FDR’s Alter Ego: Interview with Historian David L. Roll on Harry HopkinsHistorians/History
tags: World War II, interviews, Robin Lindley, FDR, diplomacy, David Roll, Harry Hopkins
Robin Lindley (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Seattle writer and attorney, and features editor for the History News Network. His interviews with scholars, writers and artists have appeared in HNN, Crosscut, Writer’s Chronicle, Real Change, The Inlander, and other publications. He is a former chair of the World Peace through Law Section of the Washington State Bar Association.
Harry Hopkins as secretary of commerce. Credit: Wiki Commons.
During the war years Hopkins would become the only person in the U.S. government other than the president to thoroughly understand the interrelationships of war, diplomacy, politics, economics, and logistics.
--David L. Roll, The Hopkins Touch
As the nation was drawn into the maelstrom of the Second World War, Harry Hopkins became President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s closest advisor and confidant on foreign affairs and the organization of the war effort. It was an unlikely role for Hopkins, a frail, chronically ill widower and trusted friend of the president who had been a successful social worker and left-wing New Deal administrator for domestic jobs programs. The American business community despised him. He had no background or training in international affairs, military strategy or mobilization.
However, with his superb emotional intelligence and political acumen, Hopkins forged personal relationships with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin and became a key figure on critical geopolitical issues from organizing the Lend-Lease program for Britain and the Soviet Union to planning military strategy in the European theater and maintaining the Allied coalition throughout the war. As Roosevelt famously ignored his Secretary of State Cordell Hull, many came to see the Hopkins as the de facto secretary.
In his new book The Hopkins Touch: Harry Hopkins and the Forging of the Alliance to Defeat Hitler (Oxford University Press), attorney and historian David L. Roll details the wartime relationship of Roosevelt and Hopkins and reveals how Hopkins came to be a trusted presidential emissary and a behind-the-scenes architect of the “Grand Alliance” as he battled illness and faced personal challenges at home.
Mr. Roll updates Robert Sherwood’s 1948 Pulitzer prize-winning book on the same period, Roosevelt and Hopkins. Historian Alonzo L. Hamby wrote in a Wall Street Journal review that Mr. Roll’s book “doesn’t displace Sherwood’s iconic work, but he supplements it impressively by displaying a strong grasp of the intervening half-century of historical scholarship, delivering a strong and clear-eyed appraisal of Hopkins’s personal life, and demonstrating considerable narrative talents of his own.”
Historians have praised The Hopkins Touch for Mr. Roll’s extensive research and compelling writing. Historian Douglas Brinkley wrote: "If Franklin D. Roosevelt had an alter ego, it was the brilliant and cunning Harry Hopkins. David Roll does a marvelous job of documenting the heroic importance of Hopkins during the Second World War. Hopkins emerges as one of America's indispensable patriots. This is a surefooted and brilliantly researched biography that deserves a wide readership."
And diplomatic history expert Warren Kimball commented: "That FDR created the world in which we live is a commonplace; as David Roll demonstrates in this highly readable book it was a world created by FDR and Harry Hopkins. The material on Hopkins' maneuvering the U.S. to the North African invasion in the fall of 1942 is by itself imaginative and persuasive."
David L. Roll is a partner at the law firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP in Washington, D.C., and founder of Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation, a public interest organization that provides pro bono legal services to social entrepreneurs around the world. He was awarded the Purpose Prize Fellowship by Civic Ventures in 2009. He was co-author with Keith D. McFarland of Louis Johnson and the Arming of America: The Roosevelt and Truman Years. He lives with his wife Nancy and their dog Thatcher in Washington, D.C. and Glen Arbor, Michigan.
Mr. Roll graciously spoke about The Hopkins Touch by telephone from his home.
Robin Lindley: What sparked your interest in FDR’s friend and advisor Harry Hopkins?
David Roll: When researching an earlier book that I co-authored about Louis Johnson -- Roosevelt’s Assistant Secretary of War and Truman’s Secretary of Defense -- I ran across Harry Hopkins frequently. He seemed to be everywhere and nowhere. He impressed me as slightly sinister, a spectral figure, in the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt.
In April 1942, after the U.S. had entered the war, Hopkins was in London drinking brandy with Churchill in the middle of the night. A cable arrived saying that Louis Johnson was in India as Roosevelt’s personal representative, and that he had negotiated a deal. Nehru and his Indian Congress would agree to mobilize their people to defend India against expected attacks by Japan in exchange for a measure of Indian independence after the war. When Churchill received this cable, he was outraged by what he regarded as meddling by the Americans in the affairs of the Empire.
