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Watching Darkness Fall: FDR, His Ambassadors, and the Rise of Adolf Hitler

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A gripping and groundbreaking account of how all but one of FDR's ambassadors in Europe misjudged Hitler and his intentions As German tanks rolled toward Paris in late May 1940, the U.S. Ambassador to France, William Bullitt, was determined to stay put, holed up in the Chateau St. Firmin in Chantilly, his country residence. Bullitt told the president that he would neither e A gripping and groundbreaking account of how all but one of FDR's ambassadors in Europe misjudged Hitler and his intentions As German tanks rolled toward Paris in late May 1940, the U.S. Ambassador to France, William Bullitt, was determined to stay put, holed up in the Chateau St. Firmin in Chantilly, his country residence. Bullitt told the president that he would neither evacuate the embassy nor his chateau, an eighteenth Renaissance manse with a wine cellar of over 18,000 bottles, even though “we have only two revolvers in this entire mission with only forty bullets.” As German forces closed in on the French capital, Bullitt wrote the president, “In case I should get blown up before I see you again, I want you to know that it has been marvelous to work for you.” As the fighting raged in France, across the English Channel, Ambassador to Great Britain Joseph P. Kennedy wrote to his wife Rose, “The situation is more than critical. It means a terrible finish for the allies.” Watching Darkness Fall will recount the rise of the Third Reich in Germany and the road to war from the perspective of four American diplomats in Europe who witnessed it firsthand: Joseph Kennedy, William Dodd, Breckinridge Long, and William Bullitt, who all served in key Western European capitals―London, Berlin, Rome, Paris, and Moscow―in the years prior to World War II. In many ways they were America’s first line of defense and they often communicated with the president directly, as Roosevelt's eyes and ears on the ground. Unfortunately, most of them underestimated the power and resolve of Adolf Hitler and Germany’s Third Reich. Watching Darkness Fall is a gripping new history of the years leading up to and the beginning of WWII in Europe told through the lives of five well-educated and mostly wealthy men all vying for the attention of the man in the Oval Office.


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A gripping and groundbreaking account of how all but one of FDR's ambassadors in Europe misjudged Hitler and his intentions As German tanks rolled toward Paris in late May 1940, the U.S. Ambassador to France, William Bullitt, was determined to stay put, holed up in the Chateau St. Firmin in Chantilly, his country residence. Bullitt told the president that he would neither e A gripping and groundbreaking account of how all but one of FDR's ambassadors in Europe misjudged Hitler and his intentions As German tanks rolled toward Paris in late May 1940, the U.S. Ambassador to France, William Bullitt, was determined to stay put, holed up in the Chateau St. Firmin in Chantilly, his country residence. Bullitt told the president that he would neither evacuate the embassy nor his chateau, an eighteenth Renaissance manse with a wine cellar of over 18,000 bottles, even though “we have only two revolvers in this entire mission with only forty bullets.” As German forces closed in on the French capital, Bullitt wrote the president, “In case I should get blown up before I see you again, I want you to know that it has been marvelous to work for you.” As the fighting raged in France, across the English Channel, Ambassador to Great Britain Joseph P. Kennedy wrote to his wife Rose, “The situation is more than critical. It means a terrible finish for the allies.” Watching Darkness Fall will recount the rise of the Third Reich in Germany and the road to war from the perspective of four American diplomats in Europe who witnessed it firsthand: Joseph Kennedy, William Dodd, Breckinridge Long, and William Bullitt, who all served in key Western European capitals―London, Berlin, Rome, Paris, and Moscow―in the years prior to World War II. In many ways they were America’s first line of defense and they often communicated with the president directly, as Roosevelt's eyes and ears on the ground. Unfortunately, most of them underestimated the power and resolve of Adolf Hitler and Germany’s Third Reich. Watching Darkness Fall is a gripping new history of the years leading up to and the beginning of WWII in Europe told through the lives of five well-educated and mostly wealthy men all vying for the attention of the man in the Oval Office.

30 review for Watching Darkness Fall: FDR, His Ambassadors, and the Rise of Adolf Hitler

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sherwood Smith

    I picked this book because most of the history and memoirs and journals I've read about WW II don't contain much about ambassadors--they pop up now and then uttering oracular (or absurd, or placating, or false) platitudes, then vanish back into the world of silk hats and cocktail parties, or so it often seems. McKean, an ambassador himself, sets the scene with an account of FDR's campaign and inauguration, giving me the sense that he very much was taken by the FDR charisma. That pretty much set t I picked this book because most of the history and memoirs and journals I've read about WW II don't contain much about ambassadors--they pop up now and then uttering oracular (or absurd, or placating, or false) platitudes, then vanish back into the world of silk hats and cocktail parties, or so it often seems. McKean, an ambassador himself, sets the scene with an account of FDR's campaign and inauguration, giving me the sense that he very much was taken by the FDR charisma. That pretty much set the tone of this work for me; though there are academic works written in so breezy and engaging a style that they can read like novels, and there are journalistic pieces that are so scrupulously researched, and written in so detached a manner that they would pass a peer review by a table of academic specialists, I got the sense that I was reading an article in Foreign Affairs, or one of the magazines for readers who are not academics, who might not have read much history after college, but who are curious about the subject. And I enjoyed it. It's a fast read, with vivid depictions of the individuals, FDR always at the center pulling the strings; the first three quarters of the book cover FDR's first three terms from the POV of foreign affairs, with brief references to ongoing events for perspective. We learn of the diplomatic jockeying before America entered the war, the diplomatic stage during the events that pulled the US into the war, and the last portion covers up to FDR's collapse and death in office. I did get the sense that McKean had decided what he thought about the four men (holding his nose as he wrote about Joe Kennedy), and found the data to support his view, but that's okay by me--if I want an academic treatment of any of them, I know where I can find the data. What I got was a readable look at this period through the lens of a state department lifer, with ambassadors on center stage. Copy provided by NetGalley

  2. 4 out of 5

    Juli

    Watching Darkness Fall tells the story of the rise of the Third Reich from the perspectives of Joseph Kennedy, William Dodd, Breckinridge Long and William Bullitt, US foreign ambassadors under FDR. David McKean, a former ambassador himself, lays out the history in an interesting, very detailed, informative way. I read this book slowly, stopping frequently to look things up so I understood the who, what and whys behind the early days of the Reich. I've read a lot about this era over the years, bu Watching Darkness Fall tells the story of the rise of the Third Reich from the perspectives of Joseph Kennedy, William Dodd, Breckinridge Long and William Bullitt, US foreign ambassadors under FDR. David McKean, a former ambassador himself, lays out the history in an interesting, very detailed, informative way. I read this book slowly, stopping frequently to look things up so I understood the who, what and whys behind the early days of the Reich. I've read a lot about this era over the years, but still managed to learn many new facts from this book. This isn't a quick read -- there is a lot of detailed information. But it's well worth reading for those interested in what occurred. This is the first book I've read by David McKean. I'm definitely going to check out his other books. I like his writing style and he definitely knows his subject well! Detailed historical accounts can get a bit dry, but McKean kept it interesting throughout. Very informative! **I voluntarily read a review copy of this book from St. Martin's Press. All opinions expressed are entirely my own.**

