly detailed history of a fascinating chapter in U.S. history.
The subtitle might lead you to believe that the book focuses mainly on President Roosevelt (FDR) and Lindbergh, but, in fact, the cast of characters is quite large. Olson does a good job bringing this large group to life and describes them with considerable empathy. She helps us to understand all the different reasons people wanted to stay out of the war in Europe:
o Most Americans felt protected by the sheer distance from Europe.
o Many felt that Britain had tricked them into the First World War and that that conflict had achieved nothing of value.
o Many Americans were utterly blind to the evil of Nazism or equated it with the evils of British imperialism. Indeed, many military leaders were resolute Anglophobes.
o Once Germany invaded the Soviet Union, many Americans saw little reason to favor Stalin over Hitler.
o Many Americans were sincere pacifists, opposed to war on principle.
America's transition from scrupulous neutral to formal belligerent took over two years, a span that must have felt eternal to the beleaguered British. Knowing that Roosevelt wanted to keep Britain from falling to the Germans and then watching as he, time after time, delays providing real assistance can be exasperating to the reader, as it must have been to Churchill and his countrymen.
Lindbergh, naturally, comes off looking bad. He had avoided public life so scrupulously beforehand, and for good reason: the press hounded him and his family mercilessly. He chose to oppose publicly America's entry into the war for various reasons, including a barely disguised admiration for the New Germany. Needless to say, he showed no particular sympathy for the Jewish victims of the Nazis, and he managed to tarnish his own cause with anti-Semitic comments in a major speech.
More surprising is how bad FDR appears. Previous accounts have described him as deftly preparing the nation for war against a flood tide of isolationism. In fact, he consistently trailed the public in its readiness to intervene and failed to mobilize war production when he had the chance.
In sum, this is a valuable study of a fascinating, dangerous era. I learned a great deal about a period in U.S. history that had always confused me. Anyone interested in World War II or American history will enjoy reading this book.
This is a book which is easy to read, as the narrative flows nicely. However, when all is said and done, one is left with an incomplete picture of the time. The wide-ranging motivation of the various isolationist movements simply is not given its due. It is simply easier for Olson to reduce this to an FDR vs. Lindbergh proposition, with a sprawling cast of supporting characters. Even when Lindbergh disappears from the narrative (and this happens frequently), the reader is left feeling that Olson is struggling to push the story back in Lindbergh's direction. Agree or disagree with the various beliefs of the isolationists, one needs to give them their day in court, and it simply doesn't happen here.
I am also troubled by the lack of original research here. Olson lists an assortment of archives and collections in her bibliography, but her citations lean heavily on secondary sources, even to the extent that she quotes the historians upon whom she depends in the text itself, as though this were some sort of seminar paper written by a graduate student. A good example would be Harry Hopkins; anyone who has read The Hopkins Touch: Harry Hopkins and the Forging of the Alliance to Defeat Hitler, very recently published, knows that a treasure trove of primary sources have recently come available. However, Olson still relies heavily on Sherwood's 64-year-old study, still useful but indisputably out-of-date. Taking this approach leaves a researcher at the mercy of those researchers who have gone before, and this is a risky proposition.
I enjoyed the book, but it comes up so short of its goals that ultimately it feels like a let-down.
on May 20, 2013
Olson writes well, and Those Angry Years is a lively and accessible treatment of its subject-matter; the book, however, struggles to hold its material together and has little if anything original to say. Though it starts out by introducing FDR and Charles Lindbergh as the main protagonists in the great contest between interventionists and isolationists, Lindbergh disappears from the narrative for long periods and Roosevelt never comes to life in Olson's hands. In contrast to these two remote figures, Olson has more to say about (and seems much more interested in) Wendell Willkie and Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Here we find the book's structural and thematic problem: switching back and forth between analysis of partisan politics and the stories of a totally apolitical individual like Anne Morrow Lindbergh or that most un-angry of politicians, Willkie, it fails to achieve a convincing synthesis. Consequently, Olson comes up short on conclusions and, instead, indulges a final reverie on Mrs Lindbergh that would be better suited to a hagiography on that subject.
on May 19, 2013
I have some ambivalent feelings about the quality of the book, and the story itself is quite sad in some ways, but I still think it is worth reading.
