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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Gail Cooke (TX, USA) - See all my reviews
With the opening words, "Christmas Eve 1941 broke cloudy and rainy in Washington, D.C. Since the dastardly Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor seventeen days earlier.....," readers became privy to, no, almost a party to the momentous meeting between Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. It lasted only ten days, but those were days that gave birth to the Grand Alliance and paved the way to victory in war some four years later.
History has well recorded the results of this conference, which went by the code name ARCADIA, yet readers will be fascinated by the intimate details of those days in the White House as unearthed by Bercuson and Herwig through diaries, meeting notes, letters and minutes.
We're reminded that a meeting between Roosevelt and Churchill might be subtitled "The clash of the titans." Both were world leaders with healthy egos and wary of one another, yet they worked together to hammer out this agreement despite the posturing of other officials in attendance and a less than warm relationship between Churchill and Eleanor Roosevelt.
It will come as scant surprise to most that Churchill could be a challenging house guest. We hear, "The White House was a changed place with Churchill in residence. Simply put, he turned it into the staff headquarters of the British Empire." Opinions of him among the White House staff were divided. Mrs. Nesbitt, reputedly the worst cook in White House history, had done little to please FDR. However, she took great pleasure and pains to serve special meals during Churchill's visit determining that their guest had a "poor-colored and hungry" appearance.
On the other hand, Lillian Rogers Parks, a maid, caused a ruckus upon learning that Churchill always needed a hot water bottle in bed, and had his Scotland Yard bodyguard inject mice with samples from his cigars. If the mouse didn't fall over dead, Churchill would smoke them.
It is such observations that make "One Christmas In Washington"vivid and colorful, it's a remarkable piece of history related in intimate detail. Don't miss it!
- Gail Cooke
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Churchill and Roosevelt make history, 24 Oct. 2012
David Herdson (Wakefield, Yorkshire, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: One Christmas in Washington: Churchill and Roosevelt Forge the Grand Alliance (Hardcover)
When Churchill heard that the Japanese fleet had bombed Pearl Harbour, he said he 'slept the sleep of the saved'. Perhaps. But even after Hitler's rash declaration of war on the United States, Churchill felt compelled to almost immediately cross the Atlantic in the depths of winter and against the U-boat threat in order to confer with Roosevelt and ensure the English-speaking peoples had a common plan for defeating the Axis.

The Washington conference that took place over the Christmas and New Year of 1941/2 is unjustly overshadowed by the three-power talks at Yalta, Potsdam and Tehran. The Atlantic Conference in August 1941 might have defined what the western allies were fighting for (or would fight for, in the US's case), but it was in Washington where they determined how they would do it. Bercuson and Herwig's history is therefore welcome in redressing that balance and raising the Washington conference back to its rightful place.

In fact, the conference itself doesn't begin until almost half way through the book. Before that, the reader's brought up to speed both with what went before - the Atlantic Conference, Pearl Harbour, and the preparations for the events in Washington - and with portraits of the main players; not just Churchill and Roosevelt but their key lieutenants as well. This would all be useful were there not far too many glaring factual errors (such as giving the date of Churchill's return to the cabinet as September 1940, or describing 28 December as 'four weeks after Pearl Harbour'), which undermine the reader's faith in the rest of the research.

It is worth persevering through the lengthy introduction to the meat of the story, as it's here that the reward comes. The facts of the event are interesting enough - the British and American parties did go through quite a journey during the conference before reaching the relatively successful conclusion - and the authors rightly emphasise that the alliance was no foregone conclusion. From the start, the Americans regarded the British as arrogant, demanding, presumptious and too interested in their empire. Likewise, the British viewed the Americans as amateur, naïve, disorganised and unprepared. Neither opinion was without merit but nor did they help matters. That the politicians and commanders were able to see past them and make the compromises necessary to reach agreement is testament to their statesmanship (with the exception of Cordell Hull, who comes across as petty and small-minded).

Even so, the real joy is in the detail, which is presented abundantly. It's clear that this is where the bulk of the research went and it pays off very well, with pretty much every scene painted for the reader so that he or she can almost smell, never mind see, the claustrophobic meetings, the frenetic activity of a White House turned upside down by Churchill's stay, the humour of the more social occasions, or simply the intrusions of everyday life into the epochal event. There is the nagging doubt about accuracy mentioned earlier (not least because these details can't be so readily cross-checked) but even if accepted as a portrait rather than a photograph, the picture's a pleasing one.

For both the narrative of the conference, and the detail surrounding it, I would recommend the book to anyone interested in the history of World War II, diplomacy in action or the lives of the key players, as they laid the basis not just for victory in war but for an enduring relationship between their two countries.
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