Cover image for The sphinx : Franklin Roosevelt, the Isolationists, and the road to World War II
The sphinx : Franklin Roosevelt, the Isolationists, and the road to World War II
Wapshott, Nicholas, author.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York, NY : W.W. Norton & Company, [2015]
Physical Description:
xvi, 446 pages ; 25 cm
Before Pearl Harbor, before the Nazi invasion of Poland, America teetered between the desire for isolation and the threat of world war.
The Sphinx -- London calling -- One good turn -- New Dealers -- Cliveden and Windsor Castle -- Lindbergh's flight -- Peace in our time -- Kristallnacht -- On the march -- A state of war -- The battle of neutrality -- Third term fever -- The Battle of France -- Life of the party -- The Battle of Britain -- Ford's plans for peace -- The old campaigner -- "Over my dead body" -- High noon -- The battle of lend-lease -- Lindbergh's best shot -- Jesus Christ! what a man! -- We've got ourselves a convoy -- Barbarossa -- Day on infamy -- Isolationism redux.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
D753 .W27 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
D753 .W27 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
D753 .W27 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
D753 .W27 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
D753 .W27 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
D753 .W27 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
D753 .W27 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
D753 .W27 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
D753 .W27 2015 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



May 1938. Franklin Delano Roosevelt--recently reelected to a second term as president--sat in the Oval Office and contemplated two possibilities: the rule of fascism overseas, and a third term.

With Hitler's reach extending into Austria, and with the atrocities of World War I still fresh in the American memory, Roosevelt faced the question that would prove one of the most defining in American history: whether to once again go to war in Europe.

In The Sphinx, Nicholas Wapshott recounts how an ambitious and resilient Roosevelt--nicknamed "the Sphinx" for his cunning, cryptic rapport with the press--devised and doggedly pursued a strategy to sway the American people to abandon isolationism and take up the mantle of the world's most powerful nation.

Chief among Roosevelt's antagonists was his friend Joseph P. Kennedy, a stock market magnate and the patriarch of what was to become one of the nation's most storied dynasties. Kennedy's financial, political, and personal interests aligned him with a war-weary American public, and he counted among his isolationist allies no less than Walt Disney, William Randolph Hearst, and Henry Ford--prominent businessmen who believed America had no business in conflicts across the Atlantic.

The ensuing battle--waged with fiery rhetoric, agile diplomacy, media sabotage, and petty political antics--would land US troops in Europe within three years, secure Roosevelt's legacy, and set a standard for American military strategy for years to come.

With millions of lives--and a future paradigm of foreign intervention--hanging in the balance, The Sphinx captures a political giant at the height of his powers and an American identity crisis that continues to this day.

Author Notes

Nicholas Wapshott is the author of The Sphinx, Keynes Hayek, and Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. A former senior editor at the London Times and the New York Sun, he is now opinion editor at Newsweek. He lives in New York City.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

The debates between so-called isolationists and internationalists preceding Pearl Harbor were intense, often vitriolic, and continued the ongoing debate about the proper role of the U.S. in world affairs. Wapshott, the international editor at Newsweek, with the advantage of hindsight, clearly favors President Roosevelt and those who supported various degrees of active intervention against the Nazi regime. As he indicates, opposition to intervention was not a simple partisan issue. Isolationist sentiments were deeply entrenched in segments of the Republican and Democratic Parties and in the nation at large. Rather than examine that broad front in detail, Wapshott concentrates on the principal, out-front leaders, especially Charles Lindbergh and the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, Joseph Kennedy. Lindbergh is treated harshly here as Wapshott emphasizes (and probably exaggerates) his anti-Semitism and Nazi sympathies. Kennedy is criticized for his strident (and, of course, wrong) insistence that Britain could not continue to stand alone against Hitler. On the other hand, Wapshott sees Roosevelt as a master politician, dissembling when necessary, shrewdly disarming opponents with both tough rhetoric and humor, and slowly leading a reluctant public in the desired direction. This is an informative and timely revisiting of the era in light of our current intervention in the Middle East.--Freeman, Jay Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Wapshott (Keynes/Hayek), the international editor at Newsweek, brings a British perspective to this narrative of F.D.R.'s successful outmaneuvering of the American isolationist movement in the run-up to the attack on Pearl Harbor, against the backdrop of his controversial run for an unprecedented third term. Wapshott demonstrates that isolationism was a comprehensive sentiment with deep roots in both parties. Joe Kennedy, Charles Lindbergh, and Alf Landon play featured roles as Roosevelt's foils-in part a literary device enabling the personalization of a complex political process. But the hero of Wapshott's story is F.D.R., the man who, after the Munich agreement, understood that the only question was "how soon America should prepare itself to take part" in a now-certain war. Pursuing that objective "was a tightrope walk between alarm and complacency, for which his complex and sophisticated character was ideally suited," and success earned him the nickname of "the Sphinx." Wapshott successfully unravels the complex sequence of negotiations, hints, half-promises, and cunning that brought Roosevelt the Democratic nomination, re-election to the Presidency, a massive rearmament program, and support for an embattled Britain-all within just a few years. In our current age of smashmouth politics, Roosevelt's success in bringing critics and doubters on board seems his most remarkable achievement. (Nov.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

