Posts Tagged ‘book review’

American War – Omar El Akkad

A civil war, crippled infrastructure, rampant corruption, random drone strikes, factional in-fighting and suicide bombers groomed from the ranks of despairing youth.

Such a scenario would normally pass for a despotic regime in the Middle East, but Egyptian-born author Akkad flips it to American soil to show how divisive ideologies and misguided policies create the perfect seedbed for terrorism to grow.

The catalyst for war is fossil fuel use in a country where rising sea levels have forced mass migrations from both coasts.

A bill to ban their use throughout the US is championed by the president and leads to his assassination in 2073 by a secessionist suicide bomber.

The country splits between North and South, Blue and Red, with new reasons for animosity layered onto historic hatreds.

Akkad ups the ante still further, stripping away veneers of civilization to imagine state-sponsored biological genocide, the release of a virus and the murder of 100m people.

If you think that’s unlikely, the world’s emerging superpower is the Bouazizi Empire, a conglomeration of former Arab countries who have thrown off their oppressors and joined forces.

They sustain the conflict in America, working both sides of the divide in what one of the regime’s fixers declares to be purely “a matter of self-interest, no more”.

It’s a cynical denouement, showing the US what it’s like to be on the end of its own foreign policies and the cruel consequences of such interventions.

Akkad’s dystopian vision invites the country to bridge its venomous political divide and return to some kind of consensus politics – or face an horrendous future.

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Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City

image1Matthew Desmond deep dives into the lives of some of the most wretched people in America and produces findings that are an affront to any civilized society, let alone the world’s richest

Tracking eight families through Milwaukee’s dumpiest neighborhoods we get a first-hand account of the misery and the grinding poverty of their existence.

The reasons why they are there and why they can’t break out are mired in complexity but their prospects are unremittingly grim. Nationwide, according to Desmond, there are millions more like them.

Lack of affordable housing with subsequent evictions, exploitation and ghettoization is the core problem and one Desmond believes should be at the top of America’s domestic policy agenda.

He makes a good case: Not having a roof over your head clearly perpetuates the cycle of suffering and hopelessness.

Had the book given more detailed attention to possible solutions I’d have given it five stars. As it is, there are a scant few pages in the epilogue vaguely outlining a universal housing voucher system and the need for greater legal help for tenants taken to court by landlords.

For anything to really change however, a massive shift in societal attitudes (to this largely black underclass)  is required and that’s a tall order. Still, it’s a start.

lethalLethal Generosity: Contextual Technology and the Competitive Edge – Shel Israel

Let me say from the outset: Most adverts suck and I hate being marketed at. There’s a special place in hell for people who pollute my digital stream with pop-ups.

And for creators of pre-roll commercials that play unprompted, I have reservations for you in Hieronymus Bosch corner where you’ll be assured of extra special attention.

Given how much data I’ve surrendered and the liberties taken with it you, the marketing and advertising people, really should be doing better but old habits die hard.The banners you place are as welcome as wasps at a picnic and yet you persist with your poorly-targeted petitions urging me to click, to endorse, to buy, items of which I have no need, nor interest.

When you take people’s money and use it in this way how do you convince them that it’s good for business? It escapes me. If the messaging subliminally enters my head at all, it registers as the don’t-touch-this-with-a-bargepole kind.

Happily there’s a shake-out on the way and digital dinosaurs that use new technology to deliver old marketing methods will be flushed away with the detritus they promote.

In Shel Israel’s latest book, Lethal Generosity, he declares that the balance of power is shifting from sellers to buyers and “traditional marketing, even in digital form, often damages the brand trust it attempts to establish”. Halleluiah!

In his previous publication, Age of Context, co-written with technologist Robert Scoble, much of Israel’s emphasis was on connected data using time, place and context to deliver better customer experiences.

This sequel continues that theme but looks more closely at how technology and social change affects retailers and other public-facing businesses. Get it right and customers become loyal brand advocates, get it wrong and the results can be devastating.

Successful bricks and mortar businesses have always known this as evinced by the maxim: “The customer is always right”.

In the UK, department store John Lewis stands behind its slogan “Never Knowingly Undersold”, Marks & Spencer identifies with value and a quibble-free returns policy and Nordstrom is known for its exceptional service

“Treat customers as relationships to open, rather than as sales to close”

Good as they are, success in the past is no guarantee of success in the future. Shifting social and demographic trends plus new devices and new expectations mean upstart enterprises can swiftly undermine the foundations of even established businesses.

