Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II [NOOK Book]



Remarkable as it may seem today, there once was a time when the president of the United States could pick up the phone and ask the president of General Motors to resign his position and take the reins of a great national enterprise. And the CEO would oblige, no questions asked, ...
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Freedom's Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II

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Remarkable as it may seem today, there once was a time when the president of the United States could pick up the phone and ask the president of General Motors to resign his position and take the reins of a great national enterprise. And the CEO would oblige, no questions asked, because it was his patriotic duty.
In Freedom’s Forge, bestselling author Arthur Herman takes us back to that time, revealing how two extraordinary American businessmen—automobile magnate William Knudsen and shipbuilder Henry J. Kaiser—helped corral, cajole, and inspire business leaders across the country to mobilize the “arsenal of democracy” that propelled the Allies to victory in World War II.
“Knudsen? I want to see you in Washington. I want you to work on some production matters.” With those words, President Franklin D. Roosevelt enlisted “Big Bill” Knudsen, a Danish immigrant who had risen through the ranks of the auto industry to become president of General Motors, to drop his plans for market domination and join the U.S. Army. Commissioned a lieutenant general, Knudsen assembled a crack team of industrial innovators, persuading them one by one to leave their lucrative private sector positions and join him in Washington, D.C. Dubbed the “dollar-a-year men,” these dedicated patriots quickly took charge of America’s moribund war production effort.
Henry J. Kaiser was a maverick California industrialist famed for his innovative business techniques and his can-do management style. He, too, joined the cause. His Liberty ships became World War II icons—and the Kaiser name became so admired that FDR briefly considered making him his vice president in 1944. Together, Knudsen and Kaiser created a wartime production behemoth. Drafting top talent from companies like Chrysler, Republic Steel, Boeing, Lockheed, GE, and Frigidaire, they turned auto plants into aircraft factories and civilian assembly lines into fountains of munitions, giving Americans fighting in Europe and Asia the tools they needed to defeat the Axis. In four short years they transformed America’s army from a hollow shell into a truly global force, laying the foundations for a new industrial America—and for the country’s rise as an economic as well as military superpower.
Featuring behind-the-scenes portraits of FDR, George Marshall, Henry Stimson, Harry Hopkins, Jimmy Doolittle, and Curtis LeMay, as well as scores of largely forgotten heroes and heroines of the wartime industrial effort, Freedom’s Forge is the American story writ large. It vividly re-creates American industry’s finest hour, when the nation’s business elites put aside their pursuit of profits and set about saving the world.

Praise for Freedom’s Forge
“A rambunctious book that is itself alive with the animal spirits of the marketplace.”—The Wall Street Journal
“A rarely told industrial saga, rich with particulars of the growing pains and eventual triumphs of American industry . . . Arthur Herman has set out to right an injustice: the loss, down history’s memory hole, of the epic achievements of American business in helping the United States and its allies win World War II.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Magnificent . . . It’s not often that a historian comes up with a fresh approach to an absolutely critical element of the Allied victory in World War II, but Pulitzer finalist Herman . . . has done just that.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

From the Hardcover edition.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Herman (How the Scots Invented the Modern World) tells the epic story of the American businessmen who, in only a few years, helped America become the largest military power in history. These include William Knudsen, a Danish immigrant who turned General Motors into “the largest industrial corporation in the world,” and industrialist Henry Kaiser, the “master builder” responsible for infrastructure projects throughout the country. In 1940, Roosevelt personally called upon Knudsen to oversee the assignment of contracts worth billions of dollars to produce the guns, tanks, planes, and other equipment needed for battle. Eschewing centralization in favor of free-market incentives, Knudsen directed the forging of “‘the arsenal of democracy,’” as factories around the nation converted to wartime production. Kaiser, meanwhile, presided over the creation of a new navy, America’s “Liberty ships,” which Churchill called “the foundation of all our hopes.” At times, the book falls into not-so-subtle hagiography of American capitalists, who are portrayed as selfless patriots who succeed despite the efforts of opportunistic labor organizations and big government New Dealers hostile to the free market. However, Herman has a knack for generating both suspense and patriotic self-congratulation. A cross between Ayn Rand, Herman Wouk, and the Wall Street Journal, the book is a compulsively readable tribute to “the miracle of mass production.” Agent: Glen Hartley, Writers Representatives. (May)
From the Publisher
“A rambunctious book that is itself alive with the animal spirits of the marketplace.”—The Wall Street Journal
“A rarely told industrial saga, rich with particulars of the growing pains and eventual triumphs of American industry . . . Arthur Herman has set out to right an injustice: the loss, down history’s memory hole, of the epic achievements of American business in helping the United States and its allies win World War II.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Magnificent . . . It’s not often that a historian comes up with a fresh approach to an absolutely critical element of the Allied victory in World War II, but Pulitzer finalist Herman . . . has done just that.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A compulsively readable tribute to ‘the miracle of mass production.’ ”—Publishers Weekly
“The production statistics cited by Mr. Herman . . . astound.”—The Economist
“[A] fantastic book.”—Forbes

