The Sphinx

Franklin Roosevelt, the Isolationists, and the Road to World War II

Nicholas Wapshott (Author)


Before Pearl Harbor, before the Nazi invasion of Poland, America teetered between the desire for isolation and the threat of world war.

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.

Book Details

  • Hardcover
  • November 2014
  • ISBN 978-0-393-08888-5
  • 6.5 × 9.6 in / 464 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

Endorsements & Reviews

“Nicholas Wapshott superbly re-creates the fierce debates of those momentous days, when the fate of the world genuinely did teeter on the brink of catastrophe.” — Andrew Roberts, author of The Storm of War and Masters and Commanders

The Sphinx is a brilliant, rigorous, and gripping account of one of the greatest policy and political dramas of American history. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s leadership of the isolationist United States into war must rank with the genius of Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson during the Revolution, and with the containment strategy in the Cold War, as among the greatest foreign relations triumphs of any modern nation, and Nicholas Wapshott tells the tale with the elegance and thoroughness it deserves.” — Conrad Black, author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom

“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.” — Publishers Weekly

“In this elegantly written account, Newsweek international editor Wapshott…depicts Roosevelt sowing confusion by encouraging no-hope candidates while remaining coy about his own future.” — Kirkus Reviews

“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.” — Jay Freeman, Booklist

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