Winner of the Robert H. Ferrell Book Prize
“The Idealist is a powerful book, gorgeously written and consistently insightful. Samuel Zipp uses the 1942 world tour of Wendell Willkie to examine American attitudes toward internationalism, decolonization, and race in the febrile atmosphere of the world’s first truly global conflict.”
—Andrew Preston, author of Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith
A dramatic account of the plane journey undertaken by businessman-turned-maverick-internationalist Wendell Willkie to rally US allies to the war effort. Willkie’s tour of a planet shrunk by aviation and war inspired him to challenge Americans to fight a rising tide of nationalism at home.
In August 1942, as the threat of fascism swept the world, a charismatic Republican presidential contender boarded the Gulliver at Mitchel Airfield for a seven-week journey around the world. Wendell Willkie covered 31,000 miles as President Roosevelt’s unofficial envoy. He visited the battlefront in North Africa with General Montgomery, debated a frosty de Gaulle in Beirut, almost failed to deliver a letter to Stalin in Moscow, and allowed himself to be seduced by Chiang Kai-shek in China. Through it all, he was struck by the insistent demands for freedom across the world.
In One World, the runaway bestseller he published on his return, Willkie challenged Americans to resist the “America first” doctrine espoused by the war’s domestic opponents and warned of the dangers of “narrow nationalism.” He urged his fellow citizens to end colonialism and embrace “equality of opportunity for every race and every nation.” With his radio broadcasts regularly drawing over 30 million listeners, he was able to reach Americans directly in their homes. His call for a more equitable and interconnected world electrified the nation, until he was silenced abruptly by a series of heart attacks in 1944. With his death, America lost its most effective globalist, the man FDR referred to as “Private Citizen Number One.”
At a time when “America first” is again a rallying cry, Willkie’s message is at once chastening and inspiring, a reminder that “one world” is more than a matter of supply chains and economics, and that racism and nationalism have long been intertwined.
If isolationist slogans such as ‘America First’ drive you to despair, The Idealist might be the
book for you…Zipp…has captured Willkie’s ‘brief, blazing moment,’ a little-remembered interlude when America was at war but already worrying about the postwar order. Younger readers, dismayed by today’s various nationalisms, may be comforted to learn that isolationist and internationalist impulses—like so much else—are cyclical phenomena.
As a new Administration now looks to reimagine US foreign policy in an increasingly chaotic world beset by global challenges from the pandemic to climate change, Zipp’s account of Willkie’s travels and ideas offers some food for thought.
Exhilarating and timely…Makes the case for a return to Willkie’s thinking about interdependence and international cooperation…By a coincidence, Zipp’s book has appeared amid a global pandemic that has both highlighted the need to transcend nationalism and its intractability.
The Idealist is a powerful book, gorgeously written and consistently insightful. Samuel Zipp uses the 1942 world tour of Wendell Willkie to examine American attitudes toward internationalism, decolonization, and race in the febrile atmosphere of the world’s first truly global conflict. By showing that Willkie’s wartime tour offered a preview of globalization, Zipp challenges now-dominant interpretations of World War II.
This deeply researched and wonderfully written book leads us to wonder how the twentieth century might have unfolded if the United States had embraced Wendell Willkie’s ‘new world idea.’ It’s not too late, because Willkie’s wisdom rings through The Idealist and speaks urgently to today’s America.
This is a beautifully written, ambitious, confident, and capacious book that does a wonderful job of situating Wendell Willkie and his vision for ‘one world’ in a historical context. Its breadth is truly impressive. The reader has a sense of being a participant on Willkie’s journey, seeing the world as it stood in 1942. An outstanding book.
Zipp’s breathtaking account of Wendell Willkie’s wartime world tour centers on the transformational concept of One World. Tackling Willkie’s idealistic, often maligned push for an independent and profoundly interconnected world, this riveting tale speaks to some of the most pressing concerns of our present age.
This insightful and nuanced portrayal successfully elucidates Willkie’s globalist politics and America’s emergence as a world leader.
Zipp's engrossing book will be of interest to not just historians, but anyone interested in understanding how ordinary Americans responded to the global changes in governance, politics, and culture that took place during these prewar and postwar years.
- 2021, Winner of the Robert H. Ferrell Book Prize
- 416 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Belknap Press
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