If the 'Special Relationship' has ever existed and been anything more than a product of the wishful thinking of British Prime Ministers, it was forged in the years of the Second World War, as a result of the relationship between Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt. I doubt our two countries have ever been closer - politically, military and personally as well.
This book charts the evolution of the real bonds of affection between Churchill and FDR, bonds which were often strained by political differences, but were real enough and enduring nonetheless. Meacham frequently resorts to the metaphor of lovers - of Churchill wooing FDR in the years before the USA entered the war, of FDR alternatively keeping Churchill at arm's length and reeling him in, of the tension and jealousies between the two, often over Stalin and the Soviet Union, and Churchill's deep and abiding sense of grief at FDR's death. One gets the sense that a lot of the urgency and legwork was on Churchill's part, which is understandable given that Britain was standing alone against Germany at the time and therefore needed FDR and the USA a lot more than they needed Britain.
It's quite interesting to see the portraits painted in this book - Churchill as somewhat insecure, needy, almost juvenile at times, the eternal overgrown schoolboy; Roosevelt aloof, arrogant, even sometimes cruel and capricious. Meacham does almost descend into caricature sometimes, but the overall effect of these two great men is quite inspiring. Both were required to lead the world through World War Two; it would hard to say what the world would have been like without Churchill warning of Germany's dangers through the 30s, without Churchill standing firm at the helm in the lonely months of 1940, and without Roosevelt lending all aid and support he could without committing the USA to war, and acting as referee between the competing interests and beliefs of Churchill and Stalin.
on 8 March 2012
Knowing that I enjoy American history and that I'd also read Roy Jenkin's excellent biography of Churchill, my wife bought me this book in a library sale. I was a bit underwhelmed by it on first glance. I thought it was quite a narrow subject and that it would be a bit dull. WRONG.
It is a compelling story of the diplomacy and the underlying relationships between the allied superpowers during the war. Obviously the focus is on the seemingly genuine friendship between Roosevelt and Churchill but this is really only the central theme and there is so much more in it. Especially enjoyable is the author's ability to immerse the reader in the world of these great men. You really do feel that you know them and their immediate circle of confidantes.
Absolutely fascinating. I couldn't put it down.