The book covers the debate between isolationists and interventionists in the United States from the middle `30s to Pearl Harbor. Olson puts special emphasis on the period from Britain's entry into the war in 1939, and on the especially dangerous time from the collapse of France through the Battle of Britain, when it seemed to many observers that Britain would not be able to resist the Nazis without support from the U.S. It is only with the benefit of hindsight that one of these choices seems to be the obviously correct one, and there were numerous well-intentioned and fair-minded folks on both sides of the debate.
Though she goes into great detail about numerous leading figures on both sides of this debate--lots of information on Wendell Willkie, for instance--she uses FDR as the focal point for the interventionist side (which makes sense) and Charles Lindbergh as the representative of the isolationist side. In fact, the book begins and ends with a scene of Lindbergh trying to steal a few precious private moments in the Smithsonian where he could be alone again with his true love, "The Spirit of St. Louis."
It's a poignant moment, but the structure of the book is made somewhat unwieldy by this comparison/contrast structure. I found myself lost at times as to the chronology since the author kept bouncing back and forth between FDR and Lindbergh, and then would drop both of them for long stretches. I did find immensely moving the story of Lindbergh's wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, who was torn between her family's passionate interventionist beliefs and her husband's cerebral, distant, "tone deaf" response to the increasing threat that Hitler represented. If FDR and Lindbergh are the two major "characters" here, Anne Morrow Lindbergh is the third most important person in the book, which I like because she is a very attractive, if also tragic, figure.
Some random thoughts: Fairly or not, FDR does not come off well here. Olson presents him as someone who leads from behind, who takes no action without a great deal of polling (an important insider in the Gallup organization worked closely with FDR), and who generally frustrated Churchill and the other interventionists in and out of government.
Also, according to the book, much of the influential Army leadership was opposed to actions that would push the U.S. toward war. Some of these people, if not exactly pro-Nazi, were at least sympathetic to them; others thought it was foolish to send Britain armaments when our own defenses were so meager. George Marshall was apparently in this camp. "Hap" Arnold was so determined to keep the U.S. out of the war until he was sure we had a strong enough air force to take on Hitler that he leaked the top-secret plans for a war against the Nazis, a plan which the top Nazi generals urged Hitler to take into consideration in planning strategy, but which Hitler ultimately decided to ignore.
Lindbergh also comes off quite poorly here. He was of course anti-Semitic, but most people in the U.S. were at this time. He did not seem to see the threat to democracy that the Nazis represented, was seemingly indifferent to anti-Jewish violence, and was more concerned about Stalin. He was no fan of Britain, though he himself had retreated to Britain to escape the public eye after the killing of his son. (Anne Lindbergh cringed incessantly at his anti-British speeches, for she well knew how much they owed some of their friends in England.)
One of the strengths of the book is how well it captures the virulence of the debate, and Olson explicitly compares this tumultuousness to debates in our own time over Vietnam and Iraq. Lindbergh was called a fascist and a Nazi by major newspaper columnists and by major figures in the Roosevelt administration, and FDR in a press conference compared him to Clement Vallandigham, a northern Democrat who sympathized with the South in the Civil War. The book deals with the fine line that exists between free speech in a democracy and speech that is traitorous. It is fascinating and frightening to see the extent to which FDR used the resources of government to go after Lindbergh and anyone who agreed with him.
My complaints about the book: First, this is not an academic book. Olson has not done a great deal of original research with primary documents, relying greatly not just on secondary works, but, bafflingly, on her OWN secondary works. Several times I looked to find the source of a comment by Churchill or FDR, and she has cited one of her OWN books. That makes no sense to me at all.