Just seven years after its launch in 2007 Airbnb became the world’s biggest hotelier, yet it doesn’t own a single hotel, or room, or bed and has fewer staff than a modest hotel chain.

It’s a software strategy eating into the profits of bricks and mortar businesses, one that The Economist predicts will cut hotel revenues by 10% by 2016.

Israel warns companies to actively listen, to treat customers as relationships to open, rather than as sales to close, and to treat them in a generously memorable way – even if it means sending them to a rival.

It’s easy to write about, much harder to do, and there are multiple examples of behaviours from companies that he thinks are on the right track and others that are getting it wrong.

Uber is a good case in point. At one stage, Uberize Everything was Scoble’s suggested title for the book but, wisely, given the controversies around the brand, Israel thought better of it.

Still, Uber stands as an example of a company that began with customer service at the heart of its operation and one which has delivered new norms of expectation from cab users.

There’s a really good segment on why millennials matter – they’re digital natives, the largest age-based demographic, born in the age of context and influenced by peers more than brand messages – and a  follow-on chapter about kieretsus, a Japanese term for interlocking relationships between businesses which millennials favor.

Beaconing customers, frictionless interaction, contactless marketplaces and human-centered design all lead on to what Israel calls: The Road to Pinpoint, where “close, personal service is scalable on a global level for the first time”.

Never mind the marketing-speak, for our world to become that personal we’re going to have to get comfortable with much greater levels of intrusion, data surrender and secondary uses of that data. Who owns it, what can be done with it and where should the boundaries be drawn around individual rights to privacy?

The answers to those questions are likely to be different for everyone and will be traded between perceived usefulness of a service and the amount of information required to be given up for it.

Israel covers a lot of ground in his dash towards the future and doesn’t dwell on this since it had an airing in the Age of Context book.  But with so many data breaches, so much hackery and so much suspicion about data mining, breezing over this topic gives the book an unrealistically optimistic outlook. It’s a safe bet that the spammers and scammers, crooks and chancers, won’t be far behind.

No matter, it’s still a great starting point for businesses to re-evaluate what they stand for and to look at ways they can deepen customer relationships, gain market share and increase profitability.

Whether you’re won over by the conversational tone and largely anecdotal evidence will likely depend on:

  1. How closely your views align with his
  2. Your technophile/technophobe tendencies
  3. What your peers say

The last word goes to the author whose final paragraph reads: “Entrenched brands may shrug all of this off. They will point out that they are doing just fine, that this is just a prolonged down cycle, and they will keep doing what they have always done. They will be the earliest victims of lethal generosity.”

Jimmy

A Full Life: Reflections at 90

For many Americans Jimmy Carter will be remembered as one of the worst US presidents in recent history.

His legacy remains blighted by memories of the Iran hostage crisis, still a painful national humiliation, soaring energy costs, crippling stagflation and a sense that the US was emasculated by a weak commander.

The kindest critics describe him as more effective as an ex-president than he ever was as leader of the free world.

He deserves better, both for his term in office from 1977-1981 and as a diplomat and mediator confronting some of the most divisive issues of modern times.

This latest book, the 29th he has published, is not, like so many political autobiographies, an attempt to redeem or even burnish his reputation. It’s more of a personal, matter-of-fact plod through the arc of a diverse life.

There’s a quiet dignity about his perspective on his presidency. There are regrets, but no attempt to retrospectively justify policies and decisions that didn’t work out.

“I look back on those four years with peace and satisfaction, knowing that I did my best and had some notable achievements.”

Foremost among those achievements was the 1978 signing of the Camp David Accords in which Egypt formally recognized the state of Israel.

He defers to his vice-president, Walter Mondale, to sum up the best of their administration, quoting him saying: “We told the truth, we obeyed the law, we kept the peace.” And then he goes on to add: “We championed human rights.”

For a man who has endured so much opprobrium the book is remarkably even-toned, a monochrome view of a colorful career.

There’s no bile or anger directed at political opponents, no hyperbole or intrigue and no ‘setting the record straight’.

He does wish he’d sacked his supreme commander of US forces in Europe, General Alexander Haig, stating: “I had difficulty in understanding what he was trying to say and was concerned about his partisanship and derogation of my policies emphasizing peace and human rights.”