  3. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

    David McKean’s insightful history of President Roosevelt’s ambassadors offers a unique view of history through the men who were FDR’s ears and eyes abroad during the rise of Hitler. On the homefront, Watching Darkness Fall is the story of how FDR contended with American isolationism while knowing that the rise of fascism in Europe meant America would be forced to become involved. FDR had a wonderful insight into human nature that allowed him to inspire loyalty–and manipulate and contain would-be David McKean’s insightful history of President Roosevelt’s ambassadors offers a unique view of history through the men who were FDR’s ears and eyes abroad during the rise of Hitler. On the homefront, Watching Darkness Fall is the story of how FDR contended with American isolationism while knowing that the rise of fascism in Europe meant America would be forced to become involved. FDR had a wonderful insight into human nature that allowed him to inspire loyalty–and manipulate and contain would-be adversaries. For his ambassadors, he chose an academic–Dodd, trusted friends–Bullitt and Long–and a man he owed a political favor but did not trust–Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. William Bullitt came from a politically connected, wealthy family. FDR sent him on several fact finding missions in Europe. Bullitt charmed FDR’s office wife Missy LeHand, along with numerous other women. FDR identified him as the right man for ambassador to the Soviet Union; during the war, he was assigned to France and painfully experienced the Nazi takeover of his beloved Paris. William E. Dodd was a professor of history who spoke German. “I want an American liberal in Germany as a standing example, FDR told him. Dodd was appalled by the Nazis and warned of impending war. His daughter became a Soviet spy! Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. understood money. FDR offered him government positions as a reward for his support, but Kennedy wanted a cabinet position. He was offered the ambassadorship to London. The Kennedy family at first charmed the Brits, but Joe became persona non gratis with his entrenched insistence on American isolationism. He had no sympathy for the Jews and thought fascism had provided economic stability for Germany and was the future for all democracies–including America. Breckinridge Long was in the Wilson administration and FDR sent him to Italy where he came to admire Mussolini. As Secretary of State, his inaction to refugees fleeing Nazi persecution was based on national security concerns and his antisemitism, and he suppressed information about the mass murder of Jews. Watching Darkness Fall greatly contributed to my understanding of this critical time. I found it an interesting study in context of the rise of fascism in the 21st c. I received a free egalley from the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Sheila

    This is a complex and detailed book about Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his ambassadors to key cities in the U.K. and Europe during the Nazi regime’s meteoric rise to power in Germany. It is written by David McKean, the former U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg and former director of Policy Planning for the U.S. Department of State. It begins really in the early 1930’s with FDR’s political career in the U.S., as well as Hitler’s political career in Germany. I found this book to be loaded with facts a This is a complex and detailed book about Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his ambassadors to key cities in the U.K. and Europe during the Nazi regime’s meteoric rise to power in Germany. It is written by David McKean, the former U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg and former director of Policy Planning for the U.S. Department of State. It begins really in the early 1930’s with FDR’s political career in the U.S., as well as Hitler’s political career in Germany. I found this book to be loaded with facts and dates but the prose was clear, concise, and easy to understand. Not a small feat when explaining 20th Century world history. The slowest reading I usually do in any book is the beginning, in which the major and many minor characters are introduced. The same happened here. The only U.S. ambassador that I knew anything about was Joe Kennedy, Ambassador to the Court of St. James (London). I also had little knowledge of FDR’s early political career, and no knowledge of his campaigns. Be patient, it all does matter during the latter years. As I noted above, there are quite a few facts that I didn’t know before that are presented in the narrative, and I liked that. This is one of the historical time periods that I enjoy studying so that was a plus. I did not know that Ambassador Dodd was a front runner in calling out Hitler for what he was. (I did know that CBS journalist William L. Shirer was, but Dodd appears to have been far more militant about it.) I also was not aware that Ambassador Kennedy went to the lengths he did to try to get Roosevelt to make peace with Hitler while western European countries were overrun and the U.K. was clearly in grave danger. All in all, I highly recommend this book as an examination of FDR and foreign policy in action during the 1930’s and into the 1940’s during the War. The emphasis is on the 1930’s and how the U.S. came to be involved in World War II. The personalities and attitudes of these select ambassadors profiled here definitely impacted world politics. I want to thank St. Martin’s Press, author David McKean, and NetGalley for allowing me to read this pre-publication eGalley. I have posted an honest opinion and have not received anything for it.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Shirley McAllister

    Hitler's Rise This story spans the war years of 1933-to 1941 and the Rise of Adolph Hitler in Europe. It is a story of the inside workings of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration and how they handled the rise of Hitler. It is especially about the four men that president Roosevelt picked to be diplomat's to the four countries in Europe. William Dodd in Germany, Joseph Kennedy in the United Kingdom, Breckenridge Long in Italy and finally Bullitt who was originally posted to Russia and then Hitler's Rise This story spans the war years of 1933-to 1941 and the Rise of Adolph Hitler in Europe. It is a story of the inside workings of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration and how they handled the rise of Hitler. It is especially about the four men that president Roosevelt picked to be diplomat's to the four countries in Europe. William Dodd in Germany, Joseph Kennedy in the United Kingdom, Breckenridge Long in Italy and finally Bullitt who was originally posted to Russia and then to France. President Roosevelt often had a personal connection to his appointees and loyalty was expected and received. He got along will all of them except for Mr. Dodd who had difference of opinions with but respected. The problem is that all of his diplomats misjudged Hitler's power and did nothing and wrongly advised FDR that Hitler was less of a threat than he actually was. That is all except for Mr. Dodd who warned the president of the threat from Hitler. Unfortunately his warnings were not heeded. It is the story of each diplomat and how they sit back and watch Hitler take over Europe and are complacent until it is too late. I believe much research has gone into this book and it was well written. An interesting history of this period of time and worth reading. I do recommend it. Thanks to David McKean, ST. Martin's Press and NetGalley for allowing me to read a complimentary copy of the book, all opinions are my own.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Crystal

