How Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin Shaped the Post-War World
A revelatory and propulsively readable new chronicle by a master historian at the top of her game, set during the eight-day meeting from February 4-11, 1945, of the Allied leaders: American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Premier Josef Stalin—the so-called “Big Three.” The outcomes and ramifications of the conference continue to influence world events and remain controversial to this day.
Draws on letters, diaries, and other accounts to produce an intimate, vivid account that is also historically definitive. The author’s specialty of blending voices into the narrative—including those of U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union Averell Harriman, Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, Churchill’s personal secretary Marian Holmes, and U.S. State Department official (and erstwhile Soviet spy) Alger Hiss—sets this book apart from previous histories of the Yalta conference.
Preston describes the ebb and flow of negotiations at the resort town of Yalta on the south coast of the Crimean Peninsula in vivid detail, along with the elaborate dinners and the outwardly elegant but inwardly awkward accommodations in three historic palaces, which the Soviets had frantically restored, and which affected the mood of the participants.
The personalities and back stories of the leaders are especially revealing. Despite his fragile appearance, FDR was the youngest of the three at 63, and he would die exactly two months after the conference ended. Churchill was 70 and Stalin 66, and their infirmities, along with FDR’s, played a role.
All sorts of dramatic ramifications came out of the conference, among them: Eastern Europe fell into the occupied Soviet sphere of influence, and FDR and Churchill acquiesced in exchange for Soviet agreement on other issues, such as preserving the British Empire and creating the United Nations; had FDR not insisted Stalin enter the war against Japan, the Soviet Union would never have gotten a toehold there, and would never have invaded Korea down to the 38th parallel. Korea today would likely be unified and democratic; French leader Charles de Gaulle deeply resented being excluded from the conference, affecting France’s relationship with the UK and the rest of Europe for the rest of his life. He twice vetoed the UK’s membership in the European Union, so that when Britain finally did join in 1969, it had not participated in establishing the EU’s governance, which in large part promoted Brexit decades later.
Though close allies, Roosevelt and Churchill often had different agendas at Yalta, while Stalin feared that the US and UK would make a separate peace with Germany and then turn on the Soviet Union. This was, in fact, discussed but dismissed. In the end, though the debate continues today, Preston is clear that if anyone prevailed at the conference, it was Stalin.
Preston has always received superb reviews for her books in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times Book Review, and others, for which she occasionally reviews herself, and has appeared on NPR and other radio. The 75th anniversary should provide good media opportunities.
She won the Los Angeles Times book prize in Science & Technology in 2005 for Before the Fallout: From Marie Curie to Hiroshima.
The book will be published in the UK by Macmillan in November 2019.