Freedom’s Forge is the story of how the ingenuity and energy of the American private sector was turned loose to equip the finest military force on the face of the earth. In an era of gathering threats and shrinking defense budgets, it is a timely lesson told by one of the great historians of our time.”—Donald Rumsfeld
“World War II could not have been won without the vital support and innovation of American industry. Arthur Herman’s engrossing and superbly researched account of how this came about, and the two men primarily responsible for orchestrating it, is one of the last great, untold stories of the war.”—Carlo D’Este, author of Patton: A Genius for War
“It takes a writer of Arthur Herman’s caliber to make a story essentially based on industrial production exciting, but this book is a truly thrilling story of the contribution made by American business to the destruction of Fascism. With America producing two-thirds of the Allies’ weapons in World War II, the contribution of those who played a vital part in winning the war, yet who never once donned a uniform, has been downplayed or ignored for long enough. Here is their story, with new heroes to admire—such as William Knudsen and Henry Kaiser—who personified the can-do spirit of those stirring times.”—Andrew Roberts, author of The Storm of War

Library Journal
What is covered in most textbooks in a page—the crucial role of American industry in winning World War II—takes up the entirety of Herman's (Gandhi & Churchill: The Epic Rivalry That Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age) fascinating volume. As he has in past books, Herman here approaches a chapter of history by investigating the personalities who shaped it. He brings to life William Knudsen of General Motors and shipbuilder Henry J. Kiser via their interactions with FDR. It would be easy to overwhelm readers with recountings of the extraordinary number of planes, ships, or tanks produced. However, Herman will keep his audience thoroughly engaged as the war unfolds from the perspective of U.S. industry and its regulators. At a time when Wall Street is often pitted against Main Street, readers will be surprised by the cooperative relations forged between government and industry during World War II. VERDICT Recommended for the invaluable insights regarding how government administrators and industry leaders worked together to produce a winning arsenal. Economists and general readers alike will benefit from its historical perspective.—Jekabs Bikis, Dallas Baptist Univ., TX
Kirkus Reviews
It's not often that a historian comes up with a fresh approach to an absolutely critical element of the Allied victory in World War II, but Pulitzer finalist Herman (Gandhi & Churchill: The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age, 2009, etc.) has done just that. The author argues powerfully against the conventional wisdom that America's rearmament took place under the guidance of a competent federal government that brought business and labor together for the country's defense. To the dismay of New Dealers who had hoped to use the war to bring business under government control, the production of the flood of war materiel that drowned the Axis was achieved by the voluntary cooperation of businesses driven as much by the profit motive as by patriotism, solving problems through their own ingenuity rather than waiting for government directives. The physical and organizational challenges were overwhelming. The production of sufficient familiar armaments required expanding existing moribund plants and constructing new ones, then manufacturing new machine tools and organizing their use to maximize efficiency. Doing the same for enormously complex new weapons, in particular the B-29 bomber with 40,000 different parts made by 1,400 subcontractors, was an even more staggering task, exacerbated by materials shortages and recalcitrant labor unions. A story resting on the statistics of industrial production runs a constant risk of lapsing into tedium, but Herman's account never falters. He carries it off in engaging style by centering this sweeping narrative on the efforts of two colorful business leaders, Henry Kaiser and William Knudsen, who led the struggle to produce ships, planes and arms for Britain and then for America in a war that many had persisted in believing wasn't coming. A magnificent, controversial re-examination of the role of American business in winning WWII.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679604631
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/8/2012
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 111,153
  • File size: 4 MB

Meet the Author

Arthur Herman, visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of How the Scots Invented the Modern World, which has sold more than half a million copies worldwide. His most recent work, Gandhi & Churchill, was the 2009 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction.
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Read an Excerpt


The Gentle Giant

My business is making things.