    Nonfiction>History>US 1930s. 3.5 ⭐ Very detailed history of some key ambassadors leading up to US involvement in WWII. Kind of boring and full of dates and names which I fully understand should be expected from a history book but it didn't have to be so dry. I started reading The Rose Code about half way through this one so I enjoyed the background regarding what exactly was going on with US while reading the English girls' stories. I did like the creative chapter titles...I always like when chap Nonfiction>History>US 1930s. 3.5 ⭐ Very detailed history of some key ambassadors leading up to US involvement in WWII. Kind of boring and full of dates and names which I fully understand should be expected from a history book but it didn't have to be so dry. I started reading The Rose Code about half way through this one so I enjoyed the background regarding what exactly was going on with US while reading the English girls' stories. I did like the creative chapter titles...I always like when chapters have titles, especially clever ones and not just heading titles. Learning about WWII with hindsight it always seems it was a foregone conclusion that US would be anti-Nazi, but if you learn about the real discussions in the 30s this would not have been so clear at the time. This book does address how many prominent Americans would have sided with Germany if it meant a swifter end to the conflict and America being left out of Europe's mess(es). The quotes from Joe Kennedy very enlightening on this topic. This difference is not explored in this book, but while the American government was interested in helping Britain defend itself, many American companies made small fortunes in business deals with Axis and this surely affected the spread of support for isolationist policies.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Casey Wheeler

    This book covers the time period from about 1935 until the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It is about Roosevelt’s way of operating with his Secretary of State and his Ambassadors to England, France and Germany leading up to World War II. It is well written and researched. I recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in World War II or Franklin Roosevelt. I received a free Kindle copy of this book courtesy of Net Galley and the publisher with the understanding that I would post a review on Net Ga This book covers the time period from about 1935 until the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It is about Roosevelt’s way of operating with his Secretary of State and his Ambassadors to England, France and Germany leading up to World War II. It is well written and researched. I recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in World War II or Franklin Roosevelt. I received a free Kindle copy of this book courtesy of Net Galley and the publisher with the understanding that I would post a review on Net Galley, Goodreads, Amazon, Facebook and my nonfiction book review blog.

  8. 5 out of 5

    AC

    Decades after WWI, the US people, and most of the US government, truly believed in Woodrow Wilson's insane and unworkable isolationism stance. I understand the wish to not be dragged into some war that's not yours to fight, but the US and everyone else on the planet have been globalists almost as soon as (most of) the map had been tentatively finalized. Backbiting Ambassadors too interested in their own machinations on higher office don't help. Watching Darkness Fall is primarily the story of FDR Decades after WWI, the US people, and most of the US government, truly believed in Woodrow Wilson's insane and unworkable isolationism stance. I understand the wish to not be dragged into some war that's not yours to fight, but the US and everyone else on the planet have been globalists almost as soon as (most of) the map had been tentatively finalized. Backbiting Ambassadors too interested in their own machinations on higher office don't help. Watching Darkness Fall is primarily the story of FDR - both a Wilsonian politician and charged with pulling the U out of the Great depression - and four of his Ambassadors, posted to offices in Europe. Of the four included in this book, only one seemed to understand the threat posed by Hitler in Germany, and the great conflagration he would cause: William Dodd. He warned FDR, early and often, that Hitler was going to be a problem to our allies (especially Great Britain and France) and potentially the world at large. The others - Breckenridge Long in Italy, William Bullitt in Russia and subsequently in France, and Joseph P. Kennedy - either heaped praise on a fascist while acting like a tourist (Long), wrote what amounted to love letters to FDR (seriously!) and constantly painted a pretty picture for him, even while things were falling apart, and had the audacity to think he could speak for the US or French(!) government when the leaders fled France, all the while angling for a job as head of the war department (Bullitt), or were anti-Semites, particularly uninterested in the plight of Jews in Germany (Long and Kennedy). It isn't an easy read, particularly to start; there are names and history and political dealings thrown at the reader in order to set the stage. Presumably anyone reading this would have a basic understanding of the runup to WWII. If you do not, it will likely be fairly rough sailing, at least until all the characters are in place. Once that's complete, however, it's easy to see - through letters, diaries, newspapers, and official government issues - just how ready some were to allow Europe and possibly even Russia go up in flames because no one really wanted to hear any bad news from abroad, much less help our own allies fight against a maniac. It's especially troubling to read Bullitt's missives. He was grossly unqualified and unprepared for the duty he accepted. Equally disgusting was Long, who deliberately held up visas for those fleeing to the US, especially Jews and even children, and Kennedy, who urged FDR to make people with Hitler. The book ends rather abruptly, but by that point, I was tired of all of them and quite glad of it. Five stars, no doubt in my mind. Thanks to St Martin's Press and NetGalley for the reading copy.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Toni Osborne

    FDR, His Ambassadors and the Rise of Adolph Hitler “Watching Darkness Fall” is of considerable interest for those fascinated in history especially in the Roosevelt era. The account provides us with a broad-ranging study of the role of ambassadors in delivering information about the rise of Europe’s regimes from 1933 to 1941. Mr. McKean delivers a biography of four American diplomats as they struggle to handle the rise of fascism. The information taken from diaries, letters and records reveals that FDR, His Ambassadors and the Rise of Adolph Hitler “Watching Darkness Fall” is of considerable interest for those fascinated in history especially in the Roosevelt era. The account provides us with a broad-ranging study of the role of ambassadors in delivering information about the rise of Europe’s regimes from 1933 to 1941. Mr. McKean delivers a biography of four American diplomats as they struggle to handle the rise of fascism. The information taken from diaries, letters and records reveals that the President counted on his ambassadors in France, Germany, Great Britain and Italy to collect information needed to make proper decisions. All but one of FDR’s ambassadors misjudged Hitler and his intentions. From the perspective of Joseph Kennedy, William Dodd, Breckinridge Long and William Bullitt who witnessed the rise of the Third Reich firsthand often communicated with the president to inform him. McKean argues that although Roosevelt was more interested in domestic concerns at the time he was also very skeptical of his emissaries’ correspondence. Eventually Roosevelt intelligence channels led him away from being cautious over international involvement to the certainty that his country would be facing a European war. Then Pearl Harbor happened and all changed. This account covers a lot and is so loaded with facts and people it can be overwhelming at times, I know I was and needed to put it aside multiple times and concentrate on something lighter. Although, this book is a long read and a tedious one the vivid depiction of the individuals will make the reader (me) want to pursuit and not abandoned it in order to broaden knowledge, we learn a lot: not only of FDR but also the diplomatic dance before America plunged into the war and what transpired during the event all the way to FDR collapse and death and beyond his tenure. I could say more but this is one of those books that should be read and appreciated individually. No doubt, “Watching Darkness Fall” is an interesting book for all. Historical buffs will love it and rookies will have their interest piqued.....and some will pass on it, definitely not for everyone. I would like to thank St-martin Press and Netgalley for the opportunity to read and review this book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Debra Pawlak

