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NEWS ON JOSEPH E. PERSICO’S BOOKS
Joseph E. Persico’s latest,
ROOSEVELT’S CENTURIONS: FDR and the Commanders He Led to Victory in World War II, has been chosen by the History and Military book clubs as their main selection.
On May 28, 2013, Random House will publish
New York Times best selling author Joseph E. Persico's latest work:
FDR and the Commanders He Led to Victory
in Word War II
Random House interviews author
Joseph E. Persico on ROOSEVELT’S CENTURIONS: FDR and the
Commanders He Led to Victory in World War II
What led you to write Roosevelt’s Centurions?
Persico: I had
already written books on the Civil War and World War I.
But my overriding
interest had always been in World War II. That plus the fact
that Franklin Roosevelt had fascinated me – and that I had
already written two books about him led me to ask how good a
had he been in the Second World War?
RH: And how
good was he?
depends on how you rate him in three wartime roles: as
Recruiter-in-Chief, as Morale Officer, and as
take Recruiter-in-Chief first?
his choice to run the Army, General George C. Marshall, he chose
brilliantly. Marshall not only built a puny army to a powerful
force, he was also FDR’s sturdy oak on all war time decision.
FDR appointed Admiral Ernest King to run the Navy, a crusty old
sea dog and a fighter, although Admiral Chester Nimitz would
have been just as good. And in Hap Arnold he picked a general
who became essentially the founding father of the U.S. Air
Interestingly, his appointees
stayed in place from the first to the last day of the war, while
Winston Churchill fired generals and admirals left and right.
What did you mean by Morale Officer?
wartime president has to inspire the people that the disruptions
of normal life, the sacrifice, the inevitable battle deaths are
worth enduring. In his speech declaring war on Japan after Pearl
Harbor, he stirred the American people vowing that whatever it
took, the country would go on to inevitable victory. In his
radio Fireside Chats he invited Americans to get out a map and
follow the War’s progress with him. He made
modest steps to integrate the armed forces, but not
enough. His greatest spur to home front morale was the GI
Bill of Rights which promised veterans that they would
not be forgotten the day they took off their uniforms. Post war,
millions of men and women who would have gone back to lower
level jobs instead became, doctors, teachers, engineers, lawyers
and other professionals because the GI Bill put them through
RH: And FDR
as Strategist-in Chief?
pretty much left the tactical decisions, the day to day
fighting, to his
commanders. But he took the major strategic decisions into his
own hands. For example, he decided to beat Germany first, his
insistence on Unconditional Surrender by our enemies, where to
invade and when were his decisions.
RH: How good
were these decisions?
JP: It is
a mixed record. Beating Germany first made sense because
defeating Hitler would eventually mean the defeat of Japan. But
defeating Japan would not have meant the defeat of Germany. His
launching of the Manhattan Project to build an atom bomb
certainly brought Japan to her knees over night. Unconditional
surrender is debated to this day as to whether or not it
prolonged enemy resistance But if you don’t demand unconditional
surrender, then you have to negotiate. And who were we going to
negotiate with, Hitler? Himmler? Goering? Goebbels? And these
Nazis remained in the saddle until the last days of the War in
RH: Did FDR
make any strategic mistakes?
commanders were unanimous in urging an invasion across the
English Channel, then across occupied Western Europe and on to
Berlin. Against these leaders’ strong objections, FDR decided to
put U.S. troops into the European war first in North Africa.
Then he again bucked their advice by invading Sicily followed by
attacking Italy proper.
RH: Why did
he buck his commanders to make these decisions?
were campaigns that Winston Churchill urged. Churchill
knew that securing the
Mediterranean sea lanes would protect the life line of the
British Empire. Churchill cleverly pitched these campaigns as
militarily sound rather than aimed at preserving the Empire. FDR
went along because he was anxious to engage American troops
quickly somewhere and saw Churchill as more experienced in
mioitary affairs --
a commissioned army officer, a veteran of the Boer War, twice
First Lord of the Admiralty and Prime Minister of a country at
war well before we entered the conflict.
RH: So what
was the impact of these questionable decisions by FDR?
campaigns into North Africa, Sicily and Italy, postponed D-Day,
the invasion of Normandy, by at least a year. Thus they may have
extended the War by that amount of time.
RH: So where
in your judgment does Roosevelt rank as a wartime leader?
told, taking into account his brilliant choices of commanders,
his inspirational leadership of the American people, and despite
certain questionable strategic decisions, he was on balance the
right commander-in-chief at the right time. It is hard to
quarrel with victory.
FDR and the Commanders He Led to Victory
in World War II
World War II, the largest and most consequential conflict in human history, was the ultimate test of presidential leadership. In Roosevelt's Centurions, distinguished historian Joseph E. Persico shows how President Franklin D. Roosevelt and a cadre of handpicked commanders aced that test, guiding America's armed forces to a smashing victory that was anything but foreordained.