Secondly, she totally ignores a major aspect of the side that opposed intervening against Germany: those outright Communists or their sympathizers (I would put many writers and artists in this camp, people such as Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger) who were active members of the America First movement and its satellite groups RIGHT UP UNTIL GERMANY INVADED THE SOVIET UNION, at which time these people did an about-face and became staunch interventionists. There are ample opportunities for Olson to make this point. For instance, she discusses not only the sinking of the American destroyer Reuben James by a German submarine in October 1941, but also cites lyrics from the catchy song Woody Guthrie wrote about it: "Tell me what were their names, tell me what were their names,/Did you have a friend on the good Reuben James?" What better place to add a discussion of the conversion that people such as Guthrie and Seeger went through after June 1941? It is a major failing of the book.
Similarly, except for a brief mention of him in her section on Hollywood's response to this debate, Olson completely ignores the isolationist and defeatist beliefs of Joseph P. Kennedy, who was essentially forced to resign as ambassador to Britain late in 1940 because of his politically embarrassing comments and attempts to meet privately with Hitler. JFK is mentioned briefly, along with Gerald Ford and Gore Vidal and Potter Stewart, as early members of the America First movement (which began among college students), but surely the elder Kennedy should have been discussed here.
With those reservations, I still recommend the book.
on June 8, 2013
Having read Olson's "Troubesome Young Men" about pre-war Britain, I was disappointed with "Those Angry Days." To be sure Olson covers the very public fight between Roosevelt and his interventionist allies( along with British Intelligence) against the leading isolationists of the day, Charles Lindberg and Burton Wheeler, she leaves much out. Phillip Roth covered similar material in his 2004 novel, "The Plot Against America" which handled the subject with greater acuity.
My main problem with the book is that Olson avoids the role of the Communist Party and their fellow travellers in their anti-Nazi phase up to August 1939, their isolationist phase from August 1939 - June 1941 and their all out intervention phase from June 1941 as they diligently followed Moscow's orders. Thus she paints the false picture that isolationism was solely a creature of the political right, when in fact the political left was a very active force for isolationism for most ofthe period she covers.
As an example Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie have cameo roles as the great folk singers that they were; they hardly innocent of the machinations coming from the party line. She also leaves out the role of the American Peace Mobilization which was a party front group. Parenthetically the tactics used in 1940 were replicated by the anti-vietnam protestors of the 1960s.
on June 8, 2013
This popular history of American culture and politics before America's entry into the Second World War is cleverly structured as a series of short biographies. We may be grateful that two stars of the show, Robert E. Sherwood and Lord Lothian (Philip Kerr, the British Ambassador) are here given their place in the sun after being largely forgotten for seventy years. Sherwood, a leading playwright of the Thirties, is mainly remembered these days for having been friend to Robert Benchley and Dorothy Parker. They worked together on the old Life magazine--the post-collegiate college-humor periodical, not the Luce picture-magazine--before they quit this employment and then briefly attempted to write in a shared office. Lothian had the thankless job of representing Britain in the early months of the War, when Britain hadn't a prayer of getting assistance from the US. Poor Lothian's fate was to be loved by all and trusted by none in his own government. He supported the war, so the pacifists didn't like him; he was considered to be in the "Cliveden Set," so the leftists and Churchillites distrusted him. His own family turned against him when he left the Catholic Church to follow Nancy Astor into Christian Science. Earnest and ascetic, of highly sensitive temperament, he was no doubt killed by all the strain when he suddenly died of uremic poisoning in 1940.
Another half-forgotten, slightly sorry figure in the book is Wendell Willkie, the sometime corporate lawyer and utilities executive who got himself tagged as a charismatic political comer, and was assiduously promoted by Republican moderates as the 1940 Presidential candidate. After many convention ballots, vying against Senator Bob Taft and young Governor Tom Dewey, he did get the nomination. In press and polls he often looked like a shoo-in against the fading FDR, then running for a notorious Third Term. But Willkie went down hard, tangled up in the anti-interventionist political climate of the time. Like Roosevelt, Willkie was officially non-interventionist while privately favoring aid to Britain. In the end there wasn't enough of a compelling case for Willkie. After losing the election, he lost most of the goodwill he still had with the GOP by befriending Roosevelt and agreeing to go on a fact-finding world tour. He reemerged as a GOP contender in 1944, but was so unpopular he withdrew from campaigning, and a few months later dropped dead.