    I was given an advance reading copy (arc) of this book from NetGalley.com in return for a fair review. Author David McKean put together a fine book about the rise of Hitler as seen through the eyes of four American ambassadors assigned by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. McKean details the experiences of William Dodd (Germany), William Bullitt (France), Breckinridge Long (Italy) and Joseph P. Kennedy (England) during the 1930s when Hitler rose to power. These men had no idea what they were i I was given an advance reading copy (arc) of this book from NetGalley.com in return for a fair review. Author David McKean put together a fine book about the rise of Hitler as seen through the eyes of four American ambassadors assigned by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. McKean details the experiences of William Dodd (Germany), William Bullitt (France), Breckinridge Long (Italy) and Joseph P. Kennedy (England) during the 1930s when Hitler rose to power. These men had no idea what they were in for as they witnessed firsthand the turbulent events that led to the devastation of Europe. Their interaction with the U.S. President and their views make for an interesting read. Dodd, for example, knew exactly what the Nazis stood for and tried to make known that Hitler was a madman. At the same time, Long let it be known that he admired Mussolini, while Kennedy remained an isolationist and felt that America should avoid trouble at all cost. Bullitt thought that France and Germany should be able to negotiate peace. He faulted Dodd for being in the way. Dodd was outspoken and knew that there was no negotiating with the Nazis. Roosevelt himself had his hands full with trying to pull his country out of the Great Depression. Public sentiment was strong against joining in the international fight. The president knew, however, that it was only a matter of time before his hand would be forced into the turmoil. McKean provides a unique look at a very dark time and brings to life four very distinct politicians who witnessed the same things, but who viewed them differently. Very well written and researched--a must read for anyone interested in World War II.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Alexander

    Focusing on the American diplomatic efforts in the lead up to WW2, Watching Darkness Fall covers well trodded ground for those familiar with this time period. You’ll see the general lackadaisical mindset many in the State Department had coupled with the American public’s steadfast isolationism and a heavy heaping of antisemitism found everywhere. Nothing terribly new. That being said, what I did find interesting was the specter of fascism wasn’t as terrifying as I imagined. Many close to FDR ope Focusing on the American diplomatic efforts in the lead up to WW2, Watching Darkness Fall covers well trodded ground for those familiar with this time period. You’ll see the general lackadaisical mindset many in the State Department had coupled with the American public’s steadfast isolationism and a heavy heaping of antisemitism found everywhere. Nothing terribly new. That being said, what I did find interesting was the specter of fascism wasn’t as terrifying as I imagined. Many close to FDR openly pondered its merits and whether it maybe was necessary in the US. While I feel I was always taught Joe Kennedy (yes of that Kennedy family) had inclinations to this mindset it was always coupled with his antisemitism. I was shocked how many were at best apathetic to the prospect of a Hitler-dominated Europe. Apparently when the bad guys are on the march, it turns out many in your own house won’t care!

  12. 5 out of 5

    John Szalasny

    Thanks to Goodreads for an Advance Reader Copy of this book. As much as I thought I knew about Franklin Delano Roosevelt, this was an enlightening look into the representatives of the United States in the major European capitals during the Great Depression and the lead-up to World War II. For all of the praise he rightly receives for moving the country through its worst economic crisis, and his ability to manage Congress and the military through WWII, FDR selected four men to serve as ambassadors Thanks to Goodreads for an Advance Reader Copy of this book. As much as I thought I knew about Franklin Delano Roosevelt, this was an enlightening look into the representatives of the United States in the major European capitals during the Great Depression and the lead-up to World War II. For all of the praise he rightly receives for moving the country through its worst economic crisis, and his ability to manage Congress and the military through WWII, FDR selected four men to serve as ambassadors for the key posts (William Bullett - France; William Dodd - Germany; Breckinridge Long - Italy; Joseph Kennedy - Great Britain) who were ill suited to gather intelligence or speak for the US. Not only did Roosevelt get conflicting reports from the four, he had to deal with representatives (especially Kennedy and Bullett) who did not toe the official line when speaking in public. Even though his hands would have been tied by Congress and their isolationist policies, the lack of coherent intelligence from his representatives in the European theater may have forestalled the ability of the American military to be battle ready. The author, David McKean, does a good job of portraying the lead up to war and the actions of the four ambassadors from attitudes ranging from appeasement (Kennedy) to prepare for war (Dodd).

  13. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    I received a complimentary copy 0f this book through the Goodreads Giveaway program. David McKean, an ambassador to Luxembourg under Obama, has written a fast-reading, entertaining account of the evolution of the FDR administration's European foreign policy during the years leading to America's entry into WWII. The focus is on the US ambassadors to the UK, France, Italy, Germany, and Russia and their role in conveying information and their policy recommendations to FDR and, to a much lesser exten I received a complimentary copy 0f this book through the Goodreads Giveaway program. David McKean, an ambassador to Luxembourg under Obama, has written a fast-reading, entertaining account of the evolution of the FDR administration's European foreign policy during the years leading to America's entry into WWII. The focus is on the US ambassadors to the UK, France, Italy, Germany, and Russia and their role in conveying information and their policy recommendations to FDR and, to a much lesser extent, the State Department. Much of what is covered is familiar territory. However, by concentrating on the experience of the US ambassadors as Europe descended into war, we gain insight into FDR's decision-making processes and his management of his advisors. McKean considers the Roosevelt presidency "a historical apex for the influence of US diplomats and their direct influence with a president." McKean undercuts this position, in certain respects, by recounting the significant role of "special envoys", whether formally empowered by FDR, such as Harry Hopkins, or informally employed as information sources, such as Frances Perkins trip to Europe in the 30's. McKean fills the book with anecdotes that illustrate his points. Notably, when the out-of-favor Joseph Kennedy, ambassador to England, visited the White House, FDR forced Kennedy to sit on the toilet while FDR shaved. We get a good sense of the men FDR choose to be his eyes and ears in the key European capitals during a time of crisis . William Dodd, a Chicago academic, is sent to Berlin and quickly becomes disgusted with a Nazi controlled Germany. He is portrayed as a highly principled, somewhat naive, man who recognizes the futility of diplomacy and the constrains imposed upon policy by the State Department. William Bullitt, first ambassador to Russia then France, is presented as overly ambitious and scheming, yet highly perceptive and one of the few, together with Dodd, who communicated the dire situation in Europe. Breckinridge Long, US ambassador to Italy, soon becomes beguiled with Mussolini and even defends Italy's invasion of Ethiopia. Long later served in the US as a state department official who denied entry into the US to countless war refugees. McKean correctly calls Long probably the worst appointment FDR ever made. McKean's depiction of the relationship between FDR and Joe Kennedy is fascinating. FDR realizes that Kennedy's political support is vital to retaining Catholic voters and many Americans who wanted to avoid becoming entangled in Europe's affairs. The America First movement, Charles Lindbergh, and the Hearst newspapers all attempted to portray FDR as leading America to war. However, FDR doesn't trust Kennedy and keeps him in line but minimizes his opportunities for mischief by sending him to London. McKean deftly shows how FDR managed Kennedy through a mixture of flattery and the use of alternatives, such as Harry Hopkins, to the ambassador in dealing with England. Nasaw's brilliant biography of Kennedy, Patriarch, suggests McKean has somewhat simplified both Kenndey and his relationship with FDR; but, McKean's admiration for FDR's brilliance in manipulating those he found useful, even if untrustworthy, is understandable. Mckean's book should inspire those with an interest in understanding of why the world permitted Hitler to brutalize Germany and push the world to war to revisit some other works. Piers Brendon's Dark Valley is a comprenhensive and trenchant analyis of the world economic and political situation in the 1930s; David Mayer has a similar diplomatic focus in FDR's Ambassadors and the Diplomacy of Crisis; Erik Larsen's In the Garden of the Beasts tells of Dodd and his daughter's first two years in Berlin; and David Kennedy's Freedom From Fear is a grand history of FDR's domestic agenda and the war years.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Erik Snell

