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A Call to Arms: Mobilizing America for World War II Hardcover – July 16, 2013
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“'We must be the great arsenal of democracy,' declared Franklin Roosevelt in December 1940. In the five wartime years that followed, his countrymen stocked that arsenal with astounding quantities of the instruments of war – even while expanding the civilian sector of the economy as well. For all the valor of its warriors on land, sea, and air, in the last analysis it was the stupefying productivity of America's behemoth economy that constituted the nation's greatest contribution to victory. Maury Klein tells the story of the World War II "production miracle" in all its complexity, contention, and drama. Meticulously researched, incisively argued, and fetchingly written, A Call to Arms is the authoritative account of one of America's most prodigious achievements.” ―David M. Kennedy, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of FREEDOM FROM FEAR: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945
“For those who believe the "grand narrative" has disappeared, I strongly recommend Maury Klein's elegant and endlessly fascinating account of America's mobilization for World War II. Combining a deft understanding of the enormous forces that won the war and changed the world's direction along with a jeweler's eye for the anecdotes that bring history alive, Klein has produced the best one-volume account to date. The shrewd analysis superb writing, and masterful storytelling sweep the reader along. History doesn't get much better than this.” ―David M. Oshinsky, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of POLIO: An American Story and A CONSPIRACY SO IMMENSE: The World of Joe McCarthy
“While the United States did indeed become the arsenal of democracy in World War II, it was far from a smooth or inevitable process. In this outstanding achievement of research, synthesis, and lucid writing, Maury Klein traces the fits and starts, bureaucratic infighting, and eventual unparalleled success of America's economic mobilization that outproduced all enemies combined and enabled the allies to win the war.” ―James M. McPherson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom and Tried By War: Abraham Lincoln as Commander-in-Chief
“Everyone knows that America's economic mobilization was the great force that won World War II--but there was so much more to it than that. In A Call to Arms, one of our greatest historians vividly captures the titanic struggle to turn a Depression-wracked country into a superpower. We see engineers accomplishing the seemingly impossible, managers cracking open production bottlenecks, the troubles and triumphs of weapon design and deployment, and squabbling politicians, businessmen, and labor leaders, all driven forward by the complicated man in the White House, President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Where others have seen only numbers, Maury Klein finds a story--a hell of a story.” ―T. J. Stiles, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt
“The story of how America became the ‘great arsenal of democracy' is the subject of A CALL TO ARMS, and I can't imagine it being told more thoroughly, authoritatively or definitively. Maury Klein crowns his long career with this massive examination of one of the most important aspects of 20th-century American history and one of the least documented or understood. In every respect, "A Call to Arms" is a remarkable and singularly important piece of work.” ―Washington Post,one of Jonathan Yardley's favorite books of 2013
“[A] magisterial account. Exhaustively researched and engagingly written, this marvelous book tells an epic story. It paints on a broad canvas, yet simultaneously limns detailed and fascinating miniatures of compelling people and places. It deserves a spot on the bookshelf alongside David Kennedy's Pulitzer Prize-winning "Freedom From Fear" as the definitive rendering of the World War II home front.” ―Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Maury Klein, the noted economic historian, has written a sweeping account of how America got ready for war. A CALL TO ARMS is history writ both large and small--from FDR at cocktail hour to ordinary workers on the assembly line, from portraits of cabinet chiefs to detailed discussions of industrial fabrication and the endless turf battles of New Deal agencies.” ―Wall Street Journal
“Except for a couple of nearly unreadable official histories, there is no comprehensive retelling of the ‘production Miracle' that made the United States the "Arsenal of Democracy.' Maury Klein's A CALL TO ARMS fills that gap. Moreover, it does so in a spectacular fashion. Klein's work does the same for the story of American production that Adam Tooze (Wages of Destruction, 2006) did for those trying to grasp the scope of Germany's World War II economic effort...for those seeking a comprehensive understanding of World War II, A CALL TO ARMS is a must read. Moreover, considering the subject matter, this is a great read.” ―Military History Quarterly
“[Klein's] coverage of the organization of American institutional, economic, military, and governmental might for WWII is both sobering and inspiring….reminiscent of Arthur Schlesinger's earlier, sweeping volumes on the early New Deal--uncommonly perceptive, enjoyably readable, and authoritative.” ―Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Thoroughly researched, objective and authoritative in tone, this is likely to be the definitive work on this topic for years to come.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“Very well written and exhaustively researched, this masterpiece demonstrates that accomplished scholarly work can also be accessible. Highly recommended to both academics and lay readers.” ―Library Journal (starred review)
“Klein is a writer, historian and, most enjoyably, a storyteller…The excellent, broader story [he] tells in A Call to Arms is about a country that fought with itself before it could fight its enemies abroad.” ―Dallas Morning News
About the Author
Maury Klein is renowned as one of the finest historians of American business and economy. He is the author of many books, including The Power Makers: Steam, Electricity, and the Men Who Invented Modern America; and Rainbow's End: The Crash of 1929. He is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Rhode Island. He lives in Saunderstown, Rhode Island.
