It’s hard to imagine how a book about the sudden wartime awakening of an industrial power could be fast-paced and readable. Yet Klein (The Power Makers), an experienced historian of the 20th-century American economy (he’s professor emeritus of history at the University of Rhode Island), pulls it off. His coverage of the organization of American institutional, economic, military, and governmental might for WWII is both sobering and inspiring—the former because of the obstacles to achieving wartime preparedness, the latter for the eventual success of the mobilization. All in all, the book is a comprehensive look at “the greatest industrial expansion in modern history.” Scarcely an industry, government agency, public official, or wartime effort escapes Klein’s attention, and he writes with uncommon verve and vividness—his intimate portraits of individuals are themselves worth the cost of this hefty tome. In many ways, the book is reminiscent of Arthur Schlesinger’s earlier, sweeping volumes on the early New Deal (e.g., The Vital Center)—uncommonly perceptive, enjoyably readable, and authoritative. The sole fault of Klein’s book is its lack of theme or unifying argument. That said, in both aspiration and execution, this fine history easily surpasses Arthur Herman’s Freedom’s Forge (2012) in its coverage of the same subject. (July)
Reviewed on: 05/06/2013 Release date: 07/16/2013 Genre: Nonfiction
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