cover image Sumner Welles

Sumner Welles

Benjamin Welles. Palgrave MacMillan, $38 (464pp) ISBN 978-0-312-17440-8

On the brink of a new world war, a Washington political columnist observed in 1938 that Welles, Roosevelt's shaper of foreign policy, was a ""tall, powerfully built, beautifully tailored man"" with a ""glacial manner."" The hauteur hid a secret life in which, when inebriated, he lusted after black men. As undersecretary of state to Cordell Hull, Welles (1892-1961) was caught between a president who took his cues from an isolationist electorate and career appointees who were often conservative in the extreme. Roosevelt kept Welles and his enemies on staff. Lacking global expertise, Hull remained in office because the president thought he had clout with Congress, but Welles, a New England aristocrat who had known Roosevelt since boyhood, did much of the top-level work at State. Among his accomplishments were the Good Neighbor Policy with Latin America, a draft (with F.D.R. and Churchill) of the Atlantic Charters, and the first outline for the United Nations. But by 1943, abetted by Welles's eclipsed rivals at State, rumors surfaced about his secret life. Disabled by attacks of angina, he resigned, living out his last 18 years in increasing physical and emotional distress. Affectionate yet scrupulously candid, this biography by his son, who is in his 80s, is an act of homage. Photos. (Jan.)