He also had a testy relationship with Chancellor Helmut Schmidt of Germany, recording in his diary after a meeting: “He’s a strange man and a good leader of Germany. I’m afraid he has a problem in his attitude toward me…he’s constantly critical of the United States, of our fairness, our commitment, our honesty”.

There may be frustration, but there’s no deep-rooted vindictiveness, no spiteful retorts. Events and meetings are recorded almost as if viewed by an onlooker rather than a key participant. What does shine through, especially in the post-presidential years, is a continued desire to make the world a fairer, better place.

Carter comes across as that rarest of men, a politician who refuses to bend his beliefs to court popularity, and a principled individual whose firmly held opinions have led him into deep and troubled waters.

In 2006 he faced harsh criticism from members of his own Democratic party, the powerful Israeli lobby in the US, and hard-liners in Tel Aviv for condemning Israel’s attitudes towards the Palestinians in his book Palestine – Peace not Apartheid.

He has talked to tyrants, despots and “unsavory people” like North Korea’s Kim Il Sung, Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir and Ethiopia’s Communist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam.

These choices “are not always popular”, he blandly states, but they are not allowed to divert him from efforts to find compromise in intractable situations or broker peace deals where other avenues have ended in deadlock.

He also continues to speak truth to power, denouncing Supreme Court rulings on unlimited, secret campaign funding as a subversion of the US political system.

The country had become an oligarchy in which there was “unlimited political bribery”, he said on a nationally syndicated radio show last month.

Earlier this year he vowed to tackle violence and injustice against girls and women saying it would be the highest priority for the rest of his life.

He hadn’t known then that he had cancer of the liver that has since metastasized to parts of his brain and which he expects to continue to spread as he undergoes treatment.

Just as he did at the end of his presidency, the inevitable parting is being met with a calm dignity: “It is in the hands of God and I am prepared for anything that comes. I feel very good. I have had no pain or debility.”

Telling the truth, obeying the law, keeping the peace and championing human rights is quite a legacy.

So forget Iran, the handover of the Panama Canal, the economic woes and all the other perceived failings. America briefly had the kind of principled president who could pass scrutiny as an exemplar to the rest of the world of the kind of decency, humanity and humility required from a leader in the democratic world.


The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey Oregon trail

You can go a long way with enthusiasm: Two thousand miles in the case of journalist, historian and adventurer Rinker Buck.

His covered wagon epic following in the wheel ruts of America’s 19th Century pioneers is an absorbing mix of trail tales, mule-wrangling and brotherly clashes.

Where Rink is measured and cautious, his younger sibling Nick is gung-ho and excitable. Where Rink is mannered and polite, Nick is brash and vulgar. It’s the bickering between them that provides much of the color.

There’s plenty of humor, too, in the characters of the mules where only one is reliably steady. The second beast exhibits the airs of a prom queen and the third a skittishness bordering on crazy.

They’re a handful for sure and potential dangers are ever present. Items as innocuous expansion joints on a bridge, or a plastic bag snagged on wire and snapping in the breeze, risk spooking the animals with risky consequences for the four-ton rig.

The history of the trail is richly fascinating and it’s here where the book is at its best.

Far from the migration being a deliberate movement, Rink paints details of the varied reasons for joining the exodus: a country riven with clashes between ethnic populations for jobs and space, bitter religious denominational spats and an economy lurching from boom to bust.

Flooding the West with pioneers also suited the purpose of Congress in overwhelming Britain’s lucrative but thinly-staffed fur-trading empire managed by the Hudson Bay Company. And, of course, there was gold fever.

There are some great anecdotes about how the early pioneers were scammed by merchants into oversupplying their wagons. Heavyweight items dumped within the first few miles were recovered by traders and sold again to the next gullible group.

Animals abandoned in the morning by one wagon train were shot and eaten in the evening by members of the one that followed, using utensils that had also been left behind.

Pollution, disease and death were constant companions of the 400,000 or so who made the journey. The Hollywood version would have you believe most were killed by marauding Indians, but filthy water, questionable hygiene and dysentery took the highest toll. And native people, lacking immunity to diseases brought in by the settlers, were cut down as well.

Rink isn’t shy about confronting myths of old, or those being created now, reserving especial odium for the Mormons’ renaming of Devil’s Gate to Martin’s Cove as part of the church’s “parable of noble suffering”.

