Monday, December 07, 2009

Franklin & Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship

When I die, I anticipate there will be a few books sitting next to me on my nightstand. Frankly, I wouldn't mind if Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship were one of them (and it may very well be!). (This statement is incredibly ironic because when my dad died earlier this year, he was surrounded by books about WW2 and as we sat with my dad and stared at these bookshelves I vowed that I would not have titles such mentioning death, talk of war, and/or with Nazi swastikas staring down at me when I died. But I'm safe because the title Franklin and Winston doesn't sound quite so dire or ominous.)

And yet, it is.

This book is the story of a powerful (in more ways than one!) friendship. Two war lords, leaders of empires, men of courage and stamina - friends. Neither of them stood entirely alone in their war against terror and evil and their partnership, as Meacham points out in this book, preserved the world and gave hope to future generations. Yes, they fought in a different generation, but just think about what would happened if these two men hadn't agreed to battle against Hitler and if Hitler had succeeded in his evil schemes? Thanks, in part, to Mr. Roosevelt and Mr. Churchill, we live in a free society (generally speaking).

As Meacham says in his introduction, there have been plenty of books written about FDR and plenty written about Winston Churchill. His goal in this book was to write about their friendship, unique as it was, as it explains a part of history as we know it. The book is set up well, first describing the two men as individuals and then launching into how the two men related to one another. Meacham is a superb writer and story-teller and carefully follows a historical time line in explaining various pieces of correspondence, insecurities and "lovers quarrels" between the two men as they disagreed on courses of action against Germany. This is the second book I've read by Meacham and I think he's a fabulous writer. Hand me anything written by him and I will read it! He just makes history come alive and makes it feel so entirely relevant (which, of course, it is!). I appreciate the thoughtful effort he poured into this book about FDR and Churchill.

Frankly, there is so much to talk about concerning this book that I hardly know where to begin. After having thought about it a little bit, I think I'm going to break this book down into a variety of posts. But for purposes of an introductory post, and without giving myself permission to quote the entire book to you, let's focus on the basics of what you need to know about the friendship between these two men.

As far as Franklin D. Roosevelt is concerned, let me be blunt and tell you that I don't like him. I never really have and I never really will. I don't agree with his politics and I despise his personal life. I find relatively little that is truly, thoroughly admirable about the man. Yes, he did lead this country through World War II. He made some brilliant statements and he made some good decisions but compared to Winston Churchill, FDR was a cad, a slower thinker and too concerned about public appearances to want to do what was right, simply for the sake of doing what was right.

Compare and contrast that to Winston Churchill who I find to be positively amazing. You would have a tough time convincing me that WC was not worth admiring. (I've already told Jonathan that when we have another son, he's going to have a hard time wrestling me away from the name Winston!) Winston drank, smoke, made some off colored jokes and was generally an eyebrow raiser of a man. However, all that aside, everything that I have ever had the pleasure of reading about the man assures me that I would have absolutely loved his company. I may not have agreed with him on all things involving ...well...a great many things. But he would have made me laugh with delight and amusement because he lived his life. Any differences would have been hastily laid aside because Winston had a few things going for him that I very much admired:

1. He was a great discerner. He could see things coming from a mile away and he always seemed to know the correct response.

2. He did NOT tolerate evil and when he was presented with the evidence of the slaughter of the innocent Polish, or of the Jews in concentration camps, he was moved with righteous anger. He never tolerated jokes about brutality. He lived in a black and white universe where good and evil existed and he had chosen his side and made certain there was no misinterpreting his meaning.

3. He was eloquent. It's true that his close friends found him a little too verbose at times, but I could sit and read/listen to his speeches all day and all night. He was a good, motivational speaker. I value that.

4. He had a wry sense of humor. He speaks and I laugh. That generally seems to be the way that it works.

5. He did not care about his public appearance and didn't follow opinion polls to decide what he would do. (Thankfully though, he seemed to have surrounded himself with some good advisers who helped to soften the blows he would attempt to throw out, and would reword his telegrams in order to make the best use of them.)

6. He was loyal, loyal, loyal, loyal, loyal. Oh yes. He was loyal.

7. He wore his heart on his sleeve.

As seven represents the number of completion, I'll stop there.

These two men were both excellent leader material. They loved the spotlight, the limelight and giving excellent sound bites. They thrived on competition and good argument. They balanced each other out in terms of personality and energy levels. What Winston brought to the table in terms of good ideas and strategy (and keen insight), Roosevelt brought stability, a well-researched and thought out decision and commitment to see the plan through (as initially agreed upon) to the bitter end. America gave Britain resources to fight the war. Britain gave America the courage and gumption needed to stare down the enemy. The two countries, and the two men, very much needed each other and Meacham lays this out in a manner that gives honor to both men and both countries very well.

I highly recommend Franklin and Winston for the following reasons:

1. It is an engaging way to learn about history.

2. It is a great lesson of friendship (and what friendship means).

I'm going to save writing about the lessons that this book teaches concerning friendship for another post but for now, you can rest assured that I absolutely loved this book (and have already re-read various passages from it!) and that if I were stranded on a desert island somewhere, I would want this book to be in my possession. It's a worthy friend and life companion and I am glad to have it.


Stacy said...

As much as I wanted to read about this unique relationship, I couldn't read the book for two reasons...1. I like my Churchill straight with FDR in the background and 2. I dislike Meacham about as much as I dislike FDR. But I loved being able to read about this book through your review...thank you:)

Greg Zimmerman said...

Wonderful review! My GF just finished this book and had many of the same reactions you did - she came out admiring Churchill much more than FDR.

I've never read Meacham, other than his editorial columns in Newsweek. I've had American Lion on my shelf for years, and your review of that one made me dust it off and add it back to my TBR pile.

(Cool blog, too - I just found you after your post on Book Blogs. I'm following now and looking forward to what you have to say!)


Sky said...

I have been looking forward to this review! Thanks, you described it well and left me wanting to find out more for myself, definitely a book I will have to pick up!

Anna said...

Great review! This sounds like a fascinating book, and since I read a lot about WWII, I'll keep it in mind.

I hope it's okay that I linked to your review on War Through the Generations.

Diary of an Eccentric

Sarah M. said...

I'm convinced. Thanks for the great review! I'm adding it to my TBR list. :)

Unknown said...

I read the book a while back and really enjoyed it. I am a great fan of Churchill and like some of the other folks who commented I think Churchill comes out the better person.
I recently published a book on Churchill myself called Churchill's Secret Skills it's about the 3001'st book written about him, but has a different angle as it takes the largely unknown skills he used to help win the war and applies them to modern business. It's packed with interesting and unusual stories to keep the reader interested. The blog Angoltopia gave it 5 out of 5

Binden Shovel

Carrie said...

Book Psmith I responded to via e-mail and thank you for the support in naming our next son Winston. I'll put Jonathan in contact with you when the time comes! =)

GZ - Thanks for stopping by and making friends!

Sky. Yes. You are my Winston friend.

Anna - Thank you so much!

S. Mehrens - YESSssss, I think you WOULD like it!

Binden - Thank you so much for letting me know about your book! Off to check it out....

Aaron Klein said...

One of my favorite books ever - which is saying something. Great review.

And it's two bad Winston doesn't begin with J.

hopeinbrazil said...

Dear Carrie, Thank you for calling attention to this author and this book. I'm familiar with neither, but it sounds like I'd enjoy this since I'm a fan of WWII history. Another thing I LOVE about Churchill was how much he loved his wife. You may be addressing that in a further post or it may not have been mentioned in this particular book. But it came out quite strongly in a bio I read about him a few years ago.

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