cover image The Sphinx: Franklin Roosevelt, the Isolationists, and the Road to World War II

The Sphinx: Franklin Roosevelt, the Isolationists, and the Road to World War II

Nicholas Wapshott. Norton, $27.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-393-08888-5

Wapshott (Keynes/Hayek), the international editor at Newsweek, brings a British perspective to this narrative of F.D.R.’s successful outmaneuvering of the American isolationist movement in the run-up to the attack on Pearl Harbor, against the backdrop of his controversial run for an unprecedented third term. Wapshott demonstrates that isolationism was a comprehensive sentiment with deep roots in both parties. Joe Kennedy, Charles Lindbergh, and Alf Landon play featured roles as Roosevelt’s foils—in part a literary device enabling the personalization of a complex political process. But the hero of Wapshott’s story is F.D.R., the man who, after the Munich agreement, understood that the only question was “how soon America should prepare itself to take part” in a now-certain war. Pursuing that objective “was a tightrope walk between alarm and complacency, for which his complex and sophisticated character was ideally suited,” and success earned him the nickname of “the Sphinx.” Wapshott successfully unravels the complex sequence of negotiations, hints, half-promises, and cunning that brought Roosevelt the Democratic nomination, re-election to the Presidency, a massive rearmament program, and support for an embattled Britain—all within just a few years. In our current age of smashmouth politics, Roosevelt’s success in bringing critics and doubters on board seems his most remarkable achievement. [em](Nov.) [/em]