Book Reviews

Jon Meacham, Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic FriendshipJon Meacham, Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship (New York: Random, 2003), 490pp.

           Part biography, part personal diplomacy intrigue, part military history, and mainly a testament to the power of friendship, Jon Meacham, the managing editor of Newsweek, has written an endearing book about a remarkable friendship that, quite literally, saved the world. Fifty-five million people were killed in World War II (the Soviets alone lost twelve million soldiers), and were it not for Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, many more might have died. But their vision, wisdom, determination and collegiality won the day.

           Churchill and Roosevelt were very different men, and they had their differences of opinion, especially over Stalin and his intentions (on that score Churchill was correct about later Soviet aggression, suggesting that Stalin was stitching an "Iron Curtain."). Roosevelt was a great internationalist who believed in the right of national self-determination, whereas Churchill always championed global British colonialism. Churchill complained about how slow the US was to enter the war, and the price Britain paid to go it alone for a year or so with no promise of help. Churchill, a man of huge appetites (especially for cigars and alcohol), florid speeches, and wild mood swings; Roosevelt, an emotionally distant man and master manipulator of stagecraft as statecraft. But they stood shoulder to shoulder with unveiled and nearly unqualified mutual admiration. "He is the truest friend; he has the farthest vision; he is the greatest man," said Churchill of Roosevelt, "that I have ever known" (p. 213). In a toast with Stalin and Churchill, Roosevelt spoke of his "long admiration for Winston Churchill and his joy in the friendship which had developed between them in the midst of their common efforts in this war" (p. 263).

           Roosevelt died a few months before the liberation at the age of sixty-three (just weeks before Hitler committed suicide in his Berlin bunker), whereas Churchill was voted out of office after the war and lived another twenty years. "World War II was marked by incalculable bloodshed, immeasurable suffering, and the horrifying and unforgivable sacrifice of the innocent," writes Meacham. "Faced with a world at war, however, Churchill and Roosevelt did their best, together, to find a means to guide a coalition of nations through one of the defining storms of human history. Sometimes one was right, sometimes the other. But they always stayed in the arena, grappling with each other and with Stalin to find a way to win. Had they failed, or truly fallen out with each other, we could be living in a different world" (p. 283). But their epic friendship endured, and to them both the world owes a debt of gratitude.