Charles A. Lindbergh and his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, recur throughout the book but remain multi-talented ciphers. Col. Lindbergh's prominence here is of course due to his opposition to American involvement in the War. Characteristically, he stood alone for most of that controversy, joining up with Kingman Brewster's America First organization only in its last months. It came as something of a surprise to him that FDR had no commission or other use for him during the conflict. (Although, once FDR was safely dead, the Truman Administration had no trouble appointing him as consultant to the new U.S. Air Force.)
The missing element to this history, and it's a big one, is a discussion of the overtly left-wing, Popular Front, and Communist campaigning for and against American involvement. This omission is significant not just because of the size and power of those political interests, but because the anti-war factions often framed their arguments directly in response to them. And the pro-Stalinist camp was itself part of the anti-interventionist movement for a long time, from September 1939 till June 1941.
"Those Angry Days" Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941 by Lynne Olson
"There have been a number of fierce national quarrels - over communism in the later Forties, over McCarthyism in the Fifties over Vietnam in the Sixties but none so tore apart families and friendships as this fight". Arthur Schlesinger quote taken from the introduction of "Those Angry Days".
Prior to Pearl Harbor there was a lively debate, to put it mildly, concerning America providing Britain any type of military assistance. Somehow the reality of that intense dispute has been expunged from our national consciousness. This subject was hardly mentioned during my schooling in the 1950's and early 60's nor touched upon, as I recollect, in the many Hollywood war films I viewed. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, completely unprovoked we were assured, and then a few day later Hitler, for some deranged reason, declared war on the United States, well then everyone was chomping at the bit to do their duty to defend democracy. If it was even hinted that prior to Pearl Harbor anyone harboring contrary thoughts it was in the context of a traitorous oppinion. In fact that opposition was a position supported by many millions of our fellow citizens and many national leaders and political office holders.
This magisterial book is a primer for individuals desiring an erudite yet edifying look at the debate that, quoting Schlesinger again "tore apart families and friendships". Charles Lindbergh deservedly plays a pivotal role in this story but the author also includes many lesser know men and women on both sides of the issue.
In the course of his account the author elaborated upon several points that were a revelation to this reader:
Many Americians considered England to be an untrustworthy friend having duped us into entering WW-I and now wanted us to come to their assistance again.
Many admired Germany for it's military achievements. In fact many American military officers thought Germany was justified for rearming and that the terms of the Treaty of Versailles unfair.
The author and editors are to be commended by their choice of photographs interspersed throughout the text. There are the usual gallery of "official portraits" of important personages but also a number of strikingly candid images that were in fact riveting:
Lindbergh leaving the White House after a meeting with Roosevelt - no smiles for the camera here. Lindy covers his face while numerious photographers with those big clunky 1930's flash cameras surround him like angry paparazzi.
My favorite image is the one taken in upstate New York, August 1939. Picture a pastoral rural background, rolling hills, a farm in the distance a few cows even. In the foreground a three military figures, on the left is Col. Nakamura, Japanese military attaché, center Brig Gen Walter Short(USA) and on the right Gen. Boetticher, German military attaché who is pointing to something off image. They are all watching U.S. Army maneuvers!
There is a considerable amount of material in this book and potential readers will, I believe like myself, find the hours well spent.
on April 7, 2013
Lynne Olson adds another superb volume to her series on how the Western democracies came to grips with the decision for war in the late 1930's and early 1940's. This volume is as worth reading as the earlier books, though her interpretation here of Roosevelt's course in preparing the country for war might be more debatable.
Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England, the first volume in this informal trilogy, described the struggle within Britain's Conservative party over the issue of appeasement and the eventual triumph of those recognizing the need for all-out resistance to German aggression, with the dramatic repudiation of Neville Chamberlain's leadership in the May 1940 Parliamentary debate over Britain's failure to resist the Nazis in Norway even as the Germans launched the invasion of Belgium and the Netherlands that would lead to the French collapse the following month (John Lukacs' Five Days in London: May 1940 provides an excellent complement to Olson's account with its inside story of the debate inside the new Churchill government about the possibility of initiating truce talks with the Germans). Then, Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour described the actions of those Americans who recognized early on the need for U.S. involvement in supporting Britain's fight, and the role they continued to play in supporting the U.S./British alliance through the war and in its immediate aftermath.