There are instances where the book descends into mawkish, Waltonesque territory that I could have done without. This is where Rink sheds wagonloads of Catholic guilt about not being at his dying father’s bedside, of always being a disappointment to him and of his own general feelings of inadequacy.

However, movie executives will, I’m sure, be champing at the bit for a family friendly version of this modern-day glimpse into How The West Was Really Won.

20288812572_b85c321e3e_mShadowplay: The hidden beliefs and coded politics of William Shakespeare

Shakespeare can be tough to decipher at the best of times and now there’s another layer of complexity to think about.

Fortunately, code-breaking author Clare Asquith is an excellent interpreter and fashions a page-turning thriller from a tangled web of period politics.

Why did the Bard quit writing and return to Stratford at the height of his powers? Is it credible to think that the greatest playwright of the age would have nothing to say about the turbulent times in which he lived? What did Shakespeare believe in and to whom did his sympathies lie?

The answers to these questions don’t come easy. The concealed messages and ambiguities have eluded scholars for more than 400 years and modern day academic skeptics abound.

It’s the breadth and depth of Asquith’s research in support of her conclusions that make the book so compelling. Little is known about the man, but her painstaking and rigorous inquiries give great insight into neglected areas of an already well documented era.

Shakespeare was living in a virtual police state, an England where political beliefs weren’t just cerebral debating points: Where you stood on an issue, what you said and what you did had consequences – and the wrong answers could cost you dear.

Coded messages

Was your ultimate allegiance to the church or state, monarch or to God? Were you Catholic or Protestant, Jesuit or Puritan? Where did you go? Who did you see? What did you do? Where did your loyalties lie?

Walsingham’s spy network was constantly on alert for plots from abroad and dissidence from within. An allegation, a rumor, a betrayal, any whiff of insurrection could lead to dispossession, torture and a grisly execution.

It’s within this context that Asquith unravels the coded messages that have become even more opaque through the passage of time.

Few of Shakespeare’s contemporaries are read today and, as she explains, the sophisticated elite then were better versed in the classics than many modern theatregoers; they were attuned to allegories, allusions and hidden meanings.

One court dramatist of the time described his play as a Trojan horse: an elaborate gift concealing an unpalatable message.

The subversive genius of Shakespeare was to get his message through to a Catholic audience while concealing the true meaning from the rest. This was a dangerous tightrope to be on and one he walked for many years until, it seems, he had a major fall from grace.

 They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy

 image1By happy coincidence my two latest library books were delivered at the same time: a hardback on Shakespeare’s coded writing, Shadowplay, by Clare Asquith and a digital copy of Robert Scheer’s They Know Everything About You.

Though separated by almost 500 years they share a number of common themes: manipulation of the law, curtailment of individual rights and abuse of power.

It’s tempting to think of a meeting between Elizabeth I’s spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham and his present day NSA counterparts. How he would have marveled at, and enjoyed, the apparatus of the watchers of the modern state.

Along with William Cecil, Elizabeth’s chief adviser, Walsingham turned England into a police state.  Feared threats from Catholic plotters at home and Jesuit infiltrators abroad were met with manhunts, torture, extracted confessions and executions.

Fast forward to the post 9-11 period and substitute al-Qaeda or ISIS for the Catholic menace and the same tactics and justifications are being made for the extraordinary powers needed to protect the homeland.

Since 9-11 the US has spent more than $500bn on intelligence, according to veteran journalist Scheer.

Following the attack on the World Trade Center, “priorities shifted from viewing the preservation of individual liberty as the guarantor of freedom to the justification of unbridled government power exercised in the name of preserving national security”.

And we’ve all gone along with it. We’ve become inured to intrusion and surrendered our privacy.

We accept CCTVs recording our presence, we know our emails are sifted for keywords, we willingly surrender our location history, we helpfully codify our social networks, we give up our relationship status and a million other things without being compelled to do so. We do it because on balance it makes our lives easier; we’ve traded convenience for privacy.

So far, so yawn. But Scheer reminds us there’s also a darker side to today’s unprecedented level of data gathering: “The point of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World was was to show that the public would come to accept totalitarian intrusion as part of the normal fabric of life, as something that was actually good for them”.

