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Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II Hardcover – May 8, 2012
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“A rambunctious book that is itself alive with the animal spirits of the marketplace.”—The Wall Street Journal
“A rarely told industrial saga, rich with particulars of the growing pains and eventual triumphs of American industry . . . Arthur Herman has set out to right an injustice: the loss, down history’s memory hole, of the epic achievements of American business in helping the United States and its allies win World War II.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Magnificent . . . It’s not often that a historian comes up with a fresh approach to an absolutely critical element of the Allied victory in World War II, but Pulitzer finalist Herman . . . has done just that.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A compulsively readable tribute to ‘the miracle of mass production.’ ”—Publishers Weekly
“The production statistics cited by Mr. Herman . . . astound.”—The Economist
“[A] fantastic book.”—Forbes
“Freedom’s Forge is the story of how the ingenuity and energy of the American private sector was turned loose to equip the finest military force on the face of the earth. In an era of gathering threats and shrinking defense budgets, it is a timely lesson told by one of the great historians of our time.”—Donald Rumsfeld
“World War II could not have been won without the vital support and innovation of American industry. Arthur Herman’s engrossing and superbly researched account of how this came about, and the two men primarily responsible for orchestrating it, is one of the last great, untold stories of the war.”—Carlo D’Este, author of Patton: A Genius for War
“It takes a writer of Arthur Herman’s caliber to make a story essentially based on industrial production exciting, but this book is a truly thrilling story of the contribution made by American business to the destruction of Fascism. With America producing two-thirds of the Allies’ weapons in World War II, the contribution of those who played a vital part in winning the war, yet who never once donned a uniform, has been downplayed or ignored for long enough. Here is their story, with new heroes to admire—such as William Knudsen and Henry Kaiser—who personified the can-do spirit of those stirring times.”—Andrew Roberts, author of The Storm of War
About the Author
Arthur Herman, visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of How the Scots Invented the Modern World, which has sold more than half a million copies worldwide. His most recent work, Gandhi & Churchill, was the 2009 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction.
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Top customer reviews
The war started with the Axis powers well-armed and with substantials resource production capabilities. However, during the last two years of the war, the US overtook them in a big way and made war equipment faster than all the Axis powers combined. We were also able to supply our Allies with much of what they needed; especially England and Russia.
Many history books have characterized these men (such as William Knudsen and Henry Kaiser, among others) as robber barons. They did profit handsomely, but they did earn it and the reader is left with the sense they did what they had to because of a "calling"; they were driven and not just by profit.
What made these industrial giants' leadership interesting is that most of them were Republicans who were appointed by Progressive Democrats under the Roosevelt administration; you will have to read the book to see how all this turned out.
Freedom's Forge will provide the reader with a different perspective of what was going on behind the scenes of the WW ll effort; it is a good read.
Other countries, like Russia, produced some excellent war implements and lots of them. The best tank of the war was a Russian design that incorporated an American's chassis innovations that were rejected by the U.S. Army (not in the book). However, the U.S. pumped out ammo, ships, guns of all sizes, vehicles, materiel, armor, food, petroleum products, and aircraft unparalleled in their volume and variation. And it was not done nearly as much through central direction as one might think. That's the lesson of the book. Free enterprise came to the world's rescue in WWII.
Because of my own line of work, I was familiar with some parts of the story Herman tells: Ford's Willow Run bomber plant. The Hughes-Kaiser HK-1 "Hercules" (Spruce Goose). The development of Boeing's B-29 bomber. Even there, Herman had new insights to keep me interested: Why Packard built America's version of the Roll-Royce Merlin engine instead of Ford. Why Curtis LeMay had no shortage of magnesium incendiary bombs to drop on Tokyo. Mostly, Herman gets the stuff I knew about right.
(Not perfectly. There are some math errors and terminology goofs in the text that show Herman is no engineer. Like: "Waste" guns on a bomber.)
Politically, this is a distinctly different view of WW2. Herman is no fan of Franklin Roosevelt, "New Deal" political philosophy, or unions. You will not have heard of most of the men who take center stage in his story -- which is a shame, as they all seem to have been extraordinary individuals, to whom we owe a tremendous debt. (Not saints, though. Herman's "heroes" include men who loved having an inside channel to a government contract, some shady dealers, guys you wouldn't at your supper table, and one out-and-out anti-Semite. [You'd know the name.])
Still, it seems odd that such great deeds and colorful personalities have been swept from historical memory. Herman's opinion is that the memory-holing was a deliberate action by the Democrats' "New Deal" politicians and bureaucrats, along with their allies in journalism and academia, seeking to appropriate for themselves the credit for a war-winning achievement -- one they may have done more to hinder than to help. (It didn't hurt that many of the major figures among the industrialists worked themselves to death or died soon after war's end.) It's not entirely implausible; some economists of late have come to the opinion that FDR did more to prolong the Great Depression than to end it.
Reading "Freedom's Forge" give me an "Atlas Shrugged" vibe more than once: Heroic engineers. The Forties milieu. Rapacious bureaucrats and union bosses. I wonder what Ayn Rand knew about the behind-the-scenes story of WW2 industrial policy and if it informed her writing...
(This book can be profitably read along with J. Adam Tooze's "Wages of Destruction," which deals with German industrial mobilization. The contrasts are instructive -- and underline Herman's theme of the efficacy of capitalist voluntarism vs. totalitarian diktats. Albert Speer gets (technocratic) credit for boosting German munitions production -- at the cost of turning Europe into a slave-labor hell. Bill Knudsen, in America, achieved far more, and never ordered anyone to be stood up against a wall and shot.)