I enjoyed this book. It focuses on Churchill’s trip to the US with his advisors to plan out the course of WWII. He came, virtually uninvited, after his “joy” at Pearl Harbor, which he, not surprisingly, saw as salvation for Britain. It covers the period from the first wartime meeting of Churchill and Roosevelt at Placentia Bay, where Churchill arrived on the warship HMS Prince of Wales and Roosevelt arrived on the USS Augusta at Naval Air Station Argentia, a US naval base on Newfoundland territory (then not part of Canada). Both Roosevelt and Churchill had “cover stories” when they left, for security reasons, but also because the US was not yet at war. Their meeting was known as the Atlantic Conference—held on two ships anchored in the Atlantic—and produced the Atlantic Charter which laid out the vision of a post war world—in broad terms.
Then after Pearl Harbor, Churchill rushed to fill in the details and come up with a joint war effort that he saw would be lead by the US and Britain—and Russia too, once Russia had “saved itself” from immediate annihilation. The US was completely unready for war—actually producing fewer planes than was Britain, with a small army, and a population that was, after Pearl Harbor, just awakening from isolationism. The meeting was difficult on many fronts. Roosevelt and Churchill meet every day, sometimes long into the night as Churchill and his immediate party were staying in the White House (where Churchill rejected the Lincoln bedroom and wandered down the halls to find a more suitable one). Both were strong personalities with common objects and incredibly different styles. Eleanor didn't much like Churchill, though he was a bad influence on Roosevelt (late night carousing and drinking. Her goal for the war was to extend liberal democracy and definitely not the shore up the British Empire.
The service chiefs from both countries met but had misconceptions and prejudices about their opposite numbers. The British were stuffy and uppity and bent on ceremony. The Americans were crude and uneducated and didn’t even know how to fly. Both leaders recognized they needed each other, but Churchill was far more knowledgeable about war than Roosevelt. Roosevelt was suave and charming but Churchill had to learn that he nodded and said “yes” to whatever you said but that didn’t mean he agreed.
It was on this trip that Churchill made his famous speech to Congress in which he began, “I cannot help reflecting that if my father had been American and my mother British, instead of the other way around, I might have got here on my own.” He helped Roosevelt light the White House Christmas tree. After Christmas he took off a few days to go to Ottawa and address the Canadian parliament, but he made much less effort with MacKenzie King, Canada’s wartime premier, than he did with the man in the White House. I learned relatively little new from this book, but enjoyed the detail enormously especially the difficulties that individuals and groups had coming to their decisions, which included appointing a joint commander in the Pacific theatre.