For two weeks in the summer of 1945, from July 17 to August 2, Winston Churchill, Harry Truman, and Josef Stalin gathered to reconstruct the world out of the ruins of World War II. They met “only a few miles,” as President Truman noted, “from the war-shattered seat of Nazi power” – around a baize-covered table in the Cecilienh of Palace at Potsdam, a suburb of Berlin, a place they later remembered vividly for its hardy mosquitos and muggy heat.
First in Tehran (November 1943), then in Yalta (February 1945), the Allied powers had met, engaging in the cordial horse-trading of properties and promises, to perpetuate a united military front against Germany. Potsdam, however, was different. With Germany defeated, the Allies knew victory in the Far East was imminent. The objective was no longer how to unite for victory, but how instead to divide the spoils and create a new balance of power. In The Deal, Charles L. Mee, Jr., demonstrates how, with national self-interest the primary motivation, peace was destined to be sacrificed to deliberate discord. If Allied harmony would stand in the way of expanding “spheres of influence,” then it would become necessary to maintain the political expedient of aggression. What did each power want and were these objectives of sufficient importance to warrant forfeiting peace? Would the outcome have been different had Churchill’s rhetoric been less powerfully disruptive, had Stalin been surer of domestic calm, had Truman been more open? Would the history of the world of the last sixty years been the same?
Here is Truman, meeting Stalin for the first time, keeping from him the report of the atomic bomb test, secretly deciding to drop the bomb on Japan, and maneuvering to prevent Stalin from joining the war in the Far East.
Here is Churchill, his health failing, his mind occupied with the fear that the coming election would end his career, and in the course of his often rambling talks, uttering for the first time the “iron curtain” phrase that was to describe world policy for years to come.
And here is Stalin, always the last to arrive, always surrounded by a massive guard, waving aside for the time being the idea of democratic elections in any countries the Communists controlled, losing out on his battle for the biggest reparations from Germany but winning a big slice of Germany for Poland and of Poland for Russia.
Through logbooks, eyewitness accounts, and conference transcripts, Mee vividly reconstructs this moment in history, when three men met to forge a peace and a new face for Western Europe, a tri-partite declaration of the Cold War.
New York Times bestselling historian Thomas Fleming brings his extraordinary biographical talents to bear upon Benjamin Franklin, perhaps the least understood of America’s revolutionary giants. For this reappraisal, Fleming concentrates on the mature Franklin, the man who lived nearly thirty years beyond the point where he ended his famous Autobiography. The poor boy, the miserly young printer, has become an decidedly more complex and cultured man. In scene after vivid scene, Fleming shows us how Franklin’s unique blend of faith and courage, humor and wisdom presided over the birth of the American nation.
Interwoven in this political history is an incredibly moving, almost forgotten personal drama – the conflict between Franklin and his son William, the royal governor of New Jersey, the “thorough courtier,” as Franklin called him. Year by year, we watch the two men drifting apart as the quarrel between England and America deepens – yet always reaching across the gulf with words of personal affection.
Finally comes the climactic confrontation, when a fully disillusioned Franklin returns from eleven years in England to confront the son for whom independence is a hated word. With him, Franklin brings William’s son Temple, educated in England. The bitter political quarrel soon forces father and grandfather to fight for the boy’s loyalty.
This personalization of history is Thomas Fleming’s hallmark.
Almost as revealing as the dramatization of Franklin’s battle with his son is the chronicle of Franklin’s years in England before the Revolution. We see the network of friendships he created, the deep feeling with which he and William visited the ancestral village of Ecton, the fascinating blend of emotion and reason in his crucial testimony before Parliament at the height of the Stamp Act furor in 1766.
Then we see this innate passion for England slowly fade during the next eight years as Franklin struggles to defend America from Parliament’s greedy prejudice and – another forgotten story – simultaneously to establish a fourteenth colony on the Ohio. As always, Fleming combines colorful anecdote and shrewd analysis of men and motives. And Franklin being Franklin, there is also the constant spice of humor.
