Rendezvous with Destiny: How Franklin D. Roosevelt and Five Extraordinary Men Took America into the War and into the World

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The remarkable untold story of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the five extraordinary men he used to pull America into World War II

In the dark days between Hitler’s invasion of Poland in September 1939 and Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt sent five remarkable men on dramatic and dangerous missions to Europe. The missions were highly unorthodox and they confounded and infuriated diplomats on both sides of the Atlantic. Their importance is little ...

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Rendezvous with Destiny: How Franklin D. Roosevelt and Five Extraordinary Men Took America into the War and into the World

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The remarkable untold story of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the five extraordinary men he used to pull America into World War II

In the dark days between Hitler’s invasion of Poland in September 1939 and Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt sent five remarkable men on dramatic and dangerous missions to Europe. The missions were highly unorthodox and they confounded and infuriated diplomats on both sides of the Atlantic. Their importance is little understood to this day. In fact, they were crucial to the course of the Second World War.

The envoys were magnificent, unforgettable characters. First off the mark was Sumner Welles, the chilly, patrician under secretary of state, later ruined by his sexual misdemeanors, who was dispatched by FDR on a tour of European capitals in the spring of 1940. In summer of that year, after the fall of France, William “Wild Bill” Donovan—war hero and future spymaster—visited a lonely United Kingdom at the president’s behest to determine whether she could hold out against the Nazis. Donovan’s report helped convince FDR that Britain was worth backing.

After he won an unprecedented third term in November 1940, Roosevelt threw a lifeline to the United Kingdom in the form of Lend-Lease and dispatched three men to help secure it. Harry Hopkins, the frail social worker and presidential confidant, was sent to explain Lend-Lease to Winston Churchill. Averell Harriman, a handsome, ambitious railroad heir, served as FDR’s man in London, expediting Lend-Lease aid and romancing Churchill’s daughter-in-law. Roosevelt even put to work his rumpled, charismatic opponent in the 1940 presidential election, Wendell Willkie, whose visit lifted British morale and won wary Americans over to the cause. Finally, in the aftermath of Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, Hopkins returned to London to confer with Churchill and traveled to Moscow to meet with Joseph Stalin. This final mission gave Roosevelt the confidence to bet on the Soviet Union.

The envoys’ missions took them into the middle of the war and exposed them to the leading figures of the age. Taken together, they plot the arc of America’s trans¬formation from a divided and hesitant middle power into the global leader. At the center of everything, of course, was FDR himself, who moved his envoys around the globe with skill and élan.

We often think of Harry S. Truman, George Marshall, Dean Acheson, and George F. Kennan as the authors of America’s global primacy in the second half of the twentieth century. But all their achievements were enabled by the earlier work of Roosevelt and his representatives, who took the United States into the war and, by defeating domestic isolationists and foreign enemies, into the world. In these two years, America turned. FDR and his envoys were responsible for the turn. Drawing on vast archival research, Rendezvous with Destiny is narrative history at its most delightful, stirring, and important.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

For most Americans, World War II really began with the December 7th, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. For President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his top-level advisors, it began more than a year earlier. As this revelatory new book shows, FDR's efforts focused not on Japan, but on Hitler's Germany. With consummate planning, the commander in chief dispatched five men on missions to embattled Europe. This talented quintet (Harry Hopkins, William "Wild Bill" Donovan, Sumner Welles, Averell Harriman, and Wendell Willkie) shored up support and morale among our future allies. Bolstered by extensive research, this fascinating narrative retrieves the story of the war before the war.