    I received an "advance reader" copy of this book through a giveaway on Goodreads. This is however a book that I would have read on my own eventually. If you are fairly new to the opening politics of World War II this is a good book for you. This is an interesting overview of how events were twisting and changing in Europe as seen through the eyes of the U.S. State Department. Starting from a unique vantage point helps to keep things grounding without unfurling the reader across every knock and cr I received an "advance reader" copy of this book through a giveaway on Goodreads. This is however a book that I would have read on my own eventually. If you are fairly new to the opening politics of World War II this is a good book for you. This is an interesting overview of how events were twisting and changing in Europe as seen through the eyes of the U.S. State Department. Starting from a unique vantage point helps to keep things grounding without unfurling the reader across every knock and cranny of the changing political landscape in Europe. This approach helps especially for a reader just starting on this topic who is looking to safely dip their toe in the water without drowning. Keeping the perspective on the Americans also helps to solidify this as an introduction to the topic by starting with the point of view American readers can best understand. This book also does a good job of introducing the players without anyone feeling lost or forgotten. You won't finish the book feeling like you know everything about them but come the last page they are more than just random names who's only difference is the letters in each name's spelling. I read a lot of history and normally I do prefer my books to be deeper than this one. However, often times I find having a good kiddie ride to get me started helps me best understand a topic long term and makes it easier to dive into deeper and longer reads that really pile on the information. In the end if you are not just starting off on this topic you may find this a little too pedestrian. It is well written and easy to follow but aside from some new characters the topic stays fairly surface level. This book really does serve as a great introduction for someone getting ready to start a deep dive into the European politics that setup World War II. One minor quibble I could add is a quick review of the title and the message it presents to a reader. This promise is half accomplished. While as I said this primarily serves as an introduction there could still probably be a little bit more time spent on analyzing why "darkness" is a sufficient descriptive noun to be used. We all know going in who the "bad guys" are. In some ways I think the author may have taken a little bit too much advantage of that. As readers we don't need to be convinced that the rise of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy can adequately be described as "darkness." However the why and what was being missed at the same time is an important part of this story. I am not saying it's ignored at all. I would just like to start the argument that perhaps more could have been done. When you're juggling writing an introduction versus writing a thorough master course on the topic this is a tough area to get just right. How much can you put in before you've done too much? I don't think it's far enough to one side where we would all agree necessarily but in my opinion I would have like to see a little bit more of an introduction into what was happening that the ambassadors were or were not seeing. In the end this book can be enjoyed no matter whether you're diving in as a rookie or an expert. But, the rookies will probably enjoy it a lot more because it will pique their interest to want to learn more instead of just leaving them hungry and wishing they had gotten more.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Joseph J.

    Won in a Goodreads giveaway. While much has been made of Abraham Lincoln's forming a "Team of Rivals" among his cabinet, that term has not been applied to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Certainly, FDR himself was often hard to categorize and lock into a position. In Watching Darkness Fall, David McKean portrays an interesting mix of backgrounds, personalities and ambitions among FDR's ambassadors as Hitler and Nazism spread across Europe. From his own wasp social set FDR drew upon Sumner Welles for Unde Won in a Goodreads giveaway. While much has been made of Abraham Lincoln's forming a "Team of Rivals" among his cabinet, that term has not been applied to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Certainly, FDR himself was often hard to categorize and lock into a position. In Watching Darkness Fall, David McKean portrays an interesting mix of backgrounds, personalities and ambitions among FDR's ambassadors as Hitler and Nazism spread across Europe. From his own wasp social set FDR drew upon Sumner Welles for Undersecretary of State and William Bullitt as first Ambassador to Stalin's Soviet Union, and later France. Also, for Italy, there was Breckenridge Long. For Berlin, as Hitler ruthlessly consolidated power, FDR sent the academic William Dodd. And finally, and most famously, or infamously, the Irish Catholic self made Joseph P. Kennedy to London and the Court of St. James, with his wife Rose and retinue of nine photogenic children. All had their faults. Welles' personal behavior would today be the stuff of The National Enquirer, but of course in those times interracial sex and homosexual behavior were each scandalously career ending and on the books illegal. Bullitt loved the good life: fine wine, women including FDR's devoted personal secretary Missy LeHand, and palatial digs. Stalin recognized that weakness. His vision on Hitler, the Nazis and Fascists and the threat to Europe and the World was an improving 20-20. Dodd was right on as to Hitler, but not in tune with American and Capitol Hill isolationism of the time, and he seemed not to comprehend Constitutional boundaries and restraints. In Italy, Long was impressed by Il Duce, but of course so was FDR initially, while rightly seeing Hitler as a madman. Long's political and moral myopia would have tragic consequences for the Jewish people later from within his State Department post. And finally there was Joe Kennedy, at once admiring but distrustful of FDR, while slavishly devoted to appeasement of Hitler among the Cliveden set and as promulgated by Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain of Munich infamy. Kennedy's views were defined by economic interests, a lack of moral grounding, and ambition tempered with fear for his sons. Kennedy and FDR play a real cat and mouse game, while Bullitt's simpering over familiarity with FDR does not ultimately save him in this diplomatic dance of personalities and ambitions. This is a richly absorbing account of American politics and personalities as the darkness of Hitler descends upon Europe and the world. And, at this time in our nation as we see the limits of our foreign reach, we are reminded that the United States has always been instinctively an isolationist people. Dodd, Bullitt, and FDR in turn came to see the need to breach that wall of division from the world.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy Booty

