War and Peace: FDR’s Final Odyssey is the third and final installment in Nigel Hamilton’s FDR at War trilogy. It is a fitting and poignant end to a series which highlights FDR as Commander in Chief during WWII. Its main aim was to show how FDR was as much a military commander as a politician, and Nigel Hamilton certainly accomplished this.
Unlike almost everyone else involved in WWII, President Roosevelt had not been able to write his own account of the war, and this is what Nigel Hamilton has been trying to do for him. Undoubtedly Roosevelt would have written his own story, just as Churchill and many of his contemporaries had done, but in his efforts to lead the war to its conclusion, Roosevelt inadvertently became one of its final casualties. Roosevelt died on April 12th 1945, just days before the war in Europe was over. It is a consolation to know that he was aware the war would be over soon, predicting the dates with remarkable accuracy to Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King at the end of March 1945.
War and Peace deals with the final two to three years of the President’s life, focusing on how he guided the Allies from the first attacks in North Africa, through D-Day and so to the conclusion of the war. A main point of focus is FDR‘s health, which steadily deteriorated from mid-1944 on. Having read many books on FDR over the years, it was never more apparent than from reading War and Peace how very aware Roosevelt was himself of his impending death. Hamilton does a great job telling FDR’s story by weaving together eyewitness accounts and diary entries of all the major players involved, from Mackenzie King, to Lord Moran and many of the president’s doctors and confidantes.
When it comes to military matters, the story focuses on Roosevelt’s insistence on a Second Front, having to fight his own staff and Winston Churchill, who insisted on attacking Germany’s ‘soft underbelly,’ in the process. The book gives a good idea of the decisions which had to be made, and the process FDR went through to reach those while at the same time getting others in line behind him. Certain aspects about the war are more talked about than others, such as FDR’s decision to make General Eisenhower Supreme Commander and the final meeting of the Big Three at Yalta in February 1945, but in general no stone is left unturned. The book comprises about ninety short chapters, each dealing with a specific moment in time, and chronologically organized.
At 500 pages the book is a wonderful and fast read, even though it has a tendency to fall into repetition at certain times. It is evident from the very beginning that Mr. Hamilton is no fan of Winston Churchill, and sometimes this gives the feeling that the book is a little one-sided. Churchill might not have been the best military strategist, but if one were to base one’s opinion of Churchill solely on this book, he would barely get a passing grade! However, as a history of Roosevelt’s military leadership during WWII, War and Peace does a superb job. Having read both The Mantle of Command and Commander in Chief, this was a fitting end and a real tribute to the courage and visionary leadership of President Roosevelt.
I received a digital galley of this book via NetGalley.