—William S. Knudsen, May 28, 1940

On a freezing cold day in early February 1900, the steamer SS Norge pulled into New York Harbor. It was carrying five hundred Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish passengers looking for a new beginning in a new world. One of them stood eagerly on deck. Twenty-year-old Signius Wilhelm Poul Knudsen braced his Scotch-plaid scarf tight against the cold and yanked a gray woolen cap more firmly on his head.

William McKinley was president. Theodore Roosevelt, fresh from his triumph at San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War, was governor of New York. The United States had just signed a treaty for building a canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific—in Nicaragua.

New York City was about to break ground for a subway system. And six cities—Boston, Detroit, Milwaukee, Baltimore, Chicago, and St. Louis—had agreed to form baseball’s American League.

Young Knudsen’s first sight after passing the Verrazano Narrows was the Statue of Liberty, holding her barely discernible torch high in the fog. Then, as the ship swung past Governors Island, objects loomed out of the icy mist like giants from Norse legend.

They were the office buildings of Lower Manhattan, the first skyscrapers—the nerve centers of America’s mightiest companies. Almost half a century later, Knudsen could recall each one.

There was the twenty-nine-story Park Row Building, topped by twin copper-tipped domes and deemed the tallest building in the world. There was the St. Paul Building, completed in 1898, twenty-six stories, or 312 feet from ground floor to roof. There was the New York World Building with its gleaming golden dome. In a couple of years, they would be joined by the Singer Building, rising forty-seven stories; the Woolworth Building at fifty-seven stories; and then, looming above them all, the Standard Oil Building, its 591-foot tower topped by a flaming torch that could be seen for miles at sea—a torch to match that of Lady Liberty herself.

“When you go to Europe,” Knudsen liked to say, “they show you something that belonged to King Canute. When you go to America they show you something they are going to build.” No king or emperor had built these mighty edifices, the twenty-year-old Danish immigrant told himself. No king or emperor had built this country of America. It was ordinary men like himself, men who worked hard, who built with their minds and hands, and became rich doing it. Signius Wilhelm Poul Knudsen was determined to be one of them.

He was one of ten children, the son of a Copenhagen customs inspector who had made his meager salary stretch by putting his offspring to work. Work for Knudsen had begun at age six, pushing a cart of window glass for a glazier around Copenhagen’s cobblestone streets. In between jobs, he had squeezed in time for school, and then night courses at the Danish Government Technical School. Bill Knudsen was still a teenager when he became a junior clerk in the firm of Christian Achen, which was in the bicycle import business.

Knudsen’s first love was bicycles. With one of Achen’s salesmen, he built the very first tandem bicycle in Denmark. In a country with more bicycles than people, he and his friend became minor celebrities. Soon they were doing stints as professional pacers for long-distance bicycle races across Denmark, Sweden, and northern Germany.

But Knudsen had bigger horizons. He knew America was the place where someone skilled with his hands and with a head for things mechanical could flourish. So he had set off for New York, with his suitcase and thirty dollars stuffed in his pocket. Years later, when newspaper articles described him as arriving as “a penniless immigrant,” he would archly protest. “I wasn’t penniless,” he would proudly say. “I had saved enough to come with thirty dollars.”

The Norge disgorged its passengers at Castle Garden, the southern tip of Manhattan. Before putting his foot on American soil for the first time, he paused for a moment on the gangplank to gawp at the new world around him.

A voice barked out from behind, “Hurry up, you square-headed Swede!”

From that moment, Bill Knudsen used to tell people, he never stopped hurrying. That is, until he became a living legend of the automotive industry—bigger in some ways than Henry Ford.

Knudsen landed a job not very far from where he had disembarked, in the Seabury shipyards in the Bronx’s Morris Heights. Ironically perhaps, his first job in America was in the armaments industry. Knudsen found work reaming holes in steel plate for Navy torpedo boats for seventeen and a half cents a day, then graduated to join a gang of Irish riveters as the “bucker-up,” the man who held the chunk of steel behind the hole as the red-hot rivet was hammered into place.

After a long day at the yards, he would go home by a steam-driven train on the Seventh Avenue Elevated to 152nd Street, where he had a shabby room in a boardinghouse run by a Norwegian immigrant named Harry Hansen. There he would wash away the soot and sweat, then head downtown to the beer gardens along the Bowery or to the saloons on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, which was still a village. There a nickel bought him a dinner of roast beef, smoked fish, pickles, bread, and sliced onions.