    Watching Darkness Fall is an insightful work which tells the story of four key ambassadors who served President Roosevelt in the years leading up to WW2, how their opinions shaped those of the President and the nations in which they served. As McKean points out, this was the last era in which foreign policy was to any significant degree shaped by its ambassadors. Two out of the four,William Bullitt and Breckinridge Long, were longtime friends and associates of the President; Joseph Kennedy self Watching Darkness Fall is an insightful work which tells the story of four key ambassadors who served President Roosevelt in the years leading up to WW2, how their opinions shaped those of the President and the nations in which they served. As McKean points out, this was the last era in which foreign policy was to any significant degree shaped by its ambassadors. Two out of the four,William Bullitt and Breckinridge Long, were longtime friends and associates of the President; Joseph Kennedy self made millionaire and father to a future President, was appointed to avoid appointing him as Secretary of the Treasury;William Dodd, an academic, because he taught about Germany and spoke German fluently. McKean describes the triumphs and failures of each man. Kennedy, a shrewd businessman could not get past a purely economic approach to diplomacy and was an ardent appeaser, even after Britain entered the war. Dodd, an ultimately decent and honorable man, ultimately could not withstand the horror that was Nazi Germany and his powerlessness to prevent it from continuing. Long simply became infatuated with Mussolini and could not present a true picture of fascism nor give good advice to the President. His actions as Undersecretary of State to prevent European Jews from finding refuge in the US overshadow any good he may have done either before or after the war. Bullitt, despite overweening ambition, proved to be the most effective. He disobeyed orders and helped prevent the destruction of Paris, accurately predicted Hitler’s plan to dismantle Europe. He could have done more but for his envy of Sumner Welles, a rival and Assistant Secretary of State. His willingness to expose Welles as being gay led to his exile from real power. All were men of their times, reflecting the racism, anti-semitism and elitism then prevalent. All but one, Dodd, were as anxious to pursue their own interests as those of the U.S. Perhaps the most important and interesting parts of the book take us behind the scenes at the White House, including one in which FDR has Joe Kennedy strip to his shorts in the Oval Office. I am an avid reader of books about the pre-war era. This book is an exceptional contribution to this area of study.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Michael Hassel

    Watching Darkness Fall; FDR, His Ambassadors and the Rise of Adolf Hitler by David McKean. I found this book very interesting as it tells the story of the period from 1933-1941 in the build-up to WW II in Europe through the eyes and reports of four key US ambassadors in Europe. (1) William Dodd in Germany; (2)Breckenridge Long in Italy; (3) William Bullitt 1st in Russia then in France and (4) Joseph P Kennedy in the UK. Although they were ambassadors, their personalities as well as Franklin Roos Watching Darkness Fall; FDR, His Ambassadors and the Rise of Adolf Hitler by David McKean. I found this book very interesting as it tells the story of the period from 1933-1941 in the build-up to WW II in Europe through the eyes and reports of four key US ambassadors in Europe. (1) William Dodd in Germany; (2)Breckenridge Long in Italy; (3) William Bullitt 1st in Russia then in France and (4) Joseph P Kennedy in the UK. Although they were ambassadors, their personalities as well as Franklin Roosevelt’s management style meant they reported to him and not the State Dept. This of course did not improve the overall situation. In other books that I have read, the same occurred with our Foreign Officers in China. Adding to the complexity were two key factors which were new to me: (1) FDR did not have confidence in his political strength to do the right thing. He was constantly second guessing himself and putting forward “America First” policies to hold on to votes instead of directly leading public opinion to the dangers of not preparing and supporting European efforts against Hitler and (2) dealing directly with his ambassadors mentioned above who were not of one mind. Dodd correctly saw Hitler for what he was, Long – a strong believer in Mussolini and anti-semite enjoyed himself immensely in Italy (3) Bullitt who rebelled against authority and fought a bitter internal battle to get ahead with a cabinet position in Washington and (4) Kennedy who also was an anti-semite and American First believer. And yet, FDR when necessary, made perfect decisions such as the Lend-Lease Act to get around the Neutrality Act that he signed three times to keep America out of the war. In addition, I suppose not a surprise there were affairs going on with women by some of the above and all too much money spent on lavish Embassy parties which I can see accomplish nothing. Have things changed today in the State Department? I am not sure and this book has wetted by appetite to learn more about the role of ambassadors today in regions of importance.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jean Kolinofsky

    On the same day that the Times wrote an article detailing Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s inauguration there was a smaller article on Hitler’s success in persuading von Hindenburg to dissolve Germany’s parliament and call for new elections, a first step in his rise to power. Roosevelt’s priority was America’s ailing economy, believing that international trade and relationships would help in the recovery. His appointments of ambassadors to the European countries gave him an opportunity to receive fir On the same day that the Times wrote an article detailing Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s inauguration there was a smaller article on Hitler’s success in persuading von Hindenburg to dissolve Germany’s parliament and call for new elections, a first step in his rise to power. Roosevelt’s priority was America’s ailing economy, believing that international trade and relationships would help in the recovery. His appointments of ambassadors to the European countries gave him an opportunity to receive first hand information on the political situation, but of the four men assigned to the major capitals three of them failed to realize the dangers presented by Hitler’s and Mussolini’s rise to power. David McKean uses the personal correspondence and reports of William Dodd (Berlin), Breckinridge Long (Italy), William Bullitt (Russia and later France) and Joseph Kennedy (London) as well as sources from the State Department and the White House to explain how these men failed to see what was happening around them. With the exception of Dodd, these men were wealthy and influential. As ambassador to Germany Dodd developed a hatred of the Nazis and was witness to the threat that they posed. After being recalled he was encouraged by Roosevelt to speak up about what he witnessed to make people aware of that threat. McKean looks at the pacts signed and the maneuvering of European leaders in an effort to halt Germany’s expansion. While America’s intention was to not be drawn into the conflicts, Roosevelt was aware that America needed to prepare in the event of a war. As agreement after agreement fell apart, Hitler moved forward with his plans, igniting WWII. McKean’s account of events is clearly set forward and beautifully written, making Watching Darkness Fall a must read for those who enjoy historical non-fiction. I would like to thank NetGalley and St. Martin Press for providing this book for my review.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy Reppy

    "Watching Darkness Fall" was an interesting book. I was unfamiliar with FDR's European ambassadors and State Department officials, as well as the role Harry Hopkins played in foreign affairs, so I learned a lot from the book. The ambassadors were pretty diverse in their opinions about European leaders and world affairs -- some isolationists, some internationalists, some optimists, some defeatists, some who admired the autocratic leaders (Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin) and agreed with some of their p "Watching Darkness Fall" was an interesting book. I was unfamiliar with FDR's European ambassadors and State Department officials, as well as the role Harry Hopkins played in foreign affairs, so I learned a lot from the book. The ambassadors were pretty diverse in their opinions about European leaders and world affairs -- some isolationists, some internationalists, some optimists, some defeatists, some who admired the autocratic leaders (Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin) and agreed with some of their policies, some who were appalled by Hitler and his ilk, etc. I was surprised to learn that Dodd, the US Ambassador to Germany, was the only government official who really recognized early on the evil that was Hitler and the need to stop him before he became too powerful/influential. The personal animosities between various officials and the machinations by various officials as they jockeyed for power and influence made for interesting reading. The author highlights various missed opportunities to take actions to potentially alter the course of history, or where mistakes were made in decision-making due to incomplete or inaccurate information or biases. He also explains how FDRs domestic agenda and the political situation in Congress and nationally influenced FDR's actions, or largely inactions, on foreign policy matters. If you are interested in WWII, FDR, foreign policy, Europe, diplomacy, or related issues, this might be a good book for you. I received a copy of the e-book via NetGalley in exchange for a review.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Christy Martin