Except, of course, that it’s not. Scheer contends that the US surveillance state, governed by secrecy, drew the country into a futile search for weapons of mass destruction, a war with Iraq, and laid the foundation for the emergence of a jihadi caliphate hundreds of times bigger and better organized than al-Qaeda.

The war on terror had become a war on the public’s right to know, a bipartisan crusade that destroyed the foundation of democracy – an informed public.

It was only through whistleblower Edward Snowden’s disclosures that we came to learn digital behemoths like Google, Facebook, AoL and Microsoft had been compelled (some more willingly than others) to surrender vast amounts of data to the state surveillance apparatus.

The dirty secret of the internet was that it was privacy and not just advertising that was being sold.

Scheer states: “While there is no doubt the commercial exploitation of our most intimate practices to enhance advertising sales is destructive of privacy, it is a qualitatively different assault than secret monitoring by a government agency.”

He argues that government intrusions subvert constitutional intent and basic rights, specifically the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee of private space to collect one’s thoughts and papers free from the intimidating surveillance of government.

All the more surprising then that President Obama, a former constitutional law professor, has not only continued Bush-era surveillance powers but has expanded “on that horrid legacy” by cracking down on the press and prosecuting more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all previous US presidents combined.

It is here that Scheer delivers his most withering criticism of the president using a campaign speech the then-Senator Obama delivered in 2007 to deride President Bush’s “false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we demand”.

His own administration, he said, would provide tools to take out terrorists without undermining the Constitution: “That means no more illegal wire-tapping of American citizens. No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime…No more ignoring the law when it is not convenient. That is not who we are. And it is not what is necessary to defeat terrorists. The FISA court works. The separation of powers works. Our Constitution works…”

Scheer’s analysis is a gift to critics of the Obama administration but his frustration goes far deeper than simple partisan politics. He is neither a hysterical commentator, nor a soapbox scaremonger, but a man who believes the nation is sleepwalking on a dangerous path towards its own destruction.

In a rallying call for citizen action he cites the dictum that: “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking that they don’t have any”.

And he warns: “If we persist in apathetically accepting the privacy invasions of corporations and the predations of our own government – perhaps believing the war is already lost – our dystopian future is clear: a world where our private and public spheres are the same, where any agency or business or even individual who can afford the fee can scrutinize us at their leisure, and penalize us for any perceived defect or nonconformity.”

Taking on the World: Joseph and Stewart Alsop – Guardians of the American Century

The names Woodward and Bernstein are probably still the first to come to mind when considering the high point of investigative journalism in the US.

But for four decades before the Watergate scandal two brothers were pre-eminent in breaking the biggest stories of the time and delivering the most influential commentaries on them, the Alsops.

Author Bob Merry brings the characters of Joseph and Stewart alive with a political insider’s eye on their methods and a firm grasp of historical background to put their reporting into perspective.

The brothers were prolific writers and they were golden. Four columns a week, every week, syndicated to 175 newspapers across the country, plus opinion pieces, extended investigative articles, political profiles, deep features and even books.

With family ties to the Roosevelts and a privileged upbringing they started out with a stellar contacts book and they worked hard to cultivate even more by hosting high-level dinner parties for makers and shakers of all persuasions.

There’s a wonderful anecdote from one of the parties in the 1950s in which a phone call for Dean Rusk, then the assistant secretary of state for Far Eastern affairs, disrupts the evening.

He takes the call, returns to the gathering looking ashen-faced and declares that he has to go. Within minutes Army Secretary Frank Pace and Air Force assistant secretary John McCone offer apologies and also depart abruptly. There had been, said Rusk, “some kind of border incident” in Korea.

It was, in fact, a full-scale invasion of the south by the north and illustrates one of the themes that runs through the book, the Alsops proximity to the biggest breaking stories and their close ties to those in power.

Joe saw eight presidents come and go during his time and he was a frequent guest at the White House where he was forthright with his opinions and free with his advice.

He and his brother were among the original WASPs, white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, who wanted to preserve the mores and values of their caste and keep its place in shaping the destiny of the nation.

They endured through the most turbulent times of the 20th Century: WW2 – from which Stewart emerged with a Croix de Guerre with Palm from Charles de Gaulle – the last gasps of the Pax Britannica, the “loss” of China to the communist party, wars in Korea and Vietnam, McCarthyism, the Oppenheimer affair, the Suez debacle, the Cuban missile crisis, the election and assassination of JFK, the Watts riots, and Nixon’s Watergate disgrace.

