Awakening the spirit of America FDR's war of words with Charles Lindbergh--and the battle to save democracy

Paul M. Sparrow

Book - 2024

"A powerful new work of history that brings President Roosevelt, his allies, and his adversaries to life as he fought to transform America from an isolationist bystander into the world's first superpower. Franklin Roosevelt awoke at 2:50 a.m. on September 1, 1939 to the news that Germany had invaded Poland, signaling the start of World War II. The president had warned for years that Hitler's fascist regime posed an existential threat to democracy, but the American public remained stubbornly isolationist as fascist sympathizing groups, egged on by right wing media stars promoting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, plotted to overthrow the president. The situation was dire, and Roosevelt quickly found himself facing an unexpecte...d adversary: Charles Lindbergh. Wildly popular, the famed aviator's youthful charm, plainspoken rhetoric, and media magnetism earned him a massive following as he led an aggressive attack on FDR's policies. Millions listened to Linberg's radio broadcasts and attended his rallies. Powerful individuals including William Randolph Hearst, Henry Ford, and members of Congress supported him. The German government provided secret funds to Lindbergh's Nazi followers as he led the radical America First Committee in an effort to prevent Roosevelt from aiding England's survival--and the world's. Awakening the Spirit of America brilliantly shows how Roosevelt overcame the forces aligned against him in a war against fascism. Paul Sparrow, former director of the FDR Presidential Library, reveals how FDR's triumph of leadership was by no means a foregone conclusion. Roosevelt's astute political maneuvers and persuasive use of language to preserve what he termed "the spirit of America" changed history and can still inspire today. Sparrow brings readers into the rooms where key decisions were made, focusing on the crucial role words, media, and propaganda played in the transformation of America into the protector of the free world. Awakening the Spirit of America provides a riveting, inside account of FDR's ultimate victory over pro-Nazi isolationists and provides vital insight into American history and an iconic president"--Dust jacket flap.

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Location Call Number   Status
2nd Floor New Shelf 973.917/Sparrow (NEW SHELF) Due Aug 5, 2024
New York : Pegasus Books 2024.
Main Author
Paul M. Sparrow (author)
First Pegasus Books cloth edition
Physical Description
xv, 287 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 261-276) and index.
  • Preface
  • Part 1. The War Begins
  • 1. "God Help Us All"
  • 2. A Shot Across the Bow
  • 3. The Persecution of the Jews
  • 4. Hopping Mad
  • 5. The Fall of France, the Rise of Churchill
  • Part 2. A Helping Hand
  • 6. Destroyers, Deceivers, and Decisions
  • 7. Love Takes Flight
  • 8. A Night to Remember
  • 9. The Cruise that Launched a Thousand Ships
  • 10. Words that Changed the World
  • Part 3. Fighting for the Soul of America
  • 11. Neither a Borrower nor a Lender Be
  • 12. Lindbergh versus Roosevelt
  • 13. Waiting for War
  • 14. The Face of Fascism
  • 15. High Stakes on the High Seas
  • 16. Betrayal, Lies, and an Act of Faith
  • Part 4. A Special Friendship
  • 17. Secret Meetings
  • 18. Loss and Lindbergh
  • 19. Race Against Time
  • 20. Infamy
  • 21. Christmas at the White House
  • 22. The State of the Union
  • Epilogue
  • Acknowledgments
  • Illustration credits
  • Bibliography
  • Notes
  • Index
Review by Booklist Review