In the presence of Hopkins in the middle of the night, Churchill threatened to resign as prime minister.
Hopkins defused this volatile situation. He took it upon himself to tell Churchill that Johnson did not speak for the president. Hopkins knew this was a bald-faced lie. They used to say that Hopkins had a tongue like a skinning knife and, in this case, he had deftly gutted Johnson.
So I was hooked on Hopkins. Who was this guy? I had to find out more. Thus began a journey that lasted for years.
Many readers today may not know much about Hopkins. What are a few things you’d say to introduce him?
He was born in Iowa in 1890, the son of an itinerant harness maker with champagne tastes. He graduated from Grinnell College and became a social worker, following the path of his older sister.
He became very well known as a social worker and rose quickly through the ranks of several social service agencies. Then he caught the eye of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt when Roosevelt served as governor of New York.
After Roosevelt became president in 1933, and during the first hundred days, he hired Harry to become the head of a series of FDR’s jobs programs during the Great Depression, culminating with his appointment to head the WPA, the Works Progress Administration, the centerpiece of the New Deal. Harry used his social worker background and his expertise in running bureaucracies to serve the president in Washington.
As head of the WPA, Hopkins put eight-and-a-half million Americans back to work and injected ten billion dollars into the economy. He famously reported to Roosevelt: “Well boss, they’re all back at work, but for God’s sake, don’t ask me what they’re doing.” Roosevelt loved that kind of humor.
Hopkins had divorced his first wife, leaving her to raise their three boys. During the Depression, he was married to Barbara, his second wife, and she died of breast cancer leaving Harry as a widower with a seven-year-old daughter, Diana.
Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt took Harry under their wing in the late 1930s. Eleanor became a surrogate mother for Diana. And Harry was suffering from the after effects of an operation on his stomach in 1937. He never recovered from that.
So he was a widower and wasn’t feeling well. Then one evening after dinner -- May 10, 1940 -- Roosevelt said to Hopkins, “Why don’t you stay the night?” And Hopkins did. Hopkins was “The Man Who Came to Dinner” and never left. For the next three-and-a-half years he lived upstairs in the southeast corner of the White House at Roosevelt’s insistence and his daughter lived on the third floor near the Sky Parlor.
Hopkins became Roosevelt’s closest advisor, friend and confidant -- if Roosevelt could ever have a confidant. Roosevelt loved his humor, his ability to get things done. He felt comfortable around him. He knew that he could trust Hopkins. Because of Hopkins’s dysfunctional digestive system -- he was often on the verge of starvation -- he no longer had any personal or political agenda. The president knew that Hopkins was and would be totally loyal to him.
Hopkins was a window into worlds that Roosevelt could not inhabit because of his paralysis. Hopkins was a lady’s man. He was out on the town, and he’d come back and tell Roosevelt of his exploits. Roosevelt loved being around Hopkins, calling him “Harry the Hop.”
And Hopkins dated actresses and celebrities.
David Roll: He dated Paulette Godard, the movie star. He dated Dorothy Hale [an actress] who actually jumped to her death from her apartment allegedly because she’d been jilted by Harry.
And of course, he married the former Paris editor of Harper’s Bazaar, Louise Macy, upstairs in the Oval Study of the White House in the summer of 1942. The president was his best man. Other than Harry, no one has been married upstairs in the White House.
Hopkins and the president were close because they shared disabilities. They complemented one another. Hopkins had a linear way of thinking while Roosevelt was a visionary whose thoughts were often vague and disconnected. Hopkins could transform the president’s visionary ideas into concrete action. He did that with Lend-Lease.
There were a lot of things that made them close. Sherwood said, “Hopkins came as close to anyone to gaining admittance to Roosevelt’s heavily forested interior.”
In the presence of Roosevelt, Hopkins knew when to remain silent, when to press a point, when to back off and tell a joke. These were qualities that Mrs. Roosevelt never had.
Some readers will be surprised by how Hopkins became a de facto secretary of state for Roosevelt who marginalized Secretary of State Cordell Hull. Hopkins was the person who dealt with Churchill and Stalin in the Second World War. And it’s amazing that he had no training or expertise in foreign policy before the war.
That’s right, although in the modern presidency, it’s not that unusual that things are run out of the White House. Most of the key decisions today in the Obama administration are run out of the White House.