As the world turned, Joe’s view of America’s place in the world became increasingly out of step with the opinions and aspirations of a younger generation. His writing became increasingly polemical and his influence less and less so.

His last book, I’ve Seen the Best of It, underscores his belief that America’s best days were those when the old elite flourished and it comes with a sense of sad incomprehension that not everyone else could see it that way.

SoilThe Soil Will Save Us, Kristin Ohlson 

At last, a book offering a glimmer of hope to pierce the all-pervading environmental gloom!

Author Ohlson digs deep into topics like soil science, mob-herding, no-till farming and cover crop husbandry to outline how we might yet undo the damage we’ve done to our ecosystem.

Better care of the land means healthier crops and animals, fewer flash floods, greater drought resistance, fewer chemical inputs, fewer issues with run-off and – best of all – massive amounts of carbon sequestration.

Modern agriculture, she says, has led to the loss of 80 billion tons of carbon from the world’s soils and her hope is that scientists, researchers and agrarian free-thinkers, working with nature, can put it back.

Much of what’s written in the book has its roots in far earlier layers of knowledge. As Ohlson points out, Pliny the Elder knew all about composting.

Pastoralists have long practiced crop rotation, green manuring, animal grazing and companion planting and many an old-time gardener grew up with the mantra “feed the soil, not the plant”.

What’s new is our grasp of the complex microbiological activity going on beneath our feet.  Full understanding remains a massive challenge, but the progress of soil science is starting to yield answers – and some spectacular results.

Examples of regenerative farming, where overworked land has been carefully managed and restored to rich earth, are as compelling as they are heartwarming.

And the people behind it – the scientists, foodies and farmers harnessing partnerships between plants and microorganisms – are the book’s heroes.

Up against them are skeptical minds and the political and financial might of Big Ag. In 2009 the sector spent $133m on lobbying, that’s almost as much as the nation’s defense contractors, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

If the odds look unfavorable, then Ohlson suggests a grass roots campaign waged on the unlikely battleground of America’s lawns could be a turning point.

“What we do with our urban green matters, whether it’s in our yards or in our parks or even our highway median strips,” says Olson. And lawns are the largest irrigated crop in the country, taking up three times as much space as corn.

It’s going to take much more than that, of course, but it’s a start. And with farmers and ranchers trying to work the land in a more enlightened way, the seeds of the next agricultural revolution have been sown.

Postscript: The Guardian’s George Monbiot is highly sceptical of claims made by one of the book’s heroes

No ordinary time (2)No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt

Two extraordinary people, a pivotal point in history and an expert storyteller combine to deliver a riveting account of the convulsive forces that created modern America.

If you haven’t read this book yet, you should, and even if you have it’s one to consider reading again, it’s so good.

From the New Deal to the dark days of the Second World War, Doris Kearns Goodwin takes us to the heart of the White House and the tensions, rivalries and conflicts among key players of the period.

From her painstaking research we get fully-fleshed characters wrestling with enormous issues while trying to balance swift action with political expediency. Isolationism, deep-seated racism, poverty and rigid social strictures are shown as part of the fabric of life in the US in the pre-war period.

FDR had the foresight to see what was coming, even when advisers counselled against getting involved, but shifting the nation’s mindset and the economy to a war footing was an enormous risk and a huge challenge. Pearl Harbor was a defining moment; public opinion rapidly came around, but FDR was on board long before that.

His relationship with Churchill and their mutual admiration is closely chronicled and a delight to read. Amid the anecdotes there are several ‘what if’ moments that make you wonder how the world might be had they not seen eye to eye on key positions.

But it’s the intricacy of the relationship between Franklin and Eleanor that holds center stage – it’s both touching and tragic. They’re a couple with a deep, yet unfulfilled, love for each other who share a profound mutual respect and eagerness to please, but whose marriage is mired in melancholy.

Goodwin gives us the ultimate insider’s view of the relationship with multiple perspectives on the hurts, the jealousies, the slights and the misunderstandings. We see the intermingling of their public and private lives, their faults and their frailties, their insecurities and their ambitions.

They emerge as different halves of a complementary whole – an extraordinary couple from an extraordinary time who unleashed changes which continue to reverberate and shape the world in which we live.