Wapshott (journalist; Keynes Hayek) focuses on the personality and policy clashes between pre-Pearl Harbor American internationalists and isolationists, exemplified by Franklin D. Roosevelt on one side and primarily Charles Lindbergh and Joseph P. Kennedy on the other. Roosevelt, notably sphinxlike in his dealings with the press on whether he would run for a third term and in his impression of being noninterventionist while preparing for an eventual war, deftly neutralized potential rivals by appointing Kennedy as U.S. Ambassador to the UK and Lindbergh as a would-be but discounted military advisor. The author details how Kennedy and Lindbergh's bitter statements and proappeasement sympathies undermined their ambitions. Roosevelt's maneuvering is described favorably; Wapshott maintains it cemented his legacy as a wartime leader, however, he omits Roosevelt's later attempts at peacemaking after World War II. This narrative history largely synthesizes the work of other historians rather than mining archival collections. VERDICT The debate over American intervention in World War II is a popular subject among readers of all kinds, but scholars might prefer Susan Dunn's 1940: FDR, Willkie, Lindbergh, Hitler-The Election Amid the Storm or Lynne Olson's Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941.-Frederick J. Augustyn Jr., Lib. of Congress, Washington, DC (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Wapshott (international editor, Newsweek) offers a well-written narrative of Franklin Roosevelt's foreign policy from 1937 to December 1941. Highly sympathetic to FDR's efforts to aid the Allies, Wapshott draws upon books, the manuscript collections of FDR and Senator William E. Borah, and miscellaneous items from the Internet. Complex matters (e.g., the Greer incident; US-Japanese negotiations; the varieties of isolationists and their complex arguments concerning overseas invasion; Fortress North America; and economic survival) are oversimplified. Wapshott's book is the fourth on this period appearing over the past two years, the others being Susan Dunn, 1940 (CH, Dec'13, 51-2265), Lynn Olson, Those Angry Days (2013), and David Kaiser, No End Save Victory (CH, Sep'14, 52-0456)-all of which are superior. Factual errors involve Lucy Mercer (xi), Hiram Johnson (7 and 357 n. 32), William Rockhill Nelson (7), John Nance Garner (23), Felix Frankfurter (38), Dorothy Thompson (144), Fulton Lewis Jr. (174), Ben Cohen (248 and 397 n. 27), James Couzens (256), John T. Flynn (306, 314), R. Douglas Stuart (357), "Citizen" Charles Foster Kane (356 n. 7), Carl Curtis (392), and Senator Joseph McCarthy (406 n. 28). Only acceptable for general readers. Summing Up: Optional. General readers/public libraries only. --Justus D. Doenecke, New College of Florida

Table of Contents

Prologue: The Sphinxp. ix
Chapter 1 London Callingp. 1
Chapter 2 One Good Turnp. 18
Chapter 3 New Dealersp. 32
Chapter 4 Cliveden and Windsor Castlep. 48
Chapter 5 Lindbergh's Flightp. 67
Chapter 6 Peace in Our Timep. 81
Chapter 7 Kristallnachtp. 94
Chapter 8 On the Marchp. 112
Chapter 9 A State of Warp. 125
Chapter 10 The Battle of Neutralityp. 135
Chapter 11 Third Term Feverp. 155
Chapter 12 The Battle of Francep. 167
Chapter 13 Life of the Partyp. 180
Chapter 14 The Battle of Britainp. 190
Chapter 15 Ford's Plans for Peacep. 205
Chapter 16 The Old Campaignerp. 217
Chapter 17 "Over My Dead Body"p. 230
Chapter 18 High Noonp. 239
Chapter 19 The Battle of Lend-Leasep. 256
Chapter 20 Lindbergh's Best Shotp. 275
Chapter 21 Jesus Christ! What a Man!p. 286
Chapter 22 We've Got Ourselves a Convoyp. 297
Chapter 23 Barbarossap. 311
Chapter 24 Day of Infamyp. 324
Chapter 25 Isolationism Reduxp. 337
Acknowledgmentsp. 353
Notesp. 355
Bibliographyp. 411
Indexp. 423