Roosevelt certainly ran his foreign policy out of the White House, using Harry as his instrument. And Roosevelt didn’t have legs that could go to these places, so he sent Harry as his personal representative.
Roosevelt desperately needed to have Hull as his secretary of state because Hull was very effective with the Senate, having been a former senator. And Hull had an impeccable reputation. But why Hull stayed in the administration is difficult to understand. Roosevelt never took him on any wartime conferences. He was just shut out. He did take Hull’s deputy -- who Hull didn’t like, Undersecretary Sumner Welles -- to that first Atlantic Conference [in August 1941].
Hull resigned after the 1944 election because of health, and Hopkins handpicked the next Secretary of State, Edward Stettinius. They did take Stettinius to Yalta. Hopkins chose Stettinius because Stettinius was not a strong secretary of state and Hopkins continued to dominate in that area.
How Hopkins learned to be so effective in foreign policy is a tribute to Roosevelt as a teacher/mentor and Hopkins as a quick-witted student. Plus Hopkins had something that couldn’t be taught -- emotional intelligence. He had an innate ability to sense the mood of all of the important people he was dealing with, like Stalin and Churchill.
It seems both Churchill and Stalin befriended Hopkins and they admired him.
Two vastly different people.
Churchill really needed Hopkins, but Hopkins did get to Churchill, and Churchill genuinely loved being around Hopkins. He admired Hopkins’s ability to penetrate to the heart of matters. Churchill, with affection and humor, pretended at wartime conferences that Hopkins was a member of the peerage, and he called him “Lord Root of the Matter.” That’s because Hopkins had the ability to cut to the heart of matters. He remained silent during these wartime conferences, and then he’d cut in and say, “Let focus on what’s really the issue here, and get to the heart of the matter.”
When he was in England during the war -- and he was there several times -- Hopkins would live on weekends with the Churchills at Chequers, the prime minister’s country residence. [Churchill’s wife] Clementine was famous for not taking to people that she did not know. She famously did not take to Roosevelt the first time she met him, but she was captivated by Hopkins from the beginning. Hopkins really got to Clementine and in turn got to Churchill.
Clementine was amused by Hopkins’s offbeat raffishness and his mordant sense of humor. Hopkins would complain to Clementine about the lack of heat at Chequers during the winter and he’d complain to her about his itchy long underwear. Then he’d sit for hours in the downstairs bathroom at Chequers where the heat pipes ran through, shivering in his overcoat, hat and scarf. And she would mother him. He’d be up drinking brandy after midnight with Churchill and she’d come up and tell him it was time to go to bed and she’d put a hot water bottle between the sheets.
And she loved the way he could poke fun at Churchill without offending him. Churchill was often a grumpy guy. One morning Churchill turned to Hopkins at Chequers and said, “This water tastes funny.” And Hopkins shot back: “Of course it tastes funny. It’s got no whiskey in it.” Clementine loved that.
His relationship was Stalin was obviously different. He met Stalin several times during the war. Stalin was very difficult to penetrate but Hopkins managed to get through to him. Stalin accorded Hopkins a measure of respect that he conferred on very few outsiders and it is possible that he even trusted Hopkins to an extent, but that’s hard to assess.
At the meeting of the Big Three at Tehran in 1943, they were all in a crowded room at the Soviet Embassy. Stalin spotted Hopkins across the room and he did something he’d never do with anyone else. He walked across the room to greet Hopkins, extended his hand and smiled at him. He appreciated Hopkins’s humor. He really appreciated the fact that Hopkins dealt with him differently than most other Americans.
When Hopkins offered aid to the Soviets during that first trip [to Moscow] in the summer of 1941 -- and the Soviets were besieged by the Germans -- Hopkins offered the Soviets and the Red Army whatever they needed to hold off the Germans no strings attached, no questions asked. That was what Stalin really appreciated. The Soviets were famously secretive and they didn’t want Americans meddling over there.
Hopkins was later criticized for not attaching strings to the aid, but that’s one reason Stalin appreciated Hopkins.
Hopkins was accused of being a Soviet agent, and there was no justification for that in the documents. It was later discovered in the KGB archives that it wasn’t Hopkins who was leaking secrets to the Soviets. There was another guy in the State Department, Lawrence Duggan, who was Sumner Welles’s nephew. Duggan committed suicide.
Hopkins was cleared of all that, but I’m still getting a few emails from people who maintain that Hopkins was a Soviet agent. I devoted a lot of research to the question of whether he was or he wasn’t, and I concluded he was not based on materials out of the KGB archives.
