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Roosevelt and Churchill: Men of Secrets

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Roosevelt and Churchill: Men of Secrets , By David Stafford. (Overlook Press; Reissue edition, 2002. Pg. 359.) ISBN: 1-5856-7249-1

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - September 24, 2001

Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill are two of the biggest names to have emerged from the flames of World War II. On a simplest level, they were the leaders of the 'free' world, during this tumultuous period, and in large measure, it was their leadership that helped to ensure an Allied victory. History has recorded their public persona, but little, until now, was known about the men themselves, how they thought, and how they acted under the pressures of a World War. In Roosevelt and Churchill: Men of Secrets David Stafford has penned a compelling and thought-provoking look at these two men.

Stafford is an expert in the realm of British intelligence during World War II. He has also written a slew of well-received books on British wartime intelligence efforts and about intelligence history in general. In Roosevelt and Churchill, Stafford has made full use of his years of experience to this work, experience which has been greatly aided by the recent release, to the public, of documents about these two great men which had, until recently, been classified as secret. This book has been throughly researched, and Stafford documents his sources thoroughly. As well, Stafford is a delightful writer. His prose is fluid and he brings to life the real personas of these two historical titans.

Roosevelt and Churchill is a book that breaks many of the long-standing notions about these two men. It offers insights into their backgrounds, political feelings, and, most important, how they made use of various intelligence networks - both to prosecute the war and in bolstering their political positions. For instance, historically, it was felt that Roosevelt and Churchill magnanimously support each other, without any regard to their own political standing. However, in this book, Stafford shows that while they helped each other, they only did so when it was in their own best interest, and the entire time they fought tooth and nail to protect their own domains, both physically, and intellectually, from the picture that one might be subservient to the other. For instance, Roosevelt never went to London during the war. Not for safety reasons, but because he thought that by doing so it might look as if he was in 'Churchill's imperial pocket!" Yet, despite their efforts to maintain their own power base, they still engaged in a hitherto unprecedented sharing of information. As well, these two men, so different yet so similar to each other, managed to put their country's welfare over their own. Hence, they were able to forge an impregnable alliance that was instrumental in the Allies' successes.

The most intriguing glimpses provided in this book are the ones that Stafford offers of how these men used the intelligence services at their disposal, both as a weapon of war, and as personal tools. Both men were prima donnas, and both used their national intelligence agencies to spy on each other, and upon the enemy. Stafford also illustrates just how much, and type, of war related intelligence that each man was privy to. Roosevelt's access was primarily restricted to diplomatic intelligence, and Stafford is quick to point at that Roosevelt had no prior knowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Unlike Roosevelt, Churchill had access to all forms of intelligence. In part, he was able to handle, and process this information based upon his experiences as an intelligence agent when he was young man. This different in access gave each man a unique insight into the war, and greatly influenced their actions.

Besides offering personal insights into the lives and thoughts of Roosevelt and Churchill, and the intelligence networks at their disposal, Stafford also looks at the people who surrounded them. He shows what it was like to work for these two men, and the similarities and differences in their management styles. He introduces many of the big names in the intelligence movement, such as William Donovan and Sir William Stevenson, and the roles they played. He also illustrates how both Roosevelt and Churchill, and their subordinates strove to maintain the specter of reasonable deniability around the two leaders.

This is a phenomenal book. It provides a unique glimpse of Roosevelt and Churchill, and their complex relationship. As well, it also offers unique insights into how the allies prosecuted the war, from an intelligence standpoint. The book is well-written, and will be interest to both scholars and lay readers.

Related Reviews:

Secret Agent: The True Story of the Covert War Against Hitler, by David Stafford.
This riveting book offers the readers an in-depth look at ultra-secret World War II 'spy' organization called the Special Operations Executive. Details range from the groups formation, to the work that it carried out during the war, along with detailed profiles of its agents and auxiliary staff.

Crusade in Europe, by Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In this informative book, Eisenhower supplies an insider's look at America's role in Europe during World War II, as seen through the eyes of the man who commanded the Allied Forces.

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