Lynne Olson is the author of Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in its Darkest, Finest Hour; Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England; and Freedom’s Daughters: The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement from 1830 to 1970, and co-author of two other books. She lives with her husband in Washington, D.C.
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Excerpt from book:
Olson / THOSE ANGRY DAYS
“A Modern Galahad”
The cab stopped in front of the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building and Charles Lindbergh stepped out. He stared for a moment at the Victorian-era museum, with its turrets and multicolored brick facade, then strolled around its perimeter, hoping to find a side door. Seeing none, he returned to the front entrance, considering how to slip past the tourists outside without being recognized.
By now, avoiding public attention was as natural to Lindbergh as breathing. He put his head down, covered his nose with a handkerchief, blew into it—and walked into the museum unnoticed. Once inside, he ducked into the first room on the right, which featured a display of dresses worn by the nation’s First Ladies, and stationed himself by the salmon-pink silk gown that once belonged to Martha Washington. From there he had a perfect view of the Spirit of St. Louis, hanging from the ceiling in the main hall.
It was March 1940, and Europe was at war. Lindbergh was at the epicenter of the struggle over America’s role in the conflict. But for almost an hour that day, he took time out from the frenzy of the present to find refuge in the past. Lost in reverie, the lanky blond aviator gazed at the Spirit of St. Louis, suspended by cables above the tourists staring up at it. He had long felt a mystical closeness to this tiny silver plane. When he landed in Paris on May 21, 1927, at the end of the first solo transatlantic flight in history, his first thought had been how to protect it from the hordes of frenzied Frenchmen racing across the field to greet him.
To Lindbergh, the Spirit was “a living creature,” with whom he had shared a transcendent experience and whose loyalty to him was unquestioned. In his mind, they were inseparably linked: he always referred to the plane and himself as “we.” (Indeed, We was the title of the first of two books he wrote about the flight.) More than once in recent years, he dreamed he had crept into the Smithsonian at night, cut the Spirit down, transported it to an airstrip, and taken off. Once aloft—away from his troubled, complicated life—he experienced nothing but joy. He could ride the sky “like a god . . . I could dive at a peak; I could touch a cloud; I could climb far above them all. This hour was mine, free of the earth.”
A supremely rational, practical man by nature, he was unex- pectedly lyrical, even fanciful, when he later described his visit to the Smithsonian in his journal. He noted the kinship he felt with the mannequin representing Martha Washington as they studied the Spirit together: “I rather envied her the constant intimacy with the plane that I once had.”
But then, he wrote, he suddenly noticed two young women staring at him. He was well acquainted with that look. Not quite certain it was him, they soon would come closer to find out. Up to that point, it had been a wonderful visit: just him, Martha, and the Spirit of St. Louis. Determined to preserve the enchantment of the moment, he spun around and walked out.
when the twenty-five-year-old Lindbergh touched down at Paris’s Le Bourget airfield on that late spring evening in 1927, there was so much awaiting him, his wife later observed: “Fame“Powerfully [re-creates] this tenebrous era . . . Olson captures in spellbinding detail the key figures in the battle between the Roosevelt administration and the isolationist movement.”—The New York Times Book Review
“In Those Angry Days, journalist-turned-historian Lynne Olson captures [the] period in a fast-moving, highly readable narrative punctuated by high drama. It’s . . . popular history at its most riveting, detailing what the author rightfully characterizes as ‘a brutal, no-holds-barred battle for the soul of the nation.’ It is sure to captivate readers seeking a deeper understanding of how public opinion gradually shifted as America moved from bystander to combatant in the war to preserve democracy.”—Associated Press
“Filled with fascinating anecdotes and surprising twists . . . With this stirring book, Lynne Olson confirms her status as our era’s foremost chronicler of World War II politics and diplomacy.”—Madeleine K. Albright
“Olson has shone a dramatic light on the complexities of the issue and skillfully portrayed the protagonists of an almost forgotten crisis in American history.”—Newsweek/The Daily Beast
“[An] absorbing chronicle