Hopkins, a non-military expert, played a critical role in military strategy from pressing for aid to Britain before the U.S. entry into the war to the decisions to invade North Africa before Europe and when to attempt a cross-Channel invasion of France. It seems Churchill had a morbid fear of a cross-Channel invasion.
Yes. Hopkins was critical in moving Churchill toward the ultimate decision.
Roosevelt and Hopkins knew that the only way to win the war was by fighting as a three-nation coalition -- the U.S., Great Britain and the Soviet Union. It was critical that they move by consensus and agreement.
At the Tehran conference in 1943, Churchill was still balking at the prospect of launching the cross-Channel invasion of western France. Of course, Stalin had pushed for it from the beginning as did all of the U.S. military leaders, but Churchill was resistant. Hopkins, in the middle of the night, gently and tactfully asked Churchill to “yield with grace,” and he did. The Allies finally launched the cross-Channel invasion on June 6, 1944.
Hopkins played a critical role in the summer of 1942 on the decision of whether to invade North Africa in 1942 or whether to launch a cross-Channel invasion of western France in 1942 or perhaps wait another year. Historian John Keegan called this the hardest-fought strategic debate of the entire war. Hopkins was critical to arriving at the decision, which was North Africa in 1942. That had vast geopolitical implications.
And military advisors such as Secretary of War Henry Stimson and Chief of Staff George Marshall opposed that decision.
Marshall, [Admiral] King, Stimson, [Secretary of the Navy] Knox, [General] Hap Arnold -- the civilian heads of the military and the Joint Chiefs -- all opposed North Africa. They felt that the most rational and effective military strategy was to go at the heart of Germany, not a peripheral diversion into North Africa, which of course led to invasions of Sicily and Italy, and delayed the cross-Channel invasion until 1944. It also allowed the Soviets to move into most of Eastern Europe.
Many see the Yalta conference as when the West ceded eastern Europe to the Soviets, but that was decided by the earlier as the Soviets advanced into eastern Europe.
I am thinking about doing another book on that issue. There were intelligent strategic advisors such as Albert Wedemeyer and Lucian Truscott who felt to their dying days that it was a huge mistake to go into North Africa, and that we would have been able to advance into central Europe much quicker [with an earlier invasion of western France].
Don’t most historians now feel that the North Africa first decision rather than an invasion of France was the best option then and that Hopkins was correct about that?
Yes. I’m going to look into that much more thoroughly, but most historians do conclude that. The American troops were green and needed to be blooded. Eisenhower learned a lot of lessons and made a lot of mistakes in North Africa. He may not have been able to afford those kinds of mistakes were they in western France.
On the other hand, if the Allies had just waited until 1943 when they had enough landing craft and enough troops, and the Atlantic wall had not be fully fortified by the Germans -- and the Germans were tied down in eastern Europe -- my guess is that they would have been successful, but that’s a close question.
The Allied Dieppe raid in France in August 1942 failed.
That was really a small operation, poorly planned and the objective was hit and run, not stay
There’s another thing: Roosevelt politically could not wait until 1943. There was a big political reason for North Africa and that was the mid-term congressional elections in November 1942. Roosevelt and Hopkins believed it was critical to get American boots on the ground before November 1942. The politics of it were critical, and that overrode General Marshall.
After the war, Marshall said to his biographer Forrest Pogue that he did not realize that in a democracy the people need to be kept entertained. He was referring to the 1942 North Africa decision, and he meant that politics drove the decision. He meant by the people being entertained that the American people would not stand for a delay of a year.
It was a complicated decision.
I wanted to get your impressions of FDR. Historians portray him as a charming great communication but he could be surprisingly incurious and a poor planner. By contrast, Churchill was always asking questions of his commanders, and was studying, planning and keeping detailed notes on his activities.
Roosevelt liked to improvise on the spot. He did not like to set out agendas and have plans. He thought he could handle people better than anyone. Better than Churchill, better than others. He always thought “get me into the room alone with one of these guys and I can get him to do what I want him to do.” He very often was right.
The thing you can’t figure out as a historian is the effect of that, notably on Harry. How many times he must have been frustrated by the fact that Roosevelt would not plan or not read a briefing book or not tell him what he was going to do in advance. Marshall would have to contain himself sometimes because he was so angry at how Roosevelt would make critically important commitments to Churchill in the middle of the night.
