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Masters and Commanders: How Roosevelt, Churchill, Marshall and Alanbrooke Won the War in the West [Hardcover]

Andrew Roberts
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Book Description

25 Sep 2008

Masters and Commanders describes how four titanic figures shaped the grand strategy of the West during the Second World War. Why, when the most direct route from Britain to Germany was through north-western France, did the western allies first launch assaults on North Africa, Sicily and Rome? Why, if D-Day was intended to be the start of the Allies' great thrust into Germany, did four hundred thousand men land five hundred miles to the south, in southern France, two months later? Why did the Allies not take Berlin, Vienna or Prague, and allow the Iron Curtain to descend where it did?

One of the aims of the book is to show the degree to which the answers to these and many other key riddles of the Second World War turned on the personalities and relationships between two political masters - Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt - and the military commanders of their armed forces - the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, General Sir Alan Brooke, and the US Army Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall.

In reconstructing the debates between these four principals and many of the other leading senior Allied figures, Roberts draws upon the private papers of nearly seventy contemporaries and on verbatim accounts of Churchill's War Cabinet meetings never before reproduced in book form. The result is a strikingly intimate and enjoyable account, which recreates with dramatic immediacy the atmosphere, debates and manoeuvrings through which Allied grand strategy was forged, and shows clearly the impact of personality upon history.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 674 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane; 1st edition (25 Sep 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0713999691
  • ISBN-13: 978-0713999693
  • Product Dimensions: 4.7 x 16.2 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 305,696 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Andrew Roberts's Masters and Commanders was one of the most acclaimed, bestselling history books of 2008. His previous books include Salisbury: Victorian Titan (1999), which won the Wolfson History Prize and the James Stern Silver Pen Award for Non-Fiction, Hitler and Churchill: Secrets of Leadership (2003), which coincided with four-part BBC2 history series. He is one of Britain's most prominent journalists and broadcasters.

Product Description


'Couched in elegant prose, this book is a masterpiece of robust historical analysis, steeped in scholarship and alive to every nuance of personality' -- Daily Telegraph

'Roberts displays a profound understanding of the interactions between strategy and politics, and his interpretation of British/US strategic relations between 1941 and 1945 is unlikely to be superseded.'
-- Financial Times, Vernon Bogdanor

'The author has crafted a masterly and fresh interpretation of the grand strategy of World War II' -- John Crossland, Daily Mail

'his finest book yet'
-- Saul David, Sunday Telegraph

`This is an important book which ... sees Mr Roberts lay claim to the title of Britain's finest contemporary military historian.'
-- The Economist


'The strength of Masters and Commanders lies in the power of the narrative and the fascinating detail used to construct it ... Roberts has a shrewd grasp of the ins and outs of decision making'

`This is an important book which ... sees Mr Roberts lay claim to the title of Britain's finest contemporary military historian.'

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
56 of 70 people found the following review helpful
This fascinating book, thick with historical data and insights, makes a riveting read. Whilst having no wish to quarrel with previous reviewers, for this reviewer, the book's strength is to be found within the all too rare combination of the elucidation of pertinent details and the subsequent compilation and marshaling of this data in order to reach coherent conclusions. The hi-lighting of detailed minutiae is only of secondary value, it would appear, if any historical advances are unable to be procured from it. Fortunately, this fastidiously researched volume abounds in both.

It is a lengthy read, at round 670 pages, and is at times dense in the chronicled information it conveys. It is an honest read, too, and this reviewer proffers that an alternative title could well have been formed along the lines of 'How Roosevelt, Churchill, Marshall and Alanbrooke very nearly didn't Win the War in the West'! Indeed, some readers - especially those none too conversant with the internecine bickering that went on in and around the corridors of power prior to the D-Day Landings, for example - might be quite take aback at the apparent abrasiveness and the various fractious dealings which formed part of the staple diet of 'Allied' conferences, rhetoric and debate.

This reviewer would want to take issue with one or two points in previous press reviews which have suggested that, whilst Andrew Roberts' book remains a immense achievement, it establishes and thus contributes only slight, minor historical detail to the ongoing research into the WWII fray. Surely this is both to ignore key passages and sections of the book and to miss the point.
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45 of 60 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The National Reviews So Far 12 Oct 2008
Reviews of Masters and Commanders

`Writing with clarity and elegance, Mr Roberts conveys how his four principals and their armies of aides and staff officers thrashed out the formulae for victory. This is an important book which, in its layered references to Waterloo, the Crimea and the Somme, sees Mr Roberts lay claim to the title of Britain's finest contemporary military historian.'
The Economist

`Despite eschewing the visceral drama of the battlefield for the less deadly, if no less hard-fought, debates of various Allied conferences, cabinets and committees, Roberts has produced a surprisingly gripping read. He has marshalled his material superbly and his warts-and-all assessment of his four subjects is invariable spot-on. Exhaustively researched and judiciously written, with a gimlet eye for telling detail, this may be his finest book yet.'
Saul David, Sunday Telegraph