One man, a U.S. president at a time of heightened global tensions, tries to use the power of his office to assist an ally in its fight with an aggressive neighbor. The other man, an icon turned politician, argues against the president's actions, advocating instead for an isolationist, America-first approach. This is the war of words at the heart of Sparrow's fascinating new book. From September 1939 until January 1942, Franklin Delano Roosevelt "persuaded the world that free people could overcome the terror of mechanized militaries controlled by brutal totalitarian government," as Sparrow puts it. Standing in his way was Charles Lindbergh, the aviator and national hero who, as spokesman for the America First Committee, argued against involvement in the burgeoning Second World War, claiming that Hitler was necessary to defeat the Soviet Union (debatable) and that Jews were ruining everything (deplorable). Enough books have been written on WWII to stretch from here to eternity, but few have focused on this mano-a-mano between president and pitchman--a prescient tale if ever there were one.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Sparrow, former director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, puts his knowledge of the president's archives to excellent use in this riveting debut history. From 1939 to 1941, as Americans debated whether to enter WWII, FDR and famed aviator Charles Lindbergh "entered into a war of words," becoming avatars for the country's interventionist and isolationist camps. Roosevelt, long convinced Nazism was a threat to democracy, began advocating for intervention immediately; Lindbergh reared his head as a surprise antagonist, delivering speeches and radio addresses with the backing of William Randolph Hearst and Henry Ford. Sparrow's main focus is on analyzing FDR's speechwriting process and public performances to shed light on how he persuaded Americans to take up arms in defense of democracy. Sparrow makes ample use of Roosevelt's own words to showcase that persuasiveness: "When you see a rattlesnake poised to strike, you do not wait until he has struck before you crush him." Though the author's strong regard for FDR occasionally leads him to veer into hyperbole--he likens Roosevelt to "a chess master planning twenty moves ahead"--his storytelling captivates, and he makes an invigorating case that the president's calls to fight for democracy resonate today. It's a gripping snapshot of America at a crossroads. Agent: Leah Spiro, Riverside Creative Management. (June)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

From 1939 to early 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt engaged in a war of words with the United States' isolationists, especially aviator Charles Lindbergh, and warned Americans of the dangers posed to democracy by nationalist totalitarianism (e.g., Nazism). Meanwhile, Lindbergh advocated for the U.S. to be neutral in World War II, based on his admiration of Nazi Germany, distrust of the British, and deeply ingrained antisemitism. Sparrow, former director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum, details the crucial period when Roosevelt and his allies prepared the U.S. for war, providing arms and support to Great Britain as it stood against Hitler's Germany. Through carefully crafted speeches and fireside chats, Roosevelt made the case that Hitler needed to be defeated to save democracy, while Lindbergh, although deeply private and reclusive, used speeches and alliances with other isolationists to put out his own message. VERDICT This deeply researched, engaging work demonstrates what was at stake in the war of words between Roosevelt and isolationists in the immediate years prior to the U.S.'s entry into WWII. There's much to enjoy in this title.--Chad E. Statler

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

How Franklin Roosevelt used his political and oratorical acumen to persuade Americans to rebuff a national hero, stand for democracy, and defeat tyranny. Sparrow, former director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, brings his storytelling talents and familiarity with the 32nd president to bear in this engaging book. The narrative centers on Roosevelt's desire to make the U.S. the world's foremost opponent of tyranny, countering the isolationist America First Committee, whose figurehead, aviator Charles Lindbergh, was at the time one of the world's most famous people. Essentially, the battle pitted the "Spirit of St. Louis" against what Roosevelt termed the "Spirit of America." As Lincoln said, public opinion is everything in American politics. Sparrow reminds readers that when Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939, Lindbergh and America Firsters, whose ranks included influential industrialists, media figures, and politicians, held significant sway. In several major radio addresses and speeches, they played on Americans' wariness of another prolonged war or further foreign entanglement, and thinly veiled anti-Jewish sentiment accompanied the seeming willingness to cooperate with the Third Reich. As the author shows, Roosevelt had to contend with such opinions in addition to the Neutrality Acts, which initially stymied aid to the British. Sparrow vividly describes how Roosevelt shaped his rhetoric not only to counter Lindbergh, but to convince the public to reelect him for an unprecedented third term and reinforce the U.S. military as the great defender of democratic principles. In addition to shining a light on Roosevelt's gift for rhetoric and language, political genius, and administrative strength, Sparrow rightly emphasizes other traits more readily associated with Roosevelt's cousin, Theodore--namely, physical courage and the embodiment of the so-called American spirit. This strong, succinct, and thorough book reverberates with Rooseveltian aplomb. A wonderfully written and researched study of a crucial period in 20th-century America. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.