A Call to Arms -- Mobilizing America for World War II by Maury Klein, Bloomsbury Press '13, $40, 897 pages, ASIN #1596916079. Index, bibliography, notes, two groupings of b&w glossy images.
In this doorstop of a book, economic historian Maury Klein recounts a truly transformative saga -- how America's depressive economy managed to prepare the nation for the largest war in history. The nation's level of armaments was laughable in 1939 -- its Navy had 15 battleships, for example -- leading Congress to dismiss out of hand FDR's appeal for a quantum leap in military production to counter the strength of the Axis powers.
"By and large," Klein writes, "our enemies had better weapons than we did. Their tanks had better armor, their guns were more accurate, their fighter planes were faster than ours. But we had more of everything -- we simply buried the other side with an industrial output such as the world had never seen."
More than achieving military preparedness, such as turning out 325,000 planes by 1945, the war effort was socially and geographically transformative as well. "Millions of workers, many of them black, migrated from rural areas to cities, never to return," wrote Klein. "Women joined the workforce in unprecedented numbers -- and their bosses discovered they could do tough jobs as well as men. It was war mobilization that finally ended the Great Depression -- American GDP soared from 800 billion dollars in 1938 to 1.4 trillion four years later -- and set the country on the road to the greatest prosperity it had ever seen."
Author Maury Klein has written numerous books on American industry and the American economy. He is professor emeritus of history at the University of Rhode Island, and lives in Saunderstown, R.I.
Blood & Beauty -- The Borgias -- A Novel, Random House '13, $27, 506 pages, ASIN #1400069297. Bibliography, unillustrated.
Sarah Dunant's debut historical novel is set in a place dear to the author -- Renaissance Italy and "features real historical figures from that time -- the intriguing Borgias." After spending years of research. Dunant is now able to "strip away the myths -- poison, incest and ruthless ambition -- surrounding the most infamous family in history."
A sampling from the dust cover:
"By the end of the 15th century, the beauty and creativity of Italy are matched by its brutality and corruption, nowhere more than in Rome and inside the Church. When Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia buys his way into the papacy as Alexander VI, he is defined not just by his wealth or his passionate love for his illegitimate children."
The Skies Belong to Us -- Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking by Brendan I. Koerner, Crown '13, $26, 318 pages, ASIN #0307886107. Index, notes, b&w images sprinkled through text.
From the book cover:
"In an America torn apart by the Vietnam War and the demise of '60s idealism, airplane hijackings were astonishingly routine. Over a five-year period starting in 1968, the desperate and disillusioned seized commercial jets nearly once a week, using guns, bombs, and jars of acid. Some hijackers wished to escape to foreign lands, where they imagined being hailed as heroes; others aimed to swap hostages for sacks of cash. Their criminal exploits mesmerized the country, never more so than when the young lovers at the heart of Brendan I. Koerner's The Skies Belong to Us pulled off the longest-distance hijacking in American history.
"A shattered Army veteran and a mischievous party girl, Roger Holder and Cathy Kerkow, commandeered Western Airlines Flight 701 as a vague protest against the war. Through a combination of savvy and dumb luck, the couple managed to flee across an ocean with a half-million dollars in ransom, a feat that made them notorious across the globe. Koerner spent four years chronicling this madcap tale, which involves a cast of characters ranging from exiled Black Panthers to African despots to French movie stars."
Brendan I. Koerner is a contributing editor at Wired and the author of Now the Hell Will Start, which was optioned by filmmaker Spike Lee.