Publishers Weekly
In the lead-up to the U.S. entry into World War II, F.D.R. had to jump some big hurdles: he had to convince his fellow Americans of the necessity of getting involved, and he had to support Britain’s efforts to keep Hitler from overwhelming the U.K.’s skies and shores. In 1940, Roosevelt enlisted five capable men to cross the Atlantic to visit, negotiate, observe the war-weary British, and assess how the U.S. could help. Fullilove, a senior fellow at Washington, D.C.’s Brookings Institution, fills his story with fascinating diplomatic details: Henry Hopkins quotes the Bible to Churchill; “Wild Bill” Donovan maneuvers and flirts his way through British high society; Wendell Wilkie pulls drinks for patrons at an English pub and almost gets betrothed to an African chief’s daughter. These extraordinary anecdotes are plentiful, and they combine to offer readers a fascinating display of different styles of American diplomacy in action. Unfortunately, stiff, dated prose slows the narrative—Harriman’s a “handsome devil,” Wilkie “jawboned with a native chieftain,” and Lord Halifax “was still open to treating with Hitler rather than licking him.” Nevertheless, this is a fascinating account of the men who paved the way for the Lend-Lease Act. (July)
Library Journal
Sumner Welles, William "Wild Bill" Donovan, Harry Hopkins, Averell Harriman, Wendell Willkie. These were the five men Roosevelt sent to Europe in the years after Hitler's invasion of Poland to see what America could do to shore up Europe's beleaguered democracies. They had different tasks—Hopkins explained lend-lease to Churchill, for instance, while Harriman delivered aid to London. Fullilove, executive director of Australia's Lowy Institute, tells history by painting portraits.
Kirkus Reviews
An intriguing new angle to Franklin Roosevelt's foreign policy leading up to and during World War II. The decisive period between the German invasion of Poland and the United States' entry into the war upon the bombing of Pearl Harbor provides rich fodder for Australian historian Fullilove (World Wide Webs: Diasporas and the International System, 2008, etc.). The author focuses on five trusted envoys sent by Roosevelt to Britain and elsewhere in Europe during this critical juncture. Their missions would help give the president a true idea of what was going on, whether Britain had the wherewithal to stand firm and what difference the U.S. could make. Trust and personal relations were key to FDR; with the death of his favored roving diplomatic envoy Edward M. House in 1938, and his relationship with ambassador to Britain Joseph Kennedy tense and mutually suspicious, FDR needed information about the darkening war in Europe, and he preferred to sidestep the State Department, which he believed to be full of "dead wood." Under Secretary of State Sumner, Welles, a Groton prep-school crony, was chosen for the first exploration of London and Rome, muddied by Welles' overweening ambitions but offering FDR a "colorful report" of Europe's precarious situation. "Wild Bill" Donovan's trip assured FDR that Britain held defensive capabilities, while Harry Hopkins' stays in London were enormously fruitful in helping solidify relations between Churchill and Roosevelt and render possible the Lend-Lease Act. Hopkins' extraordinary visit to Stalin after Operation Barbarossa reversed a defeatist regard about Russia's ability to withstand the Nazi onslaught. As emissary, FDR's choice of former GOP presidential opponent Wendell Willkie also proved terrifically astute. Fullilove's focus is admirable, and he even wonders about the possible outcome had Roosevelt also thought to send a timely envoy to Japan. Nicely drawn portraits by an authoritative historian.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594204357
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 7/3/2013
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 569,135
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.36 (h) x 1.49 (d)

Meet the Author

MICHAEL FULLILOVE is the executive director of the Lowy Institute in Sydney, Australia, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. A Rhodes scholar and former prime ministerial adviser, he writes widely on global issues for publications such as the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Daily Beast, and Foreign Affairs.

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Customer Reviews

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( 2 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 30, 2014

    Highly Recommended - If you are interested in the why's and how's of America's involvement in WWII you must check it out!!

    Well written and documented and easy to follow. You will see just how worldly astute and politically adroit FDR was in leading the U.S. from a predominantly isolationist, agrarian society into an international, industrial power, while saving our free way of life in the process.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2014

    Putting america into war is a miracle

    Three things put man into war. Honor. Fear. And self interest.
    America will never go to war unless its for self interest.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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