Before Pearl Harbor, before the Nazi invasion of Poland, America teetered between the desire for isolation and the threat of world war. May 1938. Franklin Delano Roosevelt - recently reelected to a second term as president - sat in the Oval Office and contemplated two possibilities: the rule of fascism overseas, and a third term. With Hitler's reach extending into Austria, and with the atrocities of World War I still fresh in the American memory, Roosevelt faced the question that would prove one of the most defining in American history: whether to once again go to war in Europe.
In The Sphinx, Nicholas Wapshott recounts how an ambitious and resilient Roosevelt - nicknamed "the Sphinx" for his cunning, cryptic rapport with the press - devised and doggedly pursued a strategy to sway the American people to abandon isolationism and take up the mantle of the world's most powerful nation. Chief among Roosevelt's antagonists was his friend Joseph P. Kennedy, a stock market magnate and the patriarch of what was to become one of the nation's most storied dynasties. Kennedy's financial, political, and personal interests aligned him with a war-weary American public, and he counted among his isolationist allies no less than Walt Disney, William Randolph Hearst, and Henry Ford - prominent businessmen who believed America had no business in conflicts across the Atlantic. The ensuing battle - waged with fiery rhetoric, agile diplomacy, media sabotage, and petty political antics - would land US troops in Europe within three years, secure Roosevelt's legacy, and set a standard for American military strategy for years to come. With millions of lives - and a future paradigm of foreign intervention - hanging in the balance, The Sphinx captures a political giant at the height of his powers and an American identity crisis that continues to this day.
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