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  Five Days in Philadelphia
TitleFive Days in Philadelphia
Last ModifiedChronicler - June 25, 2005 09:06pm
DescriptionAuthor: Charles Peters, former aide to President John F. Kennedy

Title: Five Days in Philadelphia: The Amazing 'We Want Willkie' Convention of 1940 and How it Freed FDR to Save the Western World.

NYC: Public Affairs, 2005

This is an interesting account of the Republican race for the presidential nomination in 1940. Peters's basic thesis is that if the GOP had not nominated Willkie in 1940, FDR would not have had the political clout to provide additional aid to England. Peters believes that the course of World War II was determined in Philadelphia because England was about to fall into Nazi hands.

The book provides an excellent overview of the political events. He discusses the fact that FDR did not actively campaign for a third term until late spring and that the Democrats expected to nominate Jim Farley until that time. He weaves in aspects of American culture and how such things as movies, radio, and telegraphs influenced the delegates.

The larger part of the book, of course, is devoted to the maneauvering among the key Republican contenders. Peters provides little discussion of the primaries and almost none of the state conventions, where most delegates were selected. His discussion of the convention tactics of the main contenders is excellent - nothing new from earlier accounts but more details.

One thing that bothered me were the mistakes that I noticed. The statue atop Philadelphia City Hall is not Benjamin Franklin (p. 60) but instead is William Penn. Most noticeably, Willkie's final delegate count on the sixth ballot is not correct (998 instead of 988). Some of his references to Convention Hall are not exactly right - he seems to be confusing the 'old' Convention Hall where McKinley was nominated in 1900 with the 'new' Convention Hall of the 1936-48 fame (today's 'new' Convention Hall is near City Hall rather than near the Univ of Pennsylvania). These details make me wonder how many of the less important details needed to be verified.

In summary, though, the book is quite excellent. I purchased it around 4 today and am almost finished with it now (10). One of the better things about it is that Peters provides insights into the workings of conventions at that time, which most people today don't realize. Perhaps my biggest complaint is that a lot of information on the topic is readily available, and it would not have taken a lot of work to produce a 300 page book rather than a 200 page book. Very good book, well worth the $26 price.

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