We see him stopping at a country inn and emptying the chairs by the fire by booming: “Boy, get my horse a quart of oysters.” Solemnly, he informs Edward Gibbon that he would provide him with “ample materials” on the decline and fall of the British Empire. The war won, he cheerfully assures English friends that their only hope now was to dissolve Parliament for good and “send delegates to Congress.”
We see him using humor to cope with the egotism and paranoia of other Americans in Paris. Finally, we see him as mon cher papa, the friend and aspiring lover of two beautiful French women, wooing them with the wittiest essays ever written by a seventy-six-year-old suitor.
But in all the byplay, personal and political, one theme dominates: Franklin’s dedication to America – a commitment that transcended all others in his life and inspired him to dare the political lightning. It is what makes this book important reading now and in the future.
One of history’s most improbable and inspiring stories began with heavenly voices and visions. They were heard and seen by a young, illiterate French shepherdess. What they repeatedly and ever more insistently told her was mind-boggling: She must raise an army, liberate the city of Orléans, install a rightful French king, and drive the English from France.
She heeded what she believed to be divine orders, and during a single year – 1429 – she persuaded the callow French king-in-waiting that she was God’s emissary, donned a suit of armor, and led the French in a string of victories over the English in the conflict that future historians would call the Hundred Years’ War. The French hailed her as the Maid and saw her as the fulfillment of an ancient prophesy.
Two years later, she was condemned as a heretic and burned at the stake.
For a saga hinging on the fate of nations and God’s plan for the world, Joan’s tale unfolds in a surprisingly human way. The characters surrounding her are motivated by little more than power and politics. Again and again, they act – or fail to act – because of vanity, pride, ambition, petty disputes, or just plain dithering. Here is her remarkable story.
Winston Churchill possessed an iron will and a subtle conscience. His staunch patriotism, tenacity, appetite for a fight, and, above all, his towering rhetoric inspired the British people to mount a gallant defense of their island nation. Having set a new bar for national heroism, he earned a place in the pantheon of the world’s greatest leaders.
Churchill, a fearless soldier, was a veteran of countless battles and a rider in one of Britain’s last cavalry charges. He was also a gifted writer, a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, whose war reporting made his name and whose books outlived him. A bon vivant who loved his brandy and cigars, he was also a devoted husband whose marriage was a lifelong love affair. By any measure, Churchill was a giant.
But the man was far from perfect. He was a hero, yes, but a human one. He could be petty, irascible, and self-centered; it was bred in his bone that white Englishmen were born to lead the world and all others to be led. His mistakes cost billions of dollars and thousands of lives, but he had courage and a born politician’s sense of the public stage.
In the end, Churchill became a regal figure whose life came to symbolize defiance of tyranny in the face of impossible odds. Here is his story.
America’s Women tells the story of more than four centuries of history. It features a stunning array of personalities, from the women peering worriedly over the side of the Mayflower to feminists having a grand old time protesting beauty pageants and bridal fairs. Courageous, silly, funny, and heartbreaking, these women shaped the nation and our vision of what it means to be female in America.
By culling the most fascinating characters — the average as well as the celebrated — Gail Collins, the editorial page editor at the New York Times, charts a journey that shows how women lived, what they cared about, and how they felt about marriage, sex, and work. She begins with the lost colony of Roanoke and the early southern “tobacco brides” who came looking for a husband and sometimes — thanks to the stupendously high mortality rate — wound up marrying their way through three or four. Spanning wars, the pioneering days, the fight for suffrage, the Depression, the era of Rosie the Riveter, the civil rights movement, and the feminist rebellion of the 1970s, America’s Women describes the way women’s lives were altered by dress fashions, medical advances, rules of hygiene, social theories about sex and courtship, and the ever-changing attitudes toward education, work, and politics. While keeping her eye on the big picture, Collins still notes that corsets and uncomfortable shoes mattered a lot, too.
“The history of American women is about the fight for freedom,” Collins writes in her introduction, “but it’s less a war against oppressive men than a struggle to straighten out the perpetually mixed message about women’s roles that was accepted by almost everybody of both genders.”
Told chronologically through the compelling stories of individual lives that, linked together, provide a complete picture of the American woman’s experience, America’s Women is both a great read and a landmark work of history.