On the other hand, Roosevelt was a visionary. He was not a reader. He didn’t read. He would be working on his stamps and not reading books. He had a lot of time on his hands because he was paralyzed. He was stuck up on the second floor of the White House and he preferred light-hearted company and working on his stamps. He was not what I would call a hard worker. On those long sea voyages to Casablanca, Tehran and Yalta, he would spend his time playing gin rummy or working on his stamps.
But there was stuff going on in his mind. Sherwood had a phrase: “heavily forested interior.” He was also a master of timing. The whole idea of how far out in front of the American people you could get ahead of the isolationists on the Hill -- he frustrated so many people because of the way he was so slow to move the country toward war. He would not get very far ahead of public opinion, but I think he had better political instincts than anyone else.
Some historians indicate that Roosevelt abandoned Hopkins or froze him out of any role after Hopkins moved out of the White House with his wife Louise in early 1944.
A lot of people do say that, but I don’t think that’s correct. For most of 1944, Hopkins was sick and at the Mayo Clinic, so he wasn’t much help to Roosevelt.
In 1944, Roosevelt went to a conference in Quebec with Morgenthau and they made a huge mistake. Hopkins wasn’t there -- the only conference Hopkins missed. That’s when Roosevelt and Churchill signed onto the Morgenthau plan that would have led to the pastoralization of Germany. It was criticized because it would have crippled the European economy after the war.
It was interesting that Hopkins often cleaned up after Roosevelt on the diplomatic front.
Hopkins did something remarkable at the end of 1944 when he intervened and pulled back a telegram to Stalin that Roosevelt had signed. Hopkins strongly advised Roosevelt to not send the telegram because it would give Stalin the idea that Churchill was speaking for the U.S. on key issues involving postwar governance of nations in Eastern Europe. Churchill was on the way to see Stalin. Roosevelt agreed with Hopkins and revised the telegram, making it clear that Churchill did not speak for the U.S. Hopkins prevented Roosevelt from making a big mistake with Stalin.
As a result of this and other things he did in late 1944 after he returned from the hospital, Hopkins was back in Roosevelt’s good graces and, of course, Roosevelt took him to Yalta [in 1945]. At Yalta, Hopkins was weak and ill most of the time. He got out of bed to attend each of the plenary sessions at Yalta, but he was in bed most of the rest of the time.
Doris Kearns Goodwin in her book said that a lot of key discussions went on in Hopkins’s bedroom at Yalta that were critical. She didn’t note her sources. And I don’t know exactly what went on because there’s nothing to document it. But Hopkins was clearly on top of everything at Yalta. He didn’t sit at the table with Roosevelt, but he sat behind him and was whispering to him all the time.
And didn’t Hopkins ask the FBI to spy on his third wife Louise?
That was at the end of December 1944. Louise and Harry had moved out of the White House at the beginning of 1944 into a little townhouse in Georgetown.
Hopkins was in the hospital for much of 1944. When he came back in early December -- according to documents at the Library of Congress -- he called [J. Edgar] Hoover into his office at the White House. The next day, FBI agents staked out the house and tapped the phone inside the Hopkins house. The records of these phone calls are in the Library of Congress, and there are hundreds of pages.
I spent a lot of time on trying to figure out why this happened. Was Louise leaking national security secrets? Hopkins either initiated this or authorized this. Other writers have looked at this and concluded without support that she was having an affair and he got the FBI to investigate it. That’s not plausible. I don’t think he’d want to bring in J. Edgar Hoover to do that.
I think a rumor got back to Roosevelt or Mrs. Roosevelt that Louise was loose-lipped, that she might be spilling or leaking secrets to journalists or just talking too much. Roosevelt may have made an off-hand comment to Hopkins about it and Hopkins loyalty was divided. He loved his wife, but my guess is he did it to protect himself. But I don’t know. You have to analyze the evidence and make judgments.
The Hopkins story has a lot of resonance now. Some historians see the beginnings of the modern imperial presidency in the Roosevelt era. What’s your sense of lesson of his story for today?
It’s not unusual that things are run out of the White House, and that was certainly the case here. But I don’t think that any president since Roosevelt has conferred such power on a single individual as Roosevelt did with Hopkins, with the possible exception of Colonel House who for a time was Woodrow Wilson’s closest advisor. I think that’s the closest parallel, but that relationship did rupture in a big way. They had a total falling out. Roosevelt and Hopkins had their ups and downs but there was never a break except, of course, when Roosevelt died.
