Dance of the Titans

Franklin and Winston is a delightful piece of narrative history from one of the masters of the genre. By focusing on the relationship of these two titans rather than the massive array of events that was World War II, Meacham gives us, just as the very apt subtitle promises, “An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship.”

What

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do we learn? Most centrally this: Winston was solicitous; Franklin was elusive. True, this fit the circumstances of their nations. England was desperate for help as it stood alone against the Nazis in 1940-41. The US was wary of getting entangled in another European war. But more interestingly, it also fit the lifelong pattern of how each man related to others.

Without undue psychological speculation, Meacham simply portrays the tendencies of how both Churchill and Roosevelt related to their parents and how these patterns were often repeated in many of their other relationships.

Churchill was always eager to please his very emotionally distant parents. He would even at times reimagine positively his troubling episodes with them. Roosevelt had a dominating mother he played both ways–always accepting her adoration, but keeping parts of his life out of sight so as to have some independence of action. Most notable in this pattern was courting Eleanor secretly (and then keeping his affair with Lucy Rutherford secret from Eleanor). In a sense the two men were perfect dance partners–Winston always seeking to please and Franklin always ready to receive attention.

These patterns do not explain everything the two complex, intelligent and driven men did, and Meacham doesn’t pretend they do. But in this story that even those who have read much about World War II will enjoy, these tendencies played an important part in how they conducted personal, national and international affairs.