Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The US and WWII--and some good books

You can catch fascinating interiews on NPR. I happened yesterday to tune to a segment of "Fresh Air" for an interview with historian Lynne Olson, author of Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight over World War II, 1939-1941. I was too young (three in 1941) to know any of this, but I'd read a little in other books, and I want to read this one. The disagreements between interventionists, led by Roosevelt, and isolationists, with Lindbergh as spokesman, were bitter, loud, and long. Basically it ended with Pearl Harbor, but Olson told some fascinating bits about deception on both sides, LIndbergh's personal life, things I've never known.
In recent months, I've read three novels about that period but both set either in England or Europe. The first, Mr. Churchill's Secretary, is about a young woman denied entry into higher mathematics programs. So she becomes a typist in the pool sheltered underground in London. Somehow Churchill's eye falls on her, and she is soon taking all his dictation...and is privy to his inside thoughts. Eventually she ends up spying for him. All this is set against the background of the Blitz, the quarrels between Churchill and Chamberlain, and Hitler's unstoppable march across Europe. Author Susan Ella MacNeal followed that one with Princess Elizabeth's Spy in which the same girl, Maggie Hope, is charged with protecting the princess. Good books much enhanced by the history they present.
The other novel is Jack 1939,  by Francine Mathews, in which Churchill sends a young JFK, son of the then-ambassador to England, to spy across Europe and find out what the Germans are planning. Kennedy has a series of close calls and wild adventures. Did it happen? Never, but it makes fascinating reading and, again, the history behind the story is well researched.
If Olson's books tellus abouit the controversey in this country, the others above details conflicts in England, including increasing resentment of America's refusal to leap into the fray, the efforts of the IRA to distract England, and what Winston Churchill famously called "the gathering storm." Books about World War II could fill endless shelves, even entire bookstores, but until recently I haven't been aware of much focus on what was for America the "pre-war" period.
Find Olson's book at

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