Format Hardcover
Publication Date 06/04/24
ISBN 9781639366675
Trim Size / Pages 6 x 9 in / 304

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Awakening the Spirit of America

FDR's War of Words With Charles Lindbergh—and the Battle to Save Democracy

Paul M. Sparrow

A powerful new work of history that brings President Roosevelt, his allies, and his adversaries to life as he fought to transform America from an isolationist bystander into the world’s first superpower.

“In today’s troubled times, with authoritarianism escalating at home and abroad, Sparrow’s book reads like an all-hands-on-deck wakeup call. Highly recommended!”—Douglas Brinkley

Franklin Roosevelt awoke at 2:50 a.m. on September 1, 1939 to the news that Germany had invaded Poland, signaling the start of World War II. The president had warned for years that Hitler’s fascist regime posed an existential threat to democracy, but the American public remained stubbornly isolationist as fascist sympathizing groups, egged on by right wing media stars promoting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, plotted to overthrow the president.

The situation was dire, and Roosevelt quickly found himself facing an unexpected adversary: Charles Lindbergh. Wildly popular, the famed aviator's youthful charm, plainspoken rhetoric, and media magnetism earned him a massive following as he led an aggressive attack on FDR’s policies. Millions listened to Linberg’s radio broadcasts and attended his rallies. Powerful individuals including William Randolph Hearst, Henry Ford, and members of Congress supported him. The German government provided secret funds to Lindbergh’s Nazi followers as he led the radical America First Committee in an effort to prevent Roosevelt from aiding England’s survival—and the world’s.

Awakening the Spirit of America brilliantly shows how Roosevelt overcame the forces aligned against him in a war against fascism. Paul Sparrow, former director of the FDR Presidential Library, reveals how FDR's triumph of leadership was by no means a foregone conclusion. Roosevelt’s astute political maneuvers and persuasive use of language to preserve what he termed “the spirit of America” changed history and can still inspire today.

Sparrow brings readers into the rooms where key decisions were made, focusing on the crucial role words, media, and propaganda played in the transformation of America into the protector of the free world. Awakening the Spirit of America provides a riveting, inside account of FDR’s ultimate victory over pro-Nazi isolationists and provides vital insight into American history and an iconic president.

Paul M. Sparrow is a writer, historical consultant, and the former Director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. Before moving to the FDR Library he was the Deputy Director and Senior Vice President at the Newseum in Washington, DC. He is also an Emmy Award-winning documentary and television producer for Discovery, TLC, Fox, and PBS. He began his broadcasting career at KPIX, the CBS affiliate in San Francisco. A graduate of UC Santa Cruz, Sparrow also has an MFA from the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College. 

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Endorsements & Reviews

"A fascinating new book. Enough books have been written on World War II to stretch from here to eternity, but few have focused on this mano-a-mano between president and pitchman—a prescient tale if ever there were one." Booklist
"This deeply researched, engaging work demonstrates what was at stake in the war of words between Roosevelt and isolationists in the immediate years prior to the U.S.’s entry into WWII. There’s much to enjoy in this title." Library Journal (starred)
"Paul M. Sparrow’s Awakening the Spirit of American brilliantly recounts how President Franklin D. Roosevelt defeated the “America First” isolationists in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. Roosevelt, a true avatar of democracy writ large, knew how dangerous an opponent Charles Lindbergh—an all-season American hero because of his 1927 Trans-Atlantic flight—was in a world ripped with fascism on the rise. In today’s troubled times, with authoritarianism escalating at home and abroad, Sparrow’s book reads like an all-hands-on-deck wakeup call. Highly recommended!" Douglas Brinkley, author of Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America
“Sparrow puts his knowledge of the president’s archives to excellent use in this riveting debut history. His storytelling captivates, and he makes an invigorating case that the president’s calls to fight for democracy resonate today. A gripping snapshot of America at a crossroads.” Publishers Weekly
“Sparrow, former director of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, brings his storytelling talents and familiarity with the 32nd president to bear in this engaging book. The narrative centers on Roosevelt's desire to make the U.S. the world's foremost opponent of tyranny. A wonderfully written and researched study of a crucial period in 20th-century America.” Kirkus Reviews (starred)
"Democracy is a fragile thing, as today’s headlines make clear. Awakening the Spirit of America, Paul M. Sparrow’s vivid, blow-by-blow account of the fateful struggle between a great president and a fatally flawed national hero, shows how grateful we should be for Franklin Roosevelt’s canniness and courage, his ability to marshal the English language in freedom’s cause, and his unshakable belief that in a world threatened by tyranny, the American people had a crucial role to play." Geoffrey Ward, author of A First-Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt, and Closest Companion: The Unknown Story of the Intimate Friendship Between Franklin Roosevelt and Margaret Suckley, and the Ken Burns PBS documentary, The Roosevelt’s: An Intimate History.
"An impeccably researched and intimate narrative of the events leading up to America's participation in World War II, especially the highly consequential rivalry between nativism and democracy that still echoes in today's harrowing political climate. Awakening the Spirit of America adds new and important information in the highly traveled road of FDR biography." Dr. Steven Lomazow, author FDR’s Deadly Secrets and FDR Unmasked
"Powerfully portrays the political genius of FDR as he confronted global authoritarian forces, which had taken root in America, threatening the essence of democratic ideals and democratic aspirations. Sparrow, breathing life into one of the most critical periods in American history, clearly makes the case that FDRs wisdom and international leadership in his day offers guidance in today’s struggle with anti-democratic forces both domestic and foreign." Michael Zuckerman, former USA TODAY Washington Editor, investigative reporter, and author of Vengeance is Mine
"A truly suspenseful history. Sure, we know President Franklin Roosevelt prevailed against the isolationists, antisemites, and Nazi sympathizers of the America First Committee and rallied Americans to defend democratic life against the ambitions and forces of Hitler, Mussolini, and the Japanese Imperialists. But Sparrow makes us critically aware of how FDR had to first pursue battles against the Committee's popular champion Charles Lindbergh—and how things might have gone otherwise had FDR faltered. Sparrow makes clear to us the power of FDR's words, the words that reminded Americans of who they were and what they had to do." Harvey J. KayeProfessor Emeritus of Democracy and Justice at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and author of The Fight for the Four Freedoms and FDR on Democracy