Pearl Harbor: FDR Leads the Nation into War.

Author:Rosenberg, Emily S.
Position:Book review

Pearl Harbor: FDR Leads the Nation into War. By Steven M. Gillon. New York: Basic Books, 2011. 224 pp.

Steven Gillon's Pearl Harbor asks its readers to ponder qualities of presidential leadership and the importance of individuals in history. Historians often emphasize the placing of events in a long sweep and the examination of broad structures, he asserts, but it is also important to appreciate the role of personality and chance. By an in-depth examination of the twenty-four hour period after the attack on December 7, 1941, he seeks to show how Franklin Roosevelt's leadership and character--calm, decisive, and optimistic--soothed the chaos of the day and buoyed both his divided administration and the stunned nation. The Roosevelt that Gillon's book portrays becomes the essential man of the hour, one who led the nation to war and, within the first day after the Japanese attack, set the stage for victory in war and for America's rise to postwar superpowerdom. This twenty-four hour period, he extravagantly claims, "transformed America and its role in the world" (p. xi).

Gillon's felicitous writing style makes his story go down smoothly. He begins by setting the familiar scene of international politics in both the Atlantic and the Pacific. Once he gets to the twenty-four hours that form the heart of his study, his fast-moving account underscores the chaos in an administration that was short-staffed on a Sunday, the confusion in reports from Hawaii and from the Philippines, the stunned reactions among advisors, the president's pauses for medical attention, the media frenzy and rumors of peril that erupted across the country, the...

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