“If I had to start over again,” he said many years later, “I would start exactly where I started the last time.” But it was sweaty, brutally tough work with brutally tough men. Bill Knudsen was big, almost six foot four. So his landlord was amazed when he came home after his second day in the yards with welts across his face, and an eye that was nearly swollen shut.

“What happened to you?” Hansen wanted to know.

“I got into a fight—with a little fellow,” Knudsen muttered. “If I could have got my hands on him, I would have broken his neck. But I couldn’t. He just danced around and did this—” He waved his arms around like a boxer, and then pointed to his wounds. “And then did this! Where can I learn to do it?”

So Hansen handed him over to a fellow Norwegian named Carlson, who taught boxing at the Manhattan Athletic Club at 125th Street and Eleventh Avenue. There Knudsen strapped on a pair of boxing gloves for the first time. Soon he became so adept at the pugilistic art that he was presiding champ of the shipyards—no small feat—and did amateur bouts at the Manhattan Club and all around New York.

From building ships he graduated to repairing locomotives for the Erie Railroad, and then in 1902 he got the opportunity he had been waiting for. It was a job building bicycles for a firm in Buffalo called Keim Mills. Buffalo was already New York State’s fastest growing industrial town, and John R. Keim was a Buffalo jeweler who had bought himself a bicycle factory. Knowing nothing about bicycles, he left the running of it to his shop superintendent, a Connecticut Yankee named William H. Smith.

Knudsen packed his suitcase and boxing gloves and took the train to Buffalo. If he imagined working in a bicycle plant meant making bicycles, however, he was disappointed. With the new century, the business had fallen on hard times and Keim was turning his machines over to other work. Some of it was for an inventor of a steam-powered horseless carriage called the Foster Wagon. Since Knudsen knew about steam engines, he found himself making engines for Foster.9 In the process, he also learned about machine tools, the machines that made machines, and about toolmaking—and how diagramming out tool-work problems on paper could speed up the manufacturing process.

After his work with machine tools, Knudsen took a course on steelmaking at the Lackawanna Steel Company plant, and later he and Smith developed their own steel alloy. Soon he was supervising the making of brake drums for a Lansing, Michigan–based company called Reo Motor Company, run by Ransom E. Olds. Olds had been making his version of the horseless carriage since 1886, but by 1904 he was finding plenty of competition from an upstart entrepreneur operating out of Detroit named Henry Ford.

Smith and Knudsen learned that Ford, who had been in business barely a year, was looking for someone who could make steel axle housings for his cars. They immediately bought train tickets out to Detroit and met Ford himself at his plant on Piquette Avenue. They spoke amid the placid and rhythmic clop of horses’ hoofs and carriage wheels from the street outside, and came back with an order worth $75,000—the biggest in Keim’s history.

The partnership would grow and prosper at both ends as the infant automobile industry grew. By 1908—the year the first Model T chugged out of the Piquette Avenue factory and entrepreneur Billy Durant founded General Motors—the twenty-nine-year-old Knudsen was general superintendent at Keim and employing fifteen hundred people. Three years later he proudly took a bride, a girl of German descent named Clara Elizabeth Euler. That same year, 1911, Ford was impressed enough with the Keim operation that he bought the whole company outright. Knudsen suggested Ford think about assembling Model T’s right there in the Buffalo plant, as well as in Ford’s brand-new setup in Highland Park off Detroit’s Michigan Avenue.

Knudsen spent weeks arranging the tools and machines on the Keim floor in order to put together the Model T components. He taught his mechanics how to assemble the car in separate stages, from bolting together the chassis to trimming the body and varnishing. Then one morning Knudsen was stunned to come in and find all the machines idle.

The Keim workers told him they were on strike. They had decided they didn’t like the piecework rates they were being paid on some of the outside contracts. Knudsen couldn’t believe they were so shortsighted as to break off building the country’s fastest-selling automobile over a minor contract dispute. But the men wouldn’t budge. He decided this was a crisis requiring the advice of the owner himself. At great trouble and expense, Bill Knudsen managed to reach Ford on the primitive telephone in the Keim office.

Ford listened and said, “That suits me. If the men don’t want to work, get some flatcars and move the machinery to Highland Park.”

Three days later it was done. Then Ford ordered Knudsen himself, William H. Smith, and other key Keim managers out to Michigan.

