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The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm an America at War Hardcover – June 3, 2014
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Baime previously wrote on racing and the auto industry in Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans (2009). Here he explores the role of Detroit and the Ford Motor Company in the mammoth effort to transform the auto industry into munitions factories that produced the thousands of planes, tanks, and artillery that would be the deciding factor in the effort to defeat Nazi and Japanese aggression in WWII. At the core was an epic battle between father and son, the cantankerous industrialist Henry Ford, who despised war, and his sensitive son, Edsel, who could never emerge from his father’s shadow. It’s hard to imagine the massive scale and scope of the Willow Run plant built by the Fords for the express purpose of putting out “a bomber a day” or the idea that government and industry could ever again come together with such singular intent and purpose. Yet the war effort at home was not accomplished without a great deal of conflict of will, adversity, and sacrifice, which Baime details with great care and empathy for his principal subjects. --David Siegfried
"A.J. Baime’s prose is an amazing magic lantern shining through the flawed, frustrating and mesmerizing lives of an epic cast of characters; FDR; the anti-semitic Henry Ford; his gargoyle of a henchman Harry Bennett; the workers who would become America’s middle class; and, as well, Henry’s tragic son, Edsel, who lost his health and, ultimately, his life, trying to make good on his promise to deliver a "bomber an hour" during WWII. This is captivating history told at its most intimate level of detail; at the same time, Baime’s scope is grand and humane, even when he is bringing to life the most inhumane of people or moments. An engrossing, highly researched page-turner."
—Doug Stanton, author of In Harm’s Way and Horse Soldiers
"When you talk the history of Detroit, it's usually the stuff about beavers, the Model T, the '57 Chevy, the '67 riots and bankruptcy. But what A.J. Baime has done with a precise and entertaining pen is resurrect Detroit's most important era - WWII - and the obscure and tortured man who may have saved the world."
—Charlie LeDuff, author of Detroit: An American Autopsy
"Wars are fought on many fronts, and A.J. Baime chronicles this little known, but terrifically important battle to build America's bomber force with narrative zest and delicious detail. Put simply, it's a great read."
—Neal Bascomb, bestselling author of Hunting Eichmann and The Perfect Mile
"Fast-moving and rich with detail, Baime's book shows how the Fords worked a World War II miracle with rivets and steel. Engrossing."
—Stephan Talty, author of Agent Garbo and Empire of Blue Water
"A.J. Baime has a great way of telling a story. We didn't just win World War II because we had the best soldiers.We did it because we could build airplanes literally faster than the Germans could shoot them down. An exciting read."
“[Edsel Ford] has deserved a better legacy, and A.J. Baime has given it to him . . . The Arsenal of Democracy is a touching and absorbing portrait of one of the forgotten heroes of World War II . . . A.J. Baime has given us a memorable portrait not just of an industry going to war but of a remarkable figure who helped to make victory possible.”
—Wall Street Journal
"Accessible, surprising history . . . Forthright and absorbing."
"A.J. Baime has a gift for taking stories about cars and turning them into epic tales of man and his machine versus other man and his machine… The Arsenal of Democracy shows how capitalism and the American spirit really won WWII. You’ll never look at Detroit or our flag the same again."
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Top Customer Reviews
The book gives a lot of insight into FDR's plan to create the "arsenal of democracy" and how the Ford company and other major manufacturers were goaded and bullied into changing their product lines into weaponry and other war materiel. Henry Ford was in staunch opposition to this plan, in particular because he had a number of facilities in Germany and didn't like the idea of Ford bombers targeting Ford plants. Pearl Harbor changed everything, and even Henry Ford somewhat grudgingly gave in to Edsel's plans for a gigantic bomber factory in suburban Detroit. The book gives great detail concerning the building, manning and operation of the bomber factory, including supply problems, labor disputes and a race riot.
The book is extremely well documented, and yet maintains a can't-put-it-down fast pace from start to finish. I didn't want it to end, especially because I know from other sources and my own early life experience that the Ford company revolutionized the automobile world when it went back to auto manufacturing after WWII. The 1948 Ford was a radical new look in automotive history and set the stage for the incredible improvements of the second half of the twentieth century, even up to today. However, that's a subject for another book.
I never realized the extent of the contribution of American industry to the war effort in the 1940's. The author doesn't just glorify the participants and players. You read about the frailties and inevitable human failures, balanced against the will to overcome and succeed as one. Reading about the patriotism and unity that allowed this country to achieve stratospheric industrial production levels that confounded, humbled and ultimately overcame our enemies across 2 oceans and 3 continents brought forth tears. Tears not just for what we accomplished then, but also for how far we have fallen. Looking at our fractured and dysfunctional political system and self-serving polarization of the masses, I wonder if we could ever again achieve such grandeur, such strength and focus from a unified effort towards a common goal.
I loved the way the author was able to parallel the story of the Ford family dynamics along with the trajectory of the US involvement in the war and the ramping up once we were involved. I am a big fan of nonfiction history and loved that I discovered new tidbits about the war, our government and the automobile industry during an explosive time of growth and opportunity. The good, bad and ugly is all covered well without feeling mired in the detail but providing such great depth of information in a highly readable way.
Being born and raised in the Detroit/Dearborn area I was fascinated to learn more about the industry that growing up, I never really learned about, specifically the role the big 3 played in building up the war armaments for WWII. Seeing how depressed Detroit is and how low it has fallen, this book should be a must read to instill a sense of pride and amazement and what was once accomplished by a city that grew in staggering numbers to meet the demands of the war. The size of Willow Run is mind blowing and the author does such a great job in detailing the sheer scope of the undertaking that Edsel Ford signed on for.
If you enjoy a great story, this is it.