    Watching Darkness Fall by David McKean is one of the most interesting and readable accounts I have seen of the years and events in Europe that preceded the U.S. involvement in World War II. This fascinating account is based on the letters written to President Franklin Roosevelt by ambassadors to the European countries that were being affected by the Natzi regime and is an interesting look at their relationship with Roosevelt, Mussolini, Hitler, and other power brokers of that time period. Isolat Watching Darkness Fall by David McKean is one of the most interesting and readable accounts I have seen of the years and events in Europe that preceded the U.S. involvement in World War II. This fascinating account is based on the letters written to President Franklin Roosevelt by ambassadors to the European countries that were being affected by the Natzi regime and is an interesting look at their relationship with Roosevelt, Mussolini, Hitler, and other power brokers of that time period. Isolationist politics were much in evidence as the country and the world was reeling from the Great Depression. Americans were literally starving to death as Hitler began his climb to power in the aftermath of World War I and the blowback from the Treaty of Versailles. Under the leadership of FDR the country gradually began to realize that the threat was not just to Europe but was coming to America thru its backdoor in the Pacific as well as threats to the free waters and trade routes all over the globe. Reading this book makes the time period come to life and one gets a glimpse of not just Roosevelt and the ambassadors, but his wife Eleanor and the other major players in the politics and personal pursuits of a man that was president during some of our country's darkest hours. Read #WatchingDarknessFall. It is an excellent study of leadership and our world in a time of crisis. Thanks to #WatchingDarknessFall#NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Teresa

    The research done for this story was exhaustive, intense and well done. It reads like a history book, of which can be understandable for the content it covers. I learned so much more about President Roosevelt than I had ever dreamed of. The book covers 4 diplomats assigned to represent the United States in Western European cities in the 1930/40’s Parts of this book made me angry, I have come to despise some politicians due to the last several years and the current events happening in the USA at t The research done for this story was exhaustive, intense and well done. It reads like a history book, of which can be understandable for the content it covers. I learned so much more about President Roosevelt than I had ever dreamed of. The book covers 4 diplomats assigned to represent the United States in Western European cities in the 1930/40’s Parts of this book made me angry, I have come to despise some politicians due to the last several years and the current events happening in the USA at this time. But it appears politicians weren’t any better back in the 1920’s, 1930’s and 1940’s. Having your country provide you housing, lavish parties, esteem, power and then bragging about it while the working man back in the states were writing the checks. Having to be told to work eight hours a day 5 days a week, seriously? They had to be ordered to do that? I also found it despicable after President’s Roosevelts death they didn’t even have the character to defend him, he placed them in those positions, trusting the information they provided would assist him in his decision process. If they would have taken their positions seriously, WWII could, or would have been avoided with Hitler being stopped years earlier. It is a gripping historical dialogue. Received an ARC from St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for my unbiased review – This one comes in with 4****.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Paul Miller

    Historical events that always seem so simple in the grade school retelling were never so simple as a matter of fact. We were all taught Hitler was clearly and unequivocally all things evil while FDR was all things good. Not so fast. This book tells the much more complex rise of Hitler through the lens of FDR and his key European ambassadors (Italy, Germany, France, Britain). America is largely isolationist - disinterested in events in Europe and largely anti-Semitic - many admire Hitler for how Historical events that always seem so simple in the grade school retelling were never so simple as a matter of fact. We were all taught Hitler was clearly and unequivocally all things evil while FDR was all things good. Not so fast. This book tells the much more complex rise of Hitler through the lens of FDR and his key European ambassadors (Italy, Germany, France, Britain). America is largely isolationist - disinterested in events in Europe and largely anti-Semitic - many admire Hitler for how he’s rebuilding the German economy and dealing w/ the Jewish ‘problem'. FDR is more of an internationalist, anticipating another war in Europe, but is acting as an isolationist to secure re-election. The NY Times endorses the Republican(!) for FDR’s third term, believing he’s more likely to avoid war. Despite the entreaties of Eleanor, FDR is indifferent to the plight of the Jews in Europe. Our ambassador to Britain, Joe Kennedy, believes Hitler’s conquest of Europe is a foregone conclusion and will be a great thing for the world and American business. Japan’s attack at Pearl Harbor followed by Hitler declaration of war on the US pivots everything to the familiar narrative, but WOW, quite the story. Highly recommended.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Patricia Doyle

    In 1934 the waffling began with Roosevelt, his European ambassadors and diplomats regarding Hitler. Would the U. S. accept a Europe ruled by Hitler? … let European nations fight each other? … let Russia defeat Germany? … stay out of the European mess? Roosevelt’s focus was on badly needed domestic programs, while underestimating the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany. Nothing much was done internationally until the United States was attacked in 1941 by Japan at Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt was adept at In 1934 the waffling began with Roosevelt, his European ambassadors and diplomats regarding Hitler. Would the U. S. accept a Europe ruled by Hitler? … let European nations fight each other? … let Russia defeat Germany? … stay out of the European mess? Roosevelt’s focus was on badly needed domestic programs, while underestimating the rise of Hitler and Nazi Germany. Nothing much was done internationally until the United States was attacked in 1941 by Japan at Pearl Harbor. Roosevelt was adept at appointing positions based on campaign contributions. The bigger the contribution, the better the position. (That’s not much different than today I guess.) Some diplomats were effective, some not so much. Side note: I never was a Joseph Kennedy fan, and after reading this, I find him despicable. It took me awhile to get through Watching Darkness Fall because it is loaded with details, interesting details. The author shows similarities to today’s state of affairs; is today just history repeating itself. Thank you to NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book. Well done, Mr McKean.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Bryan Buchan

