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Five Days in Philadelphia: The Amazing "We Want Willkie!" Convention of 1940 and How It Freed FDR to Save the Western World Hardcover – July 5, 2005

4.0 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From The New Yorker

The author's forebears left Italy, Poland, and Russia more than a century ago and settled in Jersey City, then a flourishing industrial center and transportation hub. They found work but met prejudice: the Irish, who, with the help of a brutal police force, controlled the corrupt political machine, despised the newcomers. Many of Stapinski's relatives became criminals, and in this candid, unsentimental memoir she suggests that boss rule created a climate for the "crimes and immoral acts" they committed. As Jersey City decays, family members go to college, leave the ethnic ghetto, and no longer find felony amusing.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

From Bookmarks Magazine

Peters, author of How Washington Really Works, attended the 1940 Democratic convention as a boy, managed John F. Kennedy’s 1960 primary in West Virginia’s largest county, then moved to Washington, D.C., to help launch the Peace Corps and found The Washington Monthly. He delivers an inspirational book in our era of scripted political conventions devoid of drama and excitement. Readers of Philip Roth’s novel The Plot Against America (**** Nov/Dec 2004), which offers a fictional look at that same campaign, may find Five Days to be the more insightful and imaginative book. Although Peters sometimes gets swept up in hyperbole, he tells an engrossing story in masterful prose.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; First Edition edition (July 5, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586481126
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586481124
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #164,005 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Steve Iaco on July 10, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Political mavens will recall Zell Miller's praise for Wendell Willkie at last summer's Republican Convention. Charles Peters provides the back story on Willkie's principled support for FDR's wartime initiatives during the 1940 election season.

Peters recounts how Willkie - the only internationalist in a field of avowed isolationists -- wrested the Republican nod from the grip of Dewey, Taft and Vandenberg, each of whom was implacably opposed to providing material assistance to the Allies as the Nazi juggernaut marched across Europe. France's astonishing capitulation the day before the Convention opened was the biggest factor, Peters avers, in galvanizing popular and delegate support behind Willkie - though it took six ballots to put him over the top. He also details the role of the Luce media empire and a sympathetic press generally, Wall Street and Eastern Establishment interests, and a grassroots campaign orchestrated by Elihu Root's (former Sec of State) grandson played in advancing Willkie's Darkhorse candidacy.

We also see the always-politically-dexterous FDR orchestrating a putative "draft" at the Democratic convention in Chicago, thereby sparing himself the indignity of having to actively seek an unprecedented third term. The nip-and-tuck struggle to add Henry Wallace to the ticket as VP is also recalled in fascinating detail. (Wallace's principal opponent was the father of actress Tallulah Bankhead, then the Speaker of the House, who would be dead less than 60 days after the convention.
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Format: Hardcover
Throughout my life Wendell Willkie has always been portrayed as a colorful footnote to history... a man who rose from near obscurity and, with the help of convention galleries cheering him on, overcame more staid Republican opposition to face Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the general election of 1940. After reading "Five Days in Philadelphia", I'm convinced that Willkie's place in American history should stay just about where it has rested for over sixty years.

Willkie's story (and political timing) make a good book and Charles Peters has done a very good job at enlightening the reader about Willkie's life, both personal and political. Born in 1892 to rather prominent citizens of Elwood, Indiana, Willkie eventually taught history in Coffeyville, Kansas before going on to become a lawyer. Peters points out that Willkie was in all ways larger than life, had a penchant for booze and cigarettes and had a lifelong "wandering eye" for women. His lengthy affair with Herald Tribune editor Irita Van Doren was kept private for the most part, although it is fascinating to think that the two major presidential candiates of 1940 could have had serious political troubles had their affairs been exposed.

Peters is at his best when he tells of the five days of the Republican convention in June, 1940. It's nice to be reminded of a time when the convention choices were actually decided at the conventions and not in an arduous primary system as we have today. The author captures the events dramatically....from the searing heat to the deal-making to the roaring demonstrations...all of this is related with wonderful intensity. Had it not been for key players like Sam Pryor and Joe Martin, Willkie would never have been able to overcome the forces of Thomas E.
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Format: Hardcover
That Wendell Wilkie was the only man on the Republican ticket in 1940 who made it possible for FDR to offer the military aid to Britain he wanted so desperately to give without it becoming so unpopular that he would lose the election, is an interesting idea, and although it's partially true (all the other Republican candidates were staunch isolationists), it's only hyperbole that, as Peters's subtitle declares, Wilkie's nomination "saved the Western world." Wilkie feared and hated Hitler, and the possibility that Britain would fall, as France had done, was very real, with grave consequences for the US. Thus he was all in favor of Roosevelt's wanting to help the British militarily, as well as reinstituting the draft (the first time there would ever be a peace-time draft in America). Peters is best when recounting the events at the Republican convention in Philadelphia, showing how Wilkie came out of nowhere to snag the nomination. He is also good at showing how Roosevelt came around to "accepting" a third-term nomination by the Democrats. Peters is a popular historian, however, and is weakest when attempting to sketch "background" to put events in context, and worst of all, when he even makes himself a part of the story at the beginning as an interested 13-year-old at the time. Although the book is not necessarily shallow, it's also not very deep: I read the book in one sitting. Interesting, but not essential.
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Format: Hardcover
The story of Wendell Wilkie and how he became the 1940 Republican candidate for President as FDR ran for an unprecedented third term is not on told often and mores the pity, really. It was an interesting time, one that author Charles Peters relates to us in an easy to read conversational manner. His folksy style causes one to imagine himself listening to a favorite next door neighbor or kindly grandfather tell an engrossing tale of yesteryear.

The story of one of the last consequential Party conventions in US history is an interesting tale but, unfortunately, I found author Peters not wholly up to the task. Folksy manner aside, he did not present a solidly convincing argument to support his thesis. Perhaps I am too used to more ponderous historical tomes but Peters' more journalistic and colloquial style just didn't satisfy.

This quick reading book does not seem to have much original scholarship. Most of the footnotes reveal the story to be gleaned from contemporary media accounts and secondary sources, but it certainly gives the reader a feel for how the country felt on the eve of the US entry into World War II. Peters also convincingly shows how out of touch the Republican Party of 1939-40 was with the fast as lightning, world shaking events that were occurring on a daily basis and how out of touch they were with many Americans. He also shows how Wilkie was just as much a media creation as a solid, grass roots candidate.

The author suffers from such hero worship of FDR, however, that he seems oblivious to the warts of the Roosevelt administration even as he relates them.
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