Today, the most powerful person in the White House is supposedly Valerie Jarrett. I don’t think that she comes anywhere close to having the kind of discretion that Hopkins was given by Roosevelt. For example, when he sent Hopkins to assess Churchill, Hopkins had a very tricky job of convincing Churchill that the U.S. would eventually come into the war but he could not say anything explicit on that subject. It would have damaged the position of the president with both his allies and isolationist foes on the Hill.
The discretion Roosevelt gave Hopkins was extraordinary. But it was effective and a tribute to Roosevelt that he understood his man.
Roosevelt seemed to have a gift for choosing very talented people such as Hopkins to advise him.
Right. He knew how to hold off people that were not as gifted like Harold Ickes and Henry Wallace.
I think the lesson for today is the value of personal diplomacy. A smart, talented diplomat can articulate positions concerning a nation’s national interest, but it is much more difficult to cultivate and establish a strong personal relationship. Part of it had to do with the fact that Hopkins was literally living with Churchill and he was living with Roosevelt. They’d get up in the morning in the hall in their pajamas or whatever. He was in Churchill’s bedroom. He wasn’t in Stalin’s but he spent almost all night with him twice drinking and eating and so on.
I feel more confident about the value of the personal touch.
You did a great deal of original research and you note that you got to know his daughter Diana.
She’s a Republican and I think she might have been a CIA agent. I am told that she speaks Farsi. Her mother died of cancer when she was five. She lived in the White House until she was eleven, and Mrs. Roosevelt was her surrogate mother until Louise came on the scene. Diana loved Louise. Harry wasn’t a particularly good father. He was totally committed to winning the war. Now Diana lives out in Vienna, Virginia.
Diana told me that, when they moved to New York after Hopkins resigned from the government, they lived in a six-story mansion on Central Park. I asked her where the money came from because Harry didn’t have any. She replied, “I would bet my bottom dollar that Averell Harriman paid for that.”
You’ve uncovered a wealth of new information since Sherwood’s 1948 book on Roosevelt and Hopkins.
I got a lot of interesting letters and scrapbook items from a member of Louise’s family with some interesting stuff on what was going on in the White House when Louise was married to Harry.
I really got into the Holocaust story to try to figure out what tracks Harry left on that whole issue. I laid it out in the book, but there was not a lot to work with.
You’re an accomplished attorney at Steptoe and Johnson. How did you come to write history, and how does your legal background influence your work as a historian?
First of all, I’ve always been interested in history, especially the Roosevelt era and the Civil War. I’ve been writing briefs and marshalling evidence for the past thirty years. I think I know how to research and pull together evidence and try to winnow out what’s important and what isn’t and then lay it out so that it proves or doesn’t prove a point.
When I began law school after I graduated from Amherst College, I thought they’re ruining my writing ability.
That’s what I thought too when I went to law school.
I thought I was a pretty good writer coming out of Amherst and I loved American studies courses. When I went to law school, I thought, “God, they’re destroying my creativity, what I thought was my talent for writing.” But I think it was important and it sharpened my writing, my ability to construct an argument and I became much more careful about the words I use.
There’s a lot of lawyers who write well. The guy across the street named Tom Wheeler who was just nominated to be the FCC chair wrote a book. He said, “Just get your butt in the chair every single day.” He was right.
You’re writing is vivid and you are a masterful storyteller. Are there some other writers or historians that you see as influences?
Rick Atkinson is the best today. There’s a lot of junk out there about World War II. Before I started writing books, I never paid much attention to what was really good. In my view, Kenneth Davis was and is the most insightful analyst of Roosevelt as a wartime president.
It’s too bad he couldn’t finish his last volume on the FDR years.
Yes, his books went through 1942. I have admiration for Jon Meacham and Doris Kearns Goodwin because they are very selective. They told the story but they didn’t tell everything.
With this sweeping story of Hopkins, it must have been hard to decide when to stop your research.
Yes, and how do you improve on Sherwood? His book is the masterpiece. It’s too long, but other than that, it’s fabulous. He had unbelievable access. He got all the papers before anyone else. They were just handed over to him. He did it in a short time and he won the Pulitzer.
Hopkins wanted to write the book himself in his last days. He hired this guy Sidney Hyman from the University of Chicago. Hyman had all of the papers [after Hopkins died in early 1946] and I suspect that Hyman fed all the papers to Sherwood, so I think he got a quick start with a research assistant who was up to speed.
There are some letters indicating that Sherwood worked out a royalty deal with Louise. Louise didn’t have any money and I think she got a cut.
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