`In Masters and Commanders, Roberts offers us a compelling analysis of American and British strategy during the war. He also tells a profoundly human story - of two soldiers who loyally served their masters, only to be each denied at the end the prize that would have made one of them world famous.'
Laurence Rees, Sunday Times

`Roberts displays a profound understanding of the interactions between strategy and politics, and his interpretation of British/US strategic relations between 1941 and 1945 is unlikely to be superseded.'
Prof Vernon Bogdanor, Financial Times

`Couched in elegant prose, this book is a masterpiece of robust historical analysis, steeped in scholarship and alive to every nuance of personality. Roberts re-evaluates each of the masters and commanders with scrupulous fairness.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masters and commanders 10 Sep 2009
I thorouhgly enjoyed this book. It may be a little too detailed for a general reader but as a former History teacher I appreciated the enormous amount of work which has gone into researching the correspondence between the generals and between the politicians in charge of the British and American forces. I knew very little about the man in charge of the Combined British Forces, Sir Alan Brooke, and this book has done much to remedy that. Andrew Roberts clearly has a soft spot for Brooke but this does not prevent him from being objective in his writing. The book also shows the enormous and probably unappeciated strain which the war placed on both masters and commanders. I would recommend reading it before the other book, his History of the Second World War, as it places the overall outcome of events in a deeper context.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
This is a brilliant study of the wartime cooperation between Prime Minister Churchill, President Roosevelt, and their military commanders, General George C. Marshall and General Sir Alan Brooke. Roberts makes good use of the previously unused verbatim notes of War Cabinet meetings taken by Lawrence Burgis (assistant secretary to the Cabinet office) and the reports of Cabinet meetings made by deputy Cabinet secretary Norman Brooke, released in 2007. Roberts also uses the diaries of 27 senior figures and the unpublished papers of another 60.

After the battle of Britain, the USA and Britain had the luxuries of time and space. With Britain no longer under threat of imminent invasion, they could choose when and where to deploy their forces. The Soviet Union had no such freedom. The US and British governments were relying on the Soviets to win the war for them, or at least to weaken the German army enough to make D-Day possible.

Marshall and the US Chiefs of Staff wanted to concentrate the entire US-British war effort on the key point of the battlefield, Northwest Europe, as soon as possible, that is, in 1942 or 1943. But Churchill and Brooke saw a premature landing in France as the greatest danger.

So Churchill said that he agreed, writing to Roosevelt in April 1942 of a Second Front in September 1942 or even `before then'. Instead though, he continually proposed other operations, in North Africa, Italy, the Balkans, Norway ...

Marshall said that Torch, the North African campaign of 1942-43, `represented an abandonment of the strategy agreed in April'. Roberts adds, "and of course he was right.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The points of fracture of a coalition of armies.
This is about the relationships between the allied commanders who had very different viewpoints, different experience and even different value systems. Read more
Published 3 months ago by W. Scott
5.0 out of 5 stars I love this book and thoroughly recommend it.
Anybody with a real interest in this period of history will love this book, not for the battle field strategies so much, but the inter-personal relationships, the strains,... Read more
Published 5 months ago by willy
4.0 out of 5 stars Bought for someone else
Bought as a present for someone who rates it as 4 star. Not my scene.
Published on 28 July 2010 by Mrs. Audrey Williams
4.0 out of 5 stars Fresh approach to old history
What's new about this book is not really what it tells (not many surprises here.- debating the second front, misgivings between Britons and Americans, De Gaulle being a... Read more
Published on 4 May 2010 by Luis Daoiz
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent account of key characters.
Having read and very much enjoyed the companion work to this (his New History of the Second World War) getting this was a no-brainer. Read more
Published on 6 Jan 2010 by D. Parkin
5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable achievement
I've been wanting to read this book ever since it was published, but was a bit daunted by the sheer size of it. But I have finally gotten around to it, and am so glad I did. Read more
Published on 5 Dec 2009 by Rose Wood
5.0 out of 5 stars How the War in the West was won
Andrew Roberts does an excellent job in portraying the professional lives of Brooke, Churchill, Roosevelt and Marshall and the interactions between these four characters in their... Read more
Published on 19 Nov 2009 by Thomas Koetzsch
5.0 out of 5 stars Masters & Commanders
It is commonly asserted that about two-thirds of business mergers ultimately fail, usually because of an inability to mesh the cultures of the new partners. Read more
Published on 20 Sep 2009 by Thomas F. Mulrooney
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best
Beware, this book is not a history of WW II, nor does it deal with "the operational art" of battles and campaigns.

The subject of this book is British and U.S. Read more
Published on 26 Aug 2009 by N. S. A. Edgar
4.0 out of 5 stars Masters and Commanders:
A very interesting read that provides information not readily available from other sources. A fascinating insight into the 'people' and how and why they made their choices for the... Read more
Published on 17 Aug 2009 by L. B. Parfitt
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