They were now part of the team running the most famous factory in the world.

Nineteen hundred and twelve was a crucial moment in the evolution of Ford’s business. His Model T consisted of nearly four thousand separate parts. Eight years earlier Walter Flanders, a veteran machinist who had dropped out of grade school and gone to work at Singer Sewing Machine, had shown Ford the value of making as many parts as possible interchangeable. These eliminated the need for custom or form fitting, which slowed production to a crawl. Flanders also showed him and his young engineers—Carl Emde, Peter Martin, and another Danish immigrant named Charlie Sorensen—how to arrange their machines in a priority sequence so that tools and parts were easily accessible.

Flanders had just taught them the rudiments of assembly line production. Ford was lucky to have on hand young engineers like Martin and Sorensen, men whose idea of fun was breaking the assembly of a Model T down into eighty-four discrete stages—from forging the crank shaft and drilling out the engine block to stuffing the seat upholstery—then lining them up to form a single process. Highland Park became the first mass-production assembly line in automotive history. When Knudsen arrived, they were making a Model T every hour and a half, at a rate of five hundred a day.

Outsiders treated Highland Park as a manufacturing miracle. People toured the factory and snapped pictures (Ford sensed that inviting visitors, even other automakers, to see his assembly line would only enhance its mystique).14 Others tried to reproduce its elements, without success. But when Bill Knudsen arrived, he found the surroundings looked rather familiar. He realized he and Smith had used the same techniques at Keim for stamping steel parts for fenders and doors and for Ransom Olds’s brake drum assemblies. Instead of being mystified or dazzled by Ford’s accomplishment, Knudsen set about finding ways to make it work at a whole new level.

He had learned other things at Keim, especially from its manager William Smith. He had learned he had a special gift for making something with his hands while visualizing its outcome in his mind—and he learned the value of practical experience. When Knudsen was trying to save enough money to get an engineering degree at Cornell University, Smith had told him, “You’re a better engineer right now than any college graduate I have ever seen,” and he was right.

When Keim was first contracted to assemble Ford cars, Smith had a Model T delivered and then he and Knudsen spent the day taking it apart and putting it back together again. Then Knudsen drove it around the plant floor—it was the first car he had ever driven—and out the door. He took Smith home and then drove to his lodging, where he stayed up half the night studying the transmission and gear system. “By the time I went to bed,” Knudsen later remembered, “I had a good working knowledge of the Model T.”

From Smith he also learned certain economic lessons. Smith made Knudsen think about a factory as something more than a place for making things. A factory is a place for wealth creation, his mentor would tell him, and a place for practicing the dignity of work. There is something sacred about work, about an honest productive effort that earns the wages that are the foundation of home and health, education and security—and the foundation of the America the Danish immigrant had fallen in love with.

Knudsen took to Ford for the same reason. Its owner paid his men a standard five-dollar-a-day wage and looked out for their welfare. But above all, the factory floor at Highland Park offered a fascinating array of problems and challenges, into which he jumped with the same enthusiasm as a conductor with a new orchestra.

“It takes us too long to make cars,” Ford told him the first day. “We are beginning to get good materials, but we are not moving ahead as fast as we should. . . . That’s what I want you for.” Ford and his engineers had figured how the assembly line worked. Knudsen’s ultimate feat was to figure out why it worked, and how to make it a continuous process.
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Table of Contents

Preface ix

Prologue 3

Chapter 1 The Gentle Giant 14

Chapter 2 The Master Builder 37

Chapter 3 The World Of Tomorrow 58

Chapter 4 Getting Started 66

Chapter 5 Call to Arms 85

Chapter 6 Arsenal Of Democracy 101

Chapter 7 Ships, Strikes, and The Big Book 130

Chapter 8 Countdown 145

Chapter 9 Going All Out 156

Chapter 10 Ships for Liberty 116

Chapter 11 The Production Express 192

Chapter 12 Steel Men And Cast-Iron Charlie 209

Chapter 13 Agony at Willow Run 228

Chapter 14 Victory is Our Business 245

Chapter 15 The Man from Frisco 267

Chapter 16 Superbomber 284

Chapter 17 The Battle of Kansas 304

Chapter 18 Fire this Time 318

Conclusion Reckoning 334

Acknowledgments 347

Appendix A Growing the Arsenal of Democracy, 1940-1945 351

Appendix B Joining the Arsenal of Democracy 353

Notes 359

Select Bibliography 387

Index 401

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 30 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 30 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 18, 2012

    Interesting but Flawed I have to start by saying that I have pr

    Interesting but Flawed

    I have to start by saying that I have previously read two books by this author, one on the Royal Navy, and the other on the impact of Scotsmen on the world, and I thoroughly enjoyed both of them.

