The Idealist: Wendell Willkie’s Wartime Quest to Build One World

Samuel Zipp. Belknap, $35 (380p) ISBN 978-0-674-73751-8
Brown University American Studies professor Zipp (Manhattan Projects) chronicles Republican politician Wendell Willkie’s 1942 trip around the world as President Franklin Roosevelt’s unofficial WWII envoy in this admiring and exhaustive deep dive. After squaring off in the 1940 presidential election (which Roosevelt won), Willkie supported his former rival’s Lend-Lease Program and made a morale-boosting trip to England during the Blitz. Hoping to showcase America’s bipartisan resolve in the international war effort, Wilkie carried personal letters from Roosevelt to Soviet premier Joseph Stalin and Chinese nationalist leader Chiang Kei-Shek, visited the front lines of the Allied fight against Germany in North Africa, and witnessed the rise of “anti-imperial nationalism” in French-controlled Syria and Lebanon. After returning home, he wrote a bestselling account of the journey and came to believe, according to Zipp, that America must confront its own history of imperialism and racism in order to forge a “more cooperative relationship with the world.” Zipp’s frequent asides explaining the geopolitics of each stop on Willkie’s journey provide crucial information but slow the narrative down somewhat, and readers not well-versed in foreign policy may find the level of detail dizzying. Nevertheless, this insightful and nuanced portrayal successfully elucidates Willkie’s globalist politics and America’s emergence as a world leader. (Mar.)
Reviewed on : 12/12/2019
Release date: 03/01/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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