Warlords by Simon Berthon and Joanna Potts

Warlords: An Extraordinary Re-creation of World War II Through the Eyes and Minds of Hitler, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin by Simon Berthon and Joanna Potts is a fascinating and eye-opening read. Berthon and Potts do an excellent job in bringing these larger-than-life men down to Earth.

Here is a brief description of the book from Publishers Weekly:

Recounting WWII from the point of view of the era’s four political giants is an original idea, and it works: while not exactly revisionist, Berthon and Potts’s book delivers some good jolts. Where popular writers often portray the good guys, Churchill and Roosevelt, as friendly partners, the authors refuse to soft-pedal controversies that erupted after America declared war—especially over Churchill’s reluctance to support a cross-Channel invasion and F.D.R.’s pressure on Churchill to free Britain’s colonies. Readers will wince to be reminded of Roosevelt’s conviction that Britain’s imperial ambitions were a greater threat than Stalin’s and his belief that Stalin was a sensible fellow one could do business with. Those accustomed to the stirring History Channel depiction of WWII as a crusade against evil will cringe to read of Stalin’s persistent, insulting treatment of his allies and of the unspeakable atrocities he committed against his own countrymen. Using diaries, correspondence and personal accounts, the book cuts back and forth among its subjects as they direct the war. This cinematic style succeeds (the authors work in British TV), and the scholarship is solid—so solid that readers convinced WWII was less squalid than other wars may be provoked to reconsider.

I agree that this is not your traditional telling of the men who shaped the war in Europe. It does rock some of the basic foundations that we learned about World War II in school. Prior to reading this book, I knew that the Allied leaders did not always get along, but I did not know the deceit and mistrust that each had. If the authors are correct (and there is nothing to suggest that they are wrong), Roosevelt purposely misled Churchill on several occasions in order to get into good graces with Stalin.

I know that hindsight can be 20/20, but it is incredible to think that Roosevelt trusted Stalin more than he trusted Churchill. He purposely steered the decision to invade southern France away from an invasion of the Balkans – Roosevelt thought that Churchill pushed the Balkans because he was trying to create a British sphere of influence there.

The book does not break much new ground on Hitler – we all know that he was insane (just by the decision to invade Russia). It is also common knowledge that he did not trust his own generals – he thought many were cowards. The authors do bring to life Hitler’s keen sense of seeing the weaknesses of the Allied alliance – he sees Stalin for what he truly was – a totalitarian dictator that was out to control as many countries as possible.

One word of caution, this is not the type of book that you can read a page or two at a time. Be prepared to read a chapter at a time in order to stay with the train of thought of the authors.

Enjoy this interesting look at the four men responsible for leading their respective nations in World War II Europe.

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