The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1941-1945 by Michael Beschloss (10) An abridged version of Beschloss's 377-page book on the US invovlement in World War Two under FDR and Truman. I really dislike abridgements, and if I had realized that was what this was, I would have skipped it. I feel as if I get no good sense of the whole book from listening to little bits and pieces, even if they are chosen (and, in this case, read) by the author.
That said, these had the feel of a workmanlike but not stellar piece of work. Beschloss has doubtless done his research, as he presents the perpectives of a number of different figures, but the writing is stilted and wooden, lacking any colour or style, filled constantly with passages of quotations, often from the same person from the same conversation, which feels odd. By which I mean something like:
George said, "I would rather ride than drive." George said, "I do not like driving." George said, "Riding is more agreeable." I'm not sure why one would write this way. The characterizations of the different actors are likewise wooden and bland.
That said, no one comes out of this book very well. FDR seems at his worst: feeble, grasping at straws to appear in control, promising different things to different people and following through on none of it, telling tales behind everyone's backs. Truman appears brisk, capable, and confident by comparison, but also parochial and bigoted. Morgenthau, FDR's Treasury Secretary, long-time friend and NYS neighbour doesn't come off well; at first afraid to press Roosevelt on the Holocaust, he seems finally pushed to do so by friends and supplicants and is transformed into a bitter, angry man, fixed on counterproductive eye-for-an-eye vengeance on Germany. Hnery Stimson, FDR's Secretary of War, seems a very prim, fussy traditionalist, and Cordell Hull, Roosevelt's Secretary of State a feeble, unhealthy man in a comic-opera role, responsible for executing America's foreign policy but shut out of all top-level diplomatic business by a president who didn't seem to trust him. Hull, while out of touch, had intelligence and principle; Stettinius, his replacement, is such a duffer that his staff hoodwink him into signing documents he hasn't read and doesn't suppport.
It will be interesting to contrast this (abridged) book with Michael Dobbs' history of much the same period, which is my next audio selection. It's already proved much more fascinating because it goes into tremendous detail about the preparations for the Yalta conference. Dobbs's portrait of Churchill makes him out to be both impossible, infuriating, and charming--rather like FDR, but with more backbone. It leaves me sorely tempted to try the Manchester bio of Churchill, which comes as a mammoth three-box set of CDs weighing something like five pounds. :-)
Six Months in 1945: FDR, Stalin, Churchill, and Truman--from World War to Cold War by Michael Dobbs
Dunkirk: Retreat to Victory by MG Julian Thompson
The Chinese Bell Murders by Robert van Gulik
Crisis on the Danube: Napoleon’s Austrian Campaign of 1809 by James R. Arnold
McSweeney's Mammoth Treasury of Thrilling Tales edited by Michael Chabon
The Children of Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston
Empire of the Mind: A History of Iran by Michael Axworthy
Boer Commando by Denneys Reitz