Having remade the American economy in the wake of an unprecedented financial collapse, Roosevelt had assured his place in history even before the attack on Pearl Harbor. But America's entry into the fight against the Axis compelled him to focus his formidable political skills on an even more monumental task: assembling and managing a team of proud and sometimes prickly warriors who could execute a plan for victory. Taking us inside the Allied war councils, Persico shows how "Dr. Win the War"—as FDR now styled himself—selected his commanders, brokered strategy with contentious allies, and rallied public support for the war effort. Though often derided for his haphazard management style, the Roosevelt who emerges in these pages is a master delegator with a supple strategic mind who is not shy about overruling the wishes of his military advisors.
To complement his portrayal of an active and engaged FDR, Persico offers indelible portraits of some of the outsize figures of World War II, the men who roused the "sleeping giant" that defeated the Axis war machine: the dutiful yet independent-minded Army Chief George C. Marshall, charged with revitalizing a force whose troops trained with broomsticks for rifles and eggs for hand grenades; Dwight Eisenhower, the genial Kansan elevated from obscurity to command the greatest fighting force ever assembled; and the mercurial, vainglorious Douglas MacArthur. Here too are the less widely celebrated military leaders whose contributions were just as critical: the irascible, dictatorial Navy Chief Ernest King; acerbic China expert "Vinegar" Joe Stilwell; and Hap Arnold, an early and zealous proponent of the gospel of air power and its potential to revolutionize modern warfare.
What are the qualities we look for in a commander-in-chief? In an era of renewed conflict when Americans are again confronting the questions that FDR faced—about the nature and exercise of global power—Roosevelt's Centurions is a timely and revealing examination of what it takes to be a war leader in a messy, complicated, and tumultuous democracy.
Advance Praise for Roosevelt’s Centurions
"When I was a boy
growing up in the South Bronx, my heroes were Roosevelt's
Centurions. As a soldier for thirty-five years, I made them my
mentors and models. These men were human, fallible, and occasionally
vain, but we were certainly blessed to have such Americans leading
the Greatest Generation during the world's greatest conflict. Of
course the greatest centurion of all was FDR himself, who knew how
to lead his commanders, stroke their egos, and get the best from
them, yet never leaving any doubt as to who was commander in chief.
Joe Persico, my valued collaborator on my memoirs, has brought his
formidable talents to bear to bring the Centurions to life. He is at
the top of his game in this defining classic."
Colin L. Powell, General, USA (Retired)
" Joseph E. Persico has done it again! Roosevelt’s
Centurions is a riveting, analytic recounting of FDR as top
World War II strategist. Nobody before has written on Roosevelt as
talent scout with the brilliant insight of Persico. I found
Persico’s elucidation of the FDR-George Marshall relationship
marvelous. A grand book for the ages!"
Douglas Brinkley, author of Cronkite
"Benefiting from his years of studying Franklin
Roosevelt and his times, Joseph Persico has brought us a
briskly-paced story with much wisdom and new insights on FDR, his
military liege men, World War II and political and military
Michael Beschloss, author of
"To a remarkable degree we inhabit a world
originated by Franklin D Roosevelt - on World War II battlefields,
in the gilded halls of diplomacy; above all, inside FDR's fertile,
inscrutable imagination. Joe Persico brings all this to life with
stunning originality, insight, and narrative drive. Familiar names-
Marshall, Patton, Eisenhower, Churchill - are here rescued from
caricature. So are the strategic and political decisions that inform
today's debate over civil liberties in wartime. The last word on
Roosevelt's war, it's safe to say, will never be written. But it's
hard to imagine anyone writing any better ones than these."
Richard Norton Smith, author of THE COLONEL: The Life and Legend
Robert R. McCormick, 1880-1955
"With rigorous research, a fine eye for detail,
and an entertaining ability to recount history, Joe Persico deftly
portrays the men behind the man, in addition to skillfully
presenting the star himself, FDR, as recruiter-in-chief. A must-read
for Americans concerned about war leadership then and now."
Evan Thomas, author of Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret
Struggle to Save the World
"Whatever his flaws, Franklin Roosevelt had an eye for talent,
according to this sweeping, top-down account of 1939–45 from the
point of view of FDR, his cabinet and his leading generals and
admirals.. . . Long wars demand long books, but these are 550 pages
of lively prose by a good writer who knows his subject. . . . A
fine, straightforward politics-and-great-men history."