    I enjoyed this book when it was presenting the many success stories of the American Economy and the production miracle that it achieved during World War II. As Herman accurately points out, the Axis was literally buried under American war production. When limiting himself to describing how Big Bill Knudson and Henry Kaiser among many others helped to produce this economic miracle, Mr. Herman has produced a very interesting and much needed history.

    There are several things however that bothered me about this book.

    First of all, there is a breezy lack of regard for facts, showing up as numerous small errors. For example, the woman who served as the model for Rosie the Riveter was named Hoff, not Huff (page 263). Hitler did not declare war on the United States on December 8. It was December 11. (page 156). The battleships sunk and damaged at Pearl Harbor were not modern, but obsolescent, the newest one having been in service for about 20 years. (page 168). And the Japanese did not heavily damage the shipyards and equipment at Pearl. (pages 168-169 ) In fact, just the opposite, and Admiral Nagumo was criticized by his colleagues for not launching a third wave to attack the facilities. The author states that “18,434 Navy battleships, cruisers, carriers, subs and destroyers poured out of America’s shipyards…” (page 247). I don’t know what the real number is but it much less than this. In 1944, the warship count of the US surface fleet was about 850 units.

    I only checked one footnote and found that the quotation cited was not on page 241 of the book cited, but instead on page 236. (page 144). Mr. Herman had some poor help in editing and fact checking his book.

    This brings me to the second, and more disturbing issue with this book. Mr. Herman has worked for the American Enterprise Institute for the past two years, and this book was written under their auspices. He cites help from AEI colleagues in editing this work (they should have done a better job. See above.) The AEI is a conservative, pro-business, libertarian think tank. Their political agenda is promoted through out this book with the subtlety of a jackhammer. Conservatives never miss an opportunity to denigrate FDR, minimize the impact of the New Deal and dispute Keynesian economics. Mr. Herman attempts to fulfill his obligation to his employer referring to the “failed New Deal”, by minimizing FDR’s role in World War II, and portraying him as clueless, shiftless and worthless. Communists lead the labor movement, and New Dealers can’t wait to take over the economy and destroy the war effort for their own agenda Then in the conclusion, he makes a diatribe against Bruce Catton and Keynesian Economics. It is bizarre.

    In short, the very good story that this book contains has been cheapened due to the errors and gratuitous editorials it contains. It appears to have been written to promote a political view first and present a very important part of our history second. It is a shame that Mr. Herman has sold out his objectivity as a historian. I will continue to teach my college students that demand for war material led to a vast economic expansion of the American economy which brought full employment to the economy and overcame the Great Depressio

    11 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2013

    This book is *not* history, as it is written with a very strong

    This book is *not* history, as it is written with a very strong ideological bias that will become abundantly clear after the first few pages. Business leaders are good - everyone else is bad and just gets in the way. Regardless that more Americans died and were injured in their factories than were on the battlefields, labor was the problem. Regardless that government was borrowing to the hilt and giving them money recklessly, they were the impediment. The ulterior motives, the cost over-runs, the worker abuses, the profiteering, the failures, are all glossed over. To believe this book, the world was saved by the two businessmen in this book, one of whom made almost his entire fortune by war profiteering, the other of which steered some $14 billion (1944 dollars) in contracts to General Motors, his former company. Or that the latter was an admirer of the Nazis, and proclaimed just prior to the war that Germany was "the miracle of the 20th century", or that his Opel subsidiary was the primary manufacturer of Nazi engines for trucks, tanks, and aircraft engines.

    My grandmother, a military wife during WWII, always talked about the sacrifices everyone made during WWII - the rationing, the victory gardens, women working in the factories while their husbands were on the battlefields, etc. Yet in this book, the heroes are the guys sitting at home with their cost-plus, profit-guaranteed contracts to grow their businesses. Give us all a break.

    Besides the strong bias, the numerous documented factual inaccuracies in this book should discount this book. While the book describes at some level the rise of the US military-industrial complex from non-existent to what would become world dominating, this one could not be more one-sided and shallow. A much more critical and insightful book would far better serve the discerning reader who wants to actually better understand just what Eisenhower warned us about.

