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Publisher's Summary

A riveting account of the five most crucial days in 20th-century diplomatic history: from Pearl Harbor to Hitler’s declaration of war on the United States.

By early December 1941, war had changed much of the world beyond recognition. Nazi Germany occupied most of the European continent, while in Asia, the Second Sino-Japanese War had turned China into a battleground. But these conflicts were not yet inextricably linked - and the United States remained at peace.

Hitler’s American Gamble recounts the five days that upended everything: December 7 to 11. Tracing developments in real time and backed by deep archival research, historians Brendan Simms and Charlie Laderman show how Hitler’s intervention was not the inexplicable decision of a man so bloodthirsty that he forgot all strategy, but a calculated risk that can only be understood in a truly global context. This book reveals how December 11, not Pearl Harbor, was the real watershed that created a world war and transformed international history.

©2021 Brendan Simms and Charlie Laderman (P)2021 Basic Books

Critic Reviews

"[An] absorbing new book… The greatest strength of Simms and Laderman’s book is its success in accomplishing something supremely difficult: It reminds us how contingent even the most significant historical events can be, how many other possibilities lurked beyond the familiar ones that actually happened – and how even the greatest leaders often have only a shaky grasp of what is happening… Simms and Laderman give us a visceral sense of these events as they unfolded, in real time, with historical actors not always quite sure what was happening – a dimension of history that is both crucial and fiendishly difficult to recover.” —New York Times Book Review

"In a detailed reconstruction of the events of those few days, illuminating the importance of confusion, chance, and choice in the stream of history, Simms and Laderman explain that Hitler assumed that war with the United States was inevitable…”—Foreign Affairs

“Brendan Simms and Charlie Laderman show how Hitler’s mad decision to declare war on the United States on December 11, 1941 proved suicidal for the Axis, ensured a global catastrophe, and would radically redefine how World War II would end. And yet was Hitler really as unhinged and reckless as it has seemed? Warring with America was predictably consistent with the Nazi’s Final Solution ideology. It was consistent with Germany’s allegiance with Japan and the idea of Americans and British suddenly bogged down in a  new two-front war—and at the time seen as far more strategically advantageous than allowing a neutral America to continue to supply Germany’s enemies, the British Empire and Soviet Union. Hitler’s American Gamble is revisionist, but in the best sense of sound research, rare originality, singular analysis, and riveting prose.” —Victor Davis Hanson, the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, author of The Second World Wars

What listeners say about Hitler's American Gamble

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A waste of time based on a flawed premise

This is a slow plodding book full of useless data that fails to spend significant time supporting its flawed premise that the authors likely know to be false.

First, anyone who has spent any time studying World War II knows that the US going to war with Germany was soon to take place by the end of 1941 and that the attack on Pearly Harbor made hostilities imminent. The US and Germany were already in an undeclared naval war in the Western Atlantic in late 1941: the Lend-Lease Act enacted in March effectively offered unlimited American armaments to Britain and the USSR if they could be transported to the belligerents. After several U-boat attacks on American merchant ships, on 9/11/41 FDR ordered the Navy to attack German and Italian ships wherever encountered. Then on the 21st he went before Congress to urge the repeal of the Neutrality Acts. On 10/23/41 the destroyer USS Reuben James was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine off the coast of Iceland while in the act of depth charging another U-boat. Congress acceded to the President’s request and repealed the Neutrality Acts on 11/17/41. This meant that US warships, under US air cover when available, would now be escorting American merchant vessels right into the ports of Liverpool and Murmansk. Hitler, who had ordered his forces not to fire on US shipping now had the choice to either revoke this command or allow unfettered American supplies and armaments to reach both the British and the Soviets. His decision would have been made that much easier with the front-page headlines from isolationist papers leaking the Victory Program of the US military a few days before December 7th which indicated the Administration’s plan to focus on ‘Germany First’ and equip a multi-million man army which would be transported across the ocean to liberate Europe.

Second, after the US and Britain became wartime allies against Japan post December 7th, it was inconceivable that the US would fail to actively supply and arm England to protect if from German bombing and/or an invasion. US Naval forces would escort convoys of US merchant ships past the U-boat wolfpacks and US aircraft would be based in Britain to protect those convoys in the eastern Atlantic. Open conflict with the German navy and air force was assured along with American casualties.. After all, if Britain was defeated at home then it could hardly assist the US in overcoming the Japanese in the Pacific.