* * *
Washington Times April
24, 2013 Group Review: Roosevelt’s
Centurions: FDR and the Commanders he Led to Victory in
World War II
“By far the best of the four [books] comes from Joseph
Persico, who has written extensively and with insight about
both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt as well as with
authority about both World Wars . . . Mr. Persico makes a
persuasive case that FDR was clearly in charge of the most
important decisions of the American war plan.”
* * *
World War 11 Magazine July/August
reviews Joseph E. Persico’sRoosevelt’s Centurions: FDR
and the Commanders He Led to Victory in World War II.
“Well-paced, thoughtful, and often
shrewd, this leading historian’s engaging look at FDR’s role
as America’s chief war strategist spotlights how he chose
and worked with military leaders through the war’s twists
Excerpts of Reviews of Books By Joseph E. Persico
FRANKLIN AND LUCY: FDR and the Remarkable Women in His Life
“Persico’s exploration of FDR’s emotional life is fascinating.”
“Persico . . . understands that Lucy Mercer helped FDR awaken his capacity for love and
compassion, and thus helped him become the man to whom the nation will be eternally in debt.”
Washington Post Book World
NUREMBERG: Infamy on Trial
The Viking Press
“This work will probably command, and deserves,
a wider readership than any of its predecessors. Every generation
needs a book like this.”
“It is not often that a book works at once
as historical tract, morality play and crime thriller. This one
MY AMERICAN JOURNEY (Colin Powell with Joseph
E. Persico co-author)
“My American Journey is an endearing and well written book,
written with Joseph E. Persico, the author of several fine
New York Times
“Ably written with Joseph E. Persico,
American Journey finally fleshes out for us who, indeed, is Colin
EDWARD R. MURROW: An American Original
“A distinguished and compellingly readable
biography. Persico brings to Murrow the intellectual discipline of
the historian, the polished and memorable prose of the accomplished
Los Angeles Times
“Written with insight and perceptiveness. Mr.
Persico is an able reporter and a fine story teller whose taste, tact
and skill have produced a memorable biography.”
THE IMPERIAL ROCKEFELLER: The Life of Nelson Rockefeller
New York Times
Simon and Schuster
“Persico tells his story brilliantly. No one has
written a book like this about Nelson Rockefeller before.”
PIERCING THE REICH: The Penetration of Nazi Germany by American Secret Agents During World War II
New York Times
“Those of us who devour spy stories like cashew
nuts are in Mr. Persico’s debt. Brilliantly researched and cleverly
“A masterwork. It is surely the most vivid
testimonial yet to the OSS. This is heart pounding stuff.”
MY ENEMY, MY BROTHER: Men and days of Gettysburg
“This vivid, absorbing action-packed narrative
of the greatest battle ever fought in North America practically
transports the reader onto the scene, causing sweating palms and a
sense of looming danger.”
“My Enemy, My Brother is an eloquent documentary,
forming the facts into a mosaic that shows the terribleness of war.”
THE SPIDERWEB (A novel)
New York Times
“Mr. Persico tells his story better than
most writers who in recent years have been dabbling in World War
II adventure tales. He has a certain amount of sympathy for the
human condition . . . the writing is crisp, and the plot moves
New York Times
“ A neatly built thriller, and it also
has something worthwhile to say.”
Joseph E. Persico Historian/Biographer
latest book is Roosevelt's Centurions: FDR and
the Commanders He Led to Victory in World War II, published by
Random House and on sale as of May 28, 2013.
Prior to beginning his career as a historian and biographer,
Joseph E. Persico was chief speechwriter for New York governor and
later U.S. vice president, Nelson A. Rockefeller.
Of Persico's writing career, Eric Sevaried described his
R. Murrow: An American Original as "the definitive" biography of
the broadcast pioneer. The New York Times said of Persico's
Imperial Rockefeller, "No one has written a book like this about
Nelson Rockefeller before." His Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial was
described by the broadcast journalist, Howard K. Smith, as "Simply
the best account of the trial." This book was adapted by
Network Television as a miniseries that won two Emmy awards. Persico was the collaborator on former Secretary of State Colin
Powell's autobiography, My American Journey which remained twenty
weeks on the New York Times best seller list. His
War: FDR and World War II Espionage also reached the best seller list
and was chosen as one of the notable books of the year. His,
Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour, on Armistice Day, World
War I, has been described by historian, Richard Norton Smith as,
"The single finest work I have read on the Great War." The
Washington Post's Book World said of his Franklin and Lucy:
President Roosevelt, Mrs. Rutherfurd, "Persico... understands
that Lucy Mercer helped FDR awaken his capacity for love and
compassion, and thus helped him become the man to whom the nation
will be eternally in debt."
His articles have been published in American Heritage Magazine and the
Military History Quarterly. He is a frequent reviewer for the
New York Times Book Review and the
Washington Post Book World and is a commentator on several
PBS and History Channel documentaries.
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