The colossal scale of World War II required a mobilization effort greater than anything attempted in all of the world's history. The United States had to fight a war across two oceans and three continents--and to do so, it had to build and equip a military that was all but nonexistent before the war began. Never in the nation's history did it have to create, outfit, transport, and supply huge armies, navies, and air forces on so many distant and disparate fronts.
The Axis powers might have fielded better-trained soldiers, better weapons, and better tanks and aircraft, but they could not match American productivity. The United States buried its enemies in aircraft, ships, tanks, and guns; in this sense, American industry and American workers, won World War II. The scale of the effort was titanic, and the result historic. Not only did it determine the outcome of the war, but it transformed the American economy and society. Maury Klein's A Call to Arms is the definitive narrative history of this epic struggle--told by one of America's greatest historians of business and economics--and renders the transformation of America with a depth and vividness never available before.
It s hard to imagine how a book about the sudden wartime awakening of an industrial power could be fast-paced and readable. Yet Klein (The Power Makers), an experienced historian of the 20th-century American economy (he s professor emeritus of history at the University of Rhode Island), pulls it off. His coverage of the organization of American institutional, economic, military, and governmental might for WWII is both sobering and inspiring the former because of the obstacles to achieving wartime preparedness, the latter for the eventual success of the mobilization. All in all, the book is a comprehensive look at the greatest industrial expansion in modern history. Scarcely an industry, government agency, public official, or wartime effort escapes Klein s attention, and he writes with uncommon verve and vividness his intimate portraits of individuals are themselves worth the cost of this hefty tome. In many ways, the book is reminiscent of Arthur Schlesinger s earlier, sweeping volumes on the early New Deal (e.g., The Vital Center) uncommonly perceptive, enjoyably readable, and authoritative. The sole fault of Klein s book is its lack of theme or unifying argument. That said, in both aspiration and execution, this fine history easily surpasses Arthur Herman s Freedom s Forge (2012) in its coverage of the same subject.