    A meticulously-researched and easy to read account of the events leading up to the entry of the United States into World War II, examined through the relationships between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the American ambassadors in Berlin, Paris (and Moscow), Rome and London. There is a wealth of information about the petty and not-so-petty complaints each party had against the others, and against the State Department. McKean presents the strengths of the President and his allies, but also o A meticulously-researched and easy to read account of the events leading up to the entry of the United States into World War II, examined through the relationships between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the American ambassadors in Berlin, Paris (and Moscow), Rome and London. There is a wealth of information about the petty and not-so-petty complaints each party had against the others, and against the State Department. McKean presents the strengths of the President and his allies, but also outlines the weaknesses and foibles that hindered their effectiveness in governing. The book is obviously written with an American readership in mind, but this Canadian found it fascinating as well. My only reservation is that the author focuses almost entirely on events in Europe - as is appropriate when the title includes the rise of Adolf Hitler - but says very little about what is happening in Asia at the same time. I would argue that those events played a role in the rise of authoritarianism worldwide, including in Europe. All in all, a very successful survey of the people and events that consumed the world in the 1930s and early 1940s.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    This is an interesting and well researched account of Franklin Roosevelt's presidency as it relates to four of his ambassadors serving in Europe in the years leading up to and including World War II. William Bullitt was the U.S. Ambassador first to Russia and then to France. Joseph Kennedy, Sr. was serving in London, William Dodd in Berlin and Breckinridge Long in Rome. Of the four men, only William Dodd was able to accurately predict the death and destruction that Adolph Hitler and the Third Re This is an interesting and well researched account of Franklin Roosevelt's presidency as it relates to four of his ambassadors serving in Europe in the years leading up to and including World War II. William Bullitt was the U.S. Ambassador first to Russia and then to France. Joseph Kennedy, Sr. was serving in London, William Dodd in Berlin and Breckinridge Long in Rome. Of the four men, only William Dodd was able to accurately predict the death and destruction that Adolph Hitler and the Third Reich was about to unleash on the European continent. The book also discloses the politics and negotiations that underlie many of the major decisions that are made which affect the country and its relationships with other countries. It was a very eye-opening account of this important period of history. Thank you to Goodreads and St. Martin's Press for this book which I received in a giveaway.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Deb

    Watching Darkness Fall by David McKean #StMartinsPress#NetGalley Through David McKean’s extensive research, we get to see that FDR’s choices for US ambassadors were made just short of that of a squirrel crossing the road. At a critical time in the world, which needed American help and intervention, FDR selects advisors from friends, people he liked and generous donors, to the list of possibilities. Hmmm. This is a well-paced book. It’s interesting, informative and hits the highlights of the 1930s Watching Darkness Fall by David McKean #StMartinsPress#NetGalley Through David McKean’s extensive research, we get to see that FDR’s choices for US ambassadors were made just short of that of a squirrel crossing the road. At a critical time in the world, which needed American help and intervention, FDR selects advisors from friends, people he liked and generous donors, to the list of possibilities. Hmmm. This is a well-paced book. It’s interesting, informative and hits the highlights of the 1930s and ‘40s. US Ambassadors are happy, unhappy, energetic, capable and not so well informed. Just like people everywhere. They just had the ear of the president, Franklin Roosevelt. As Hitler climbs to power in Germany, some ambassadors thought he was harmless. Others sounded the alarm and told isolationist FDR to watch out. This well written book takes the reader from peace to WWII, refreshing all that you may have learned and forgotten from high school history.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    All but one of FDR's ambassadors in Europe misjudged Hitler and his intentions. Joseph Kennedy, William Dodd, Breckinridge Long, and William Bullitt, served in key Western European capitals—London, Berlin, Rome, Paris, and Moscow—in the years prior to World War II. They were more intent on protecting their position, showing off their power and enforcing isolationism than in seeing the truth about the situation. Even FDR refused to follow his instincts and help Europe. The results included the de All but one of FDR's ambassadors in Europe misjudged Hitler and his intentions. Joseph Kennedy, William Dodd, Breckinridge Long, and William Bullitt, served in key Western European capitals—London, Berlin, Rome, Paris, and Moscow—in the years prior to World War II. They were more intent on protecting their position, showing off their power and enforcing isolationism than in seeing the truth about the situation. Even FDR refused to follow his instincts and help Europe. The results included the death of thousands of Jews and other devastation. David McKean's Watching Darkness Fall recounts the story of the ambassadors, the president and the country in the decades before and during the war. The book is loaded with facts and is fairly easy but long to read. The author does throw the ambassadors under the bus and points out the practice of appointing ambassadors who focus on their own interests rather than on the interests of humanity. I wish current ambassadors could read this book.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Michelle Taylor

    Gripping behind the scenes portrait of the US governments response to the decent into chaos that was the time before WWII. We see through the eyes of FDR and his ambassadors in Europe as Hitler rises in power and the atrocities against the Jews rack up. It was so disturbing how even these world leaders and champions of democracy slipped into the banality of evil along with the rest of the world. They redeem themselves in the end, but don’t delude yourself into thinking it was all altruistic. Fas Gripping behind the scenes portrait of the US governments response to the decent into chaos that was the time before WWII. We see through the eyes of FDR and his ambassadors in Europe as Hitler rises in power and the atrocities against the Jews rack up. It was so disturbing how even these world leaders and champions of democracy slipped into the banality of evil along with the rest of the world. They redeem themselves in the end, but don’t delude yourself into thinking it was all altruistic. Fascinating. Thank you to St Martin’s Press and Netgalley for my free copy. These opinions are my own.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Janilyn Kocher

    An interesting assessment of FDR’s ambassadors up to WWII. McKean paints a brief portrait of each and then analyzes their impact on foreign policy. I think the most compelling quote was at the beginning of the book when he quotes FDR. chose ambassadors like a housewife buying apples over the phone. Trying to ascertain if FDR could have done more to stop Hitler is counterproductive. What he did or didn’t know is irrelevant. It’s interesting to read, but I don’t agree with some of the author’s ass An interesting assessment of FDR’s ambassadors up to WWII. McKean paints a brief portrait of each and then analyzes their impact on foreign policy. I think the most compelling quote was at the beginning of the book when he quotes FDR. chose ambassadors like a housewife buying apples over the phone. Trying to ascertain if FDR could have done more to stop Hitler is counterproductive. What he did or didn’t know is irrelevant. It’s interesting to read, but I don’t agree with some of the author’s assertions. Thanks to St. Martin’s’ Press and NetGalley for the early read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kristen Perry

    I received this as an ARC through Netgalley. While I knew a bit about the US Ambassador to Germany, Dodd, from Beasts in the Garden and some other historical works, I did not know anything about the ambassadors to the other foreign countries before and during WWII. Watching Darkness Fall depicted the struggles in Europe and America during this tumultuous time period in history wonderfully. Where I learned the most was JFK's father being the Ambassador to England. This was an extremely informativ I received this as an ARC through Netgalley. While I knew a bit about the US Ambassador to Germany, Dodd, from Beasts in the Garden and some other historical works, I did not know anything about the ambassadors to the other foreign countries before and during WWII. Watching Darkness Fall depicted the struggles in Europe and America during this tumultuous time period in history wonderfully. Where I learned the most was JFK's father being the Ambassador to England. This was an extremely informative read, but doesn't overwhelm you with so much that you feel lost.

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