    5 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 25, 2012

    Must read to understand the role of American Industrial might in winning WWII

    Well written and researched the book details haow business leaders answered Presidents's call to organize the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of American busineess to produce the flow of weapons, vehicles, aircraft, ships that supplied both ourselves and our allies. The book keys on Henry Kaiser and Bunkie Knudsen (head of General Motors) and their leadership in the effort. However it also covers the contributions of many others including the influx of women into the factories that allowed men to join the armed forces while the flow of the tools of war continued unabated.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 30, 2012

    Highly recommended

    One of the best nonfiction books I have read in a long. It tells the story of how American industry responded to the massive needs of WWII. Men like Bill Knudson and Henry J. Kaiser became heroes in their own right as they helped awake the sleeping giant that was the ability of the American people to come together and build planes, ships and armament needed for the war effort both in America and in Europe. Couldn't put the book down because of wanting to see what amazing thing would be accomplished next. Very well written story.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 21, 2012

    I was so moved by Freedom¿s Forge that I was compelled to share

    I was so moved by Freedom’s Forge that I was compelled to share my enthusiasm with the author, Arthur Herman, a first for me. Following are the exerts from the letter I sent him on December 14.
    Dear Professor Herman—I just had to take this opportunity to tell you how much I enjoyed Freedom’s Forge. I absolutely couldn’t put it down! It was a marvelous three part thriller. In part one you masterfully laid out the grim isolationist mood of the country, the pathetic state of our military, the dire shape of our industrial base after our 10 years of depression, all at the time World War II began to rage in Europe. Part two begins with Roosevelt’s action that led to winning the War and curing the Depression—the call to Knudsen. Thus begins the transformation and buildup of American Industry and the introduction of Kaiser and many other Geniuses of Business that seemed to pop up whenever an insurmountable problem occurred—which was often. The pace of accomplishment ratchets up to astounding levels after Pearl Harbor continuing nonstop with more unique characters coming into the picture until the War ends with the dropping of the Atom Bombs on Japan. Part three begins with the ever present gloom and doomers predicting massive unemployment for the thousands returning to civilian life and a return to depression as the country reverts to peacetime production. Part three ends with their pessimism thwarted almost instantly by the continued American ingenuity which lead to a massive post war boom that lasted for 20 years—a sustained period of growth not since equaled. Reality, I guess, demanded that you end the book on a nostalgic note with a few pages at the end detailing how history for the civilian effort during the war years has been rewritten and how the postwar boom began to devolve. At the age of 18 in 1965, I was working on the assembly line at General Motors. I saw myself, during the long GM strike of that year, the UAW's attitude of more pay for less work. Then over the years subtle but growing changes occurred. Our moral culture eroded, productivity declined and public education was dumbed down putting us to where we are today.
    How nice it would be (and how needed) if a Steven Spielberg took your book to the big screen! It certainly has the makings of an epic. If told in Frank Capra style, it would remind us of American Exceptionalism at it’s best. They’d  have to add a tagline for the benefit of those 40 and under “Based on a True Story.” There’s another thought I’d like to share with you. Earlier this year on Glenn Beck’s recommendation, I read The 5000 Year Leap which in a powerful and clear way conveys the principals on which our Country was founded. After reading your book, it hit me that The 5000 Year Leap and Freedom’s Forge should be required reading, as a unit, before any child is allowed to graduate high school in America. Leap lays out the theory of a limited government, setup by and for the people, based on Judeo-Christian principals to ensure a free society. Forge conveys the real life practical application of the Leap theories with the absolute proof that they work as the framework for a free and prosperous society. For me this "combo" package of Leap and Forge greatly added to four things 1) My understanding of just how far we've drifted from our Founding Ideals 2) My concern for the freedom & prosperity of my grandchildren should we drift further 3) My resolve to actively contribute to righting the wrongs while simultaneously 4) Preparing for the havoc that will surely occur if "Progressives" win. Thank you again for resurrecting this wonderful chapter of my father’s generation. Next to the Founders, they truly were the Greatest Generation!

