NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • SELECTED BY THE ECONOMIST AS ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR
“A rambunctious book that is itself alive with the animal spirits of the marketplace.”—The Wall Street Journal
Freedom’s Forge reveals how two extraordinary American businessmen—General Motors automobile magnate William “Big Bill” Knudsen and shipbuilder Henry J. Kaiser—helped corral, cajole, and inspire business leaders across the country to mobilize the “arsenal of democracy” that propelled the Allies to victory in World War II. Drafting top talent from companies like Chrysler, Republic Steel, Boeing, Lockheed, GE, and Frigidaire, Knudsen and Kaiser turned auto plants into aircraft factories and civilian assembly lines into fountains of munitions. In four short years they transformed America’s army from a hollow shell into a truly global force, laying the foundations for the country’s rise as an economic as well as military superpower. Freedom’s Forge vividly re-creates American industry’s finest hour, when the nation’s business elites put aside their pursuit of profits and set about saving the world.
Praise for Freedom’s Forge
“A rarely told industrial saga, rich with particulars of the growing pains and eventual triumphs of American industry . . . Arthur Herman has set out to right an injustice: the loss, down history’s memory hole, of the epic achievements of American business in helping the United States and its allies win World War II.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Magnificent . . . It’s not often that a historian comes up with a fresh approach to an absolutely critical element of the Allied victory in World War II, but Pulitzer finalist Herman . . . has done just that.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“A compulsively readable tribute to ‘the miracle of mass production.’ ”—Publishers Weekly
“The production statistics cited by Mr. Herman . . . astound.”—The Economist
“[A] fantastic book.”—Forbes
“Freedom’s Forge is the story of how the ingenuity and energy of the American private sector was turned loose to equip the finest military force on the face of the earth. In an era of gathering threats and shrinking defense budgets, it is a timely lesson told by one of the great historians of our time.”—Donald Rumsfeld
Herman (How the Scots Invented the Modern World) tells the epic story of the American businessmen who, in only a few years, helped America become the largest military power in history. These include William Knudsen, a Danish immigrant who turned General Motors into "the largest industrial corporation in the world," and industrialist Henry Kaiser, the "master builder" responsible for infrastructure projects throughout the country. In 1940, Roosevelt personally called upon Knudsen to oversee the assignment of contracts worth billions of dollars to produce the guns, tanks, planes, and other equipment needed for battle. Eschewing centralization in favor of free-market incentives, Knudsen directed the forging of " the arsenal of democracy,'" as factories around the nation converted to wartime production. Kaiser, meanwhile, presided over the creation of a new navy, America's "Liberty ships," which Churchill called "the foundation of all our hopes." At times, the book falls into not-so-subtle hagiography of American capitalists, who are portrayed as selfless patriots who succeed despite the efforts of opportunistic labor organizations and big government New Dealers hostile to the free market. However, Herman has a knack for generating both suspense and patriotic self-congratulation. A cross between Ayn Rand, Herman Wouk, and the Wall Street Journal, the book is a compulsively readable tribute to "the miracle of mass production."