Hitler knew he had no choice but to declare war on the US and get what he could from his Japanese allies in the bargain. The alternative was that armed clashes would lead to an American declaration of war on Germany in the very near future and nothing in return from the Japanese. While the Japanese refused to attack the USSR they agreed to a new ‘no-separate peace’ deal in return for Hitler’s declaration of war. Simply put, had Hitler not gone to war with the US on December 11th, Germany would still have been at war with the US within weeks or possibly a few months during the period of America’s economy revving up to project its power across the seas. In such a scenario, the path of WWII might have been ever so slightly different, but the major turning point battles of the war (Stalingrad, Midway, El Alemein, Kursk, Normandy, Saipan, etc.) would very likely have played out exactly as they did historically.

It is shocking that the authors of ‘Hitler’s American Gamble’, both deeply educated historians, gloss over the undeclared naval war in the Atlantic, the end of the Neutrality Acts, the sinking of the Rueben James, the leak of the Victory Program and the implications of the US and Britain allied in war in the Pacific. This is either very poor scholarship or outright cherry-picking of the facts to fit a desired narrative.

So what is in this book if it does not go into depth to analyze Hitler’s choices and their consequences as the title would suggest? It is an almost a moment-by-moment account of the days between December 7th and 11th in major power cities across the world. While what the British and Italians leaders or Leningrad's civilians were thinking about a potential declaration of war between Germany and the US may be of interest to those concerned with the minutiae of WWII , they were really no more than spectators in this decision. Yet, we get massive detail on their thoughts and recitations of lengthy diary entries. There is also a massive amount of repetition. The British are worried about a reduction in Lend Lease aid on the morning of December 9th. They are still worried about this the evening of the 9th, and continue to be worried about this the morning of the 10th. Anyone want to guess what they were worried about in the afternoon of the 10th? If you need to know, 'Hitler’s American Gamble' will tell you.

Finally, the narration is quite cut up in places. It sounds as if the authors added some sentences and paragraphs to the manuscript after the recording was made so that the audiobook could be released the same day as the print version. If you give it a listen, you can hear the volume of the reading go up and down scores of times. it sure seems as if narrator had to go back in several places and add new passages.

18 people found this helpful

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Excellent historical research: annoying recording

For students of the second world war and modern world history this is an excellent addition to your library. It is well researched and very informative. The reader is terrific with great command of language. However, he has obviously recorded the book either at different times or in different locales, patching in audio from different sounding environments. The affect is distracting throughout the read. This is unfortunate as the rest of the books attributes are worthy of a better recording

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For die hards only

An interesting enough book, but crazy long and badly needs an edit. Could easily have been an article in a magazine that would have satisfied most of us. But if you want to know how tired Churchill was, what all the newspapers said in 12/41, as well as random journal entries, go for it.

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I still don’t understand

I was a history major in college. I never quite understood why Germany declared war on the United States four days after Pearl Harbor. This volume has a lot of material but I don’t think it reaches the critical question. What was in it for Germany and Italy to declare war on the United States? If the idea was to slow down the delivery of war material to Britain and the Soviet Union then he single front Pacific war with accomplish that.

As best I can tell the decision was not made at either the level of the general staff or of the foreign ministry. This pretty much leaves it to Hitler’s grandiose interpretation of his own military genius. In any event it’s was clearly one of the greatest strategic blunders in the history of warfare.

This book is well documented but documentation alone does not answer the question the troubled me in college my period

2 people found this helpful

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Immense Detail

This amount of research done by the author Tom enable to explain the events between 12/5/41 a 12/12/41 is remarkable. It’s not just delivered with a bunch of data points but expertly woven together to tell the story.

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Great new look at the start of WWII

Terrific narrative of brilliantly organized facts I thoroughly enjoyed this and highly recommend. Thanks guys!

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Stunning

Excellent geopolitical and cultural analysis of the war, it’s decision makers, and the uncertainties with which they contended.
John Hawkins, Ph.D, anthropologist

2 people found this helpful

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A Text for a History Course

Enjoyed narration with a well researched story of the days of attack on Pearl Harbor.
Plenty of detail for anyone wanting to add to world war two history.
Book could be used in college courses.

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Well argued

The authors make a entirely plausible case for how Hitler's decision changed the course of the war.

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Good book tech issues

A lot of glitches in the audio that made the story less interesting and hard to follow