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2012

    A Must Read

    Concise, factual, and reads like a thriller. I could not put it down. If you are a student of history this is one book you need to have on your shelf. The author writes in a style that brings the sense of urgency of the time into focus, and pulls you into the subject matter while laying everything bare for you to examine and judge for yourself.
    A wonderful work.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 5, 2012

    Highly recommended. Excellent book telling the true story of US recovery after the depression

    A must read for those that thought FDR,s socialist policies turned our country around, and how capitalism actually won WWII.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2013

    Should be read by every American

    I have studied WWII history for years but was amazed by the contents in this book. Thank you, Mr. Herman, for revealing the engines and great people behind our victory in that war.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 3, 2015

    Interesting Read But

    Interesting story about the industrial ramp up for WWII. Thought it was great until the last few chapters when the political agenda of the American Enterprise Institute became a screed against the US Government. AEI did not win WWII.

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  • Posted August 2, 2014

    I loved the book. I read every book I could find on the subject

    I loved the book. I read every book I could find on the subject in preparation for writing my own book on aircraft manufacturing in World War II. Herman's book was one of the best I found, and certainly the most interesting to read.

    He tells a story that is seldom told. No war was more industrialized than World War II. It was won as much by machine shops, as by machine guns. Manufacturer for manufacturer, factory for factory, worker for worker, America outproduced its enemies.

    As William S. Knudsen, of the National Defense Advisory Commission put it, "We won because we smothered the enemy in an avalanche of production, the like of which he had never seen, or dreamed possible."

    As I have discovered in my own writing, one can't spend too much time proofreading. And, Herman's book does contain some minor errors here and there that made me wince (I'm sure they will make him wince, too!). As, some of the other reviewers in this section have observed, Herman is no fan of Franklin Roosevelt or unions. Significantly though, he does give Roosevelt credit for resisting his New Deal instincts for a government take-over of business in World War II. The government had tried this with the railroads in the First World War, and it not only did not solve the congestion problem, in some ways it made things even worse. Herman gives Roosevelt credit for learning from this, and letting business do what business does best: produce.

    Herman also gives Roosevelt (who had long been the friend of unions) credit for standing up to unions whose strikes were crippling military production. Roosevelt even sent in the Army - with bayonets fixed - to drive away picket lines at the North American Aviation plant in Inglewood, California.

    The affect of strikes (many of them over jurisdictional issues between one union and another, rather than wages or benefits) on military production is another story that is seldom told. Herman tells it.

    Two other great books on the significance of manufacturing in World War II are:

    - "Why the Allies Won," by Richard Overy. Not quite as interesting to read as Heman's book, but an excellent analysis of the subject.
    - "Masters of Mass Production," by Christy Borth. Long out of print, but used copies are available, and worth finding.

    If you are interested in aircraft production, I recommend:

    - "Climb to Greatness: The American Aircraft Industry, 1920-1960," by John B. Rae. Another excellent analysis of the subject.
    - "Slacks & Calluses: Our Summer in a Bomber Factory," by Constance Bowman Reid. Definitely a fun personal memoir to read.

    If you are interested in aircraft production in the Los Angeles area you might enjoy my book:

    - "Building Victory: Aircraft Manufacturing in the Los Angeles Area in World War II," by Dana T. Parker.

    Meanwhile, Arthur Herman's book is well worth reading!

    As Donald Douglas (founder of Douglas Aircraft) said about America's phenomenal production in World War II, "Here's proof that free men can out-produce slaves."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2014

    A Chestnut Stallion

    Gallops in and whinnies bucking himself.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2014

    A bay stallion

    Rears and trots down nickering

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 23, 2014

    A black mare

    races in and skids to a stop shaking dirt out of her mane as she whinnied. Her wild eyes look around feriociously

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2014

    To all

    Res four, a book simply titled Freedom

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2012

    Great read

    Having read many books on WW2 I was interested in the logistics side. Prior to reading this book that information was incidental. Freedom's Forge helps to understand the process.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 28, 2012



    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2012

    Important book to understand true authors of ww2 production miracle

    A must read for students of ww2 & economics: Kaiser & Knudson are unsung heroes of capitalism & democracy; Arthur HErman is to be commended!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2012

    I recommend to all--especially younger folks

    Well written--read in 3 settings.

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  • Posted June 17, 2012

    History they don't teach at school

    This book pairs well with Amity Shlae's Forgotten Man. They both have the information that history teachers omit and mislead students from. (I speak from personal experience.)

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2012

    Great Book! Highly Recommend.

    A great book. If you find that particular era of American history fascinating and enjoy stories of individuals who worked hard to accomplish amazing things, this is a must read. I had no idea American industry was such a key player in the success of the war.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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