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Did you know that developing the B-29 cost more than the Manhattan Project? Neither did I, but that’s a fact that I won’t soon forget now.
The usual characters are largely missing from Maury Klein’s great book. They were off fighting the war while another cast provided them with the guns, ammunition, planes, radar, dehydrated potatoes, onions, tires, jigs, machine tools and a million and one other products and services that made it possible for the Eisenhowers, Pattons, Bradleys, Nimitzes, Halseys, Arnolds, MacArthurs and all the other generals and privates and seamen to Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition, so we could all stay free.I hesitate to name many heroes of the home front for fear of leaving some off the list. I knew many of the names and was happy to see them get their due and take their bow as Klein showcased them. But one name was not familiar to me, and I want to point out Donald Nelson as one who gave much and was rewarded with almost nothing when all was said and done.
Most of the real heroes were supremely confident men – and women – who would not let bureaucracy stand in the way of their ideas on what must be done to increase production of the goods, commodities and services essential to defeating the Axis powers.
Klein also paints vignettes of how little people did their very best to support the war effort. These human interest stories bring out the best of the Greatest Generation, but he does not shrink from showing their human side in wanting their share and in exploiting black markets to satisfy their own hunger and perceived needs.
Klein’s description of the parallel development of the B-29 Super Fortress and the atomic bombs is riveting, and he comes down forcefully on the side of those who believe that using the bomb in combat saved tens of thousands of American lives.
Above all, he gives Franklin Roosevelt credit for being the visionary leader needed to get the home front moving when isolationists fought him every step of the way to thwart these policies. Klein is unstinting in his praise for FDR for being the absolutely essential communicator to bring the concept of total war to the American people.
My negatives are minuscule in comparison with the positives: the book is long and heavy and should have been issued in two volumes; the writing is well above pedestrian but does not shine as brightly as Klein’s scholarship; and finally there are more than a few instances of failed copy editing.
If you really want to know how America won the war, this book is essential for your education and must be held handy for ready reference; what a book.
The author also doesn't know a lot about naval engineering or warfare. Nor has he been to visit the wonderful old USS Olympia where it still sits in Philadelphia, which he listed as scrapped. (It was another historic warship from the Spanish-American war, the USS Oregon, that was sacrificed.)
That said... While less than completely excellent in terms of casual or pleasure reading, this was a very well researched work on a wide-ranging and under-covered aspect of WWII. Far too much of what's available on the Home Front is a mere paean to the achievement of seemingly impossible production goals via good old American can-do attitudes and know-how. This work lets you see behind the curtain to explore a much more plausible and human reality that encompasses the impact of numerous slackers, military miscalculators, crybaby politicians and black marketeers every bit as much as the hard-working saints we've heard so much about.
It's well-written, easy to read, broad and deep in scope. I highly recommend it.
About the same time as we read this book, we also read "Washington Goes To War" by newsman David Brinkley. It gives a more personal view into this time period. I recommend this too.
Subject of the book is very important and too often ignored by historians. So this work is a welcome addition to what little attention has been paid to the problems and successes of war production at home. For WWII buffs, this is a "must read", even if some chapters can be skipped over.