Those Angry Days now brings the story back home, and recounts the sharp and increasingly acrimonious debate inside the United States about the many steps taken during 1939, 1940 and 1941 that gradually edged the U.S. closer and closer to the Allied cause in resisting the Germans. As with her earlier books, Those Angry Days is a real page-turner, almost novelistic in its depiction of the bitter fight between the interventionist and isolationist camps and the many motivations the partisans in each camp brought to their perspective.
Those Angry Days also shares the earlier books' strength as Olson surrounds her depiction of the well-known political leaders with a gallery of portraits of lesser-known figures and the often-critical roles they played in the debate. She highlights the importance and truly inspiring statesmanship of Wendell Willkie, the Republican nominee against Roosevelt in 1940, who refused to make a political issue of the several critical initiatives (Lend Lease, the implementation of a peace-time draft) taken by the Roosevelt administration during the year to support Britain and strengthen U.S. military capabilities - had Willkie chosen to make political hay of these initiatives, U.S. efforts to prepare for war might have become even more delayed, which would have had disastrous results after Pearl Harbor. Willkie comes across as a truly impressive figure, with an ability to put national interest above party in a way we'd all like to see emulated today.
Olson's depiction of the many figures supporting the isolationist cause also is fair and well-rounded. She offers a good portrait of Senator Burton Wheeler, the inspiration for the Jimmy Stewart character in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, and other figures in the Senate and the House who resisted Lend Lease and other Administration initiatives for a variety of motives, but especially out of opposition to what they saw as Roosevelt's lust for power. Her descriptions of Charles Lindbergh, his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and her family (most of whom were strong supporters of the interventionist side and opponents to Lindbergh's position, to Anne's great discomfort) again offer well-rounded depictions of these key figures, with balanced assessments of what motivated and drove them (and the lingering after-effects of their actions, with one of Lindbergh's daughters recounting how, well after the war, college acquaintances refused to meet her father). Though I do think Olson portrays him fairly, Lindbergh comes across as a strange, very self-contained man, marching to the beat of his own drummer no matter what his wife or others counseled, with those character traits playing out after the war in his fathering of several secret families in Germany, only revealed after his death.
My one quarrel would be with Olson's depiction of FDR himself. She characterizes him as deeply wounded by his political losses in his second term, with the repudiation of the court-packing scheme (led by Wheeler and others who would become isolationist stalwarts) and the failure of his attempt to defeat key Congressional opponents in the 1938 midterm elections leading Roosevelt, in Olson's view, to a hyper-cautious approach to responding to the German attacks and the British need for aid and support. In Olson's portrait Roosevelt is a very reluctant interventionist, time and again saying the right things but failing to take action to give practical effect to his supportive words - Lend Lease was great in concept, for example, but the follow-through to put the U.S. economy on a war footing to meet the overwhelming demand for resources to be "lent" didn't happen for many months after passage of the required legislation. Others (see Ian Kershaw's Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions That Changed the World, 1940-1941 as an example) depict a much more purposeful Roosevelt, who had throughout a clear sense of where he needed to direct the country but tailored his actions to reflect the political realities of a population and a Congressional leadership that still sought to minimize the need for direct U.S. intervention. Olson overdoes her depiction of Roosevelt's hesitancy, I think, though it isn't a flaw that detracts significantly from the overall excellence of the book.
Though all three of these books are well worth reading, I think I'd rank this the third. Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England is almost novelistic in its flow, with the enormous suspense about the outcome of the debates on Norway (that climaxed in Chamberlain's resignation, clearing the way for Churchill) providing a "slam bang" ending. Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour is totally absorbing, with such a full depiction of the lives of Americans in London during the war and the roles of John "Gil" Winant and Averell Harriman in supporting the war effort (Winant is such an impressive and tragic figure). The story in Those Angry Days may just be a bit more widely known, so it's perhaps a half-notch down - in comparison to the two others - in its interest.