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Roosevelt's Secret War:
Joseph E. Persico presents FDR as one of America's great spymasters. "Few leaders were better adapted temperamentally to espionage than Franklin Roosevelt," writes Persico, author of Nuremberg and Colin Powell's autobiographical collaborator. "FDR compartmentalized information, misled associates, manipulated people, conducted intrigues, used private lines of communication, scattered responsibility, duplicated assignments, provoked rivalries, held the cards while showing few, and left few fingerprints." He was a kind of principled Machiavellian who hoped to achieve several clear ends, such as getting the United States into the Second World War, even though most of the public wanted nothing to do with it (before Pearl Harbor). FDR then pursued these goals with the fervor of an opportunist: "the devious route to a desirable goal; inconstant behavior directed toward constant ends; the warship hiding behind a smoke screen but steered by a moral compass."
A good example of this is his relationship with the celebrated aviator Charles Lindbergh. Roosevelt asked J. Edgar Hoover to keep tabs on Lindbergh because he was a critic of the administration, and FDR suspected he was a closeted Nazi (not true, but perhaps an understandable opinion). Roosevelt's Secret War reveals how FDR created a huge intelligence operation and then ran it--he "built espionage into the structure of American government," says Persico. There were plenty of successes (Roosevelt knew about Hitler's plans to invade Russia before they did it), but also failings: Soviet agents burrowed into FDR's administration at the highest levels. One of the best sections of the book addresses a perennial question: Did FDR know the Japanese were about to bomb Pearl Harbor and let them do it because he believed the sneak attack would propel the public into supporting war against the Axis powers? Persico argues that FDR didn't know: "The clues seem to lead to that conclusion like lights on a well-marked runway." He makes a convincing case that "Pearl Harbor was a catastrophe, not a conspiracy." Roosevelt's Secret War is a unique contribution to our understanding of FDR--no other book treats America's longest-serving president as a spymaster--and it will appeal to readers interested in the Second World War and the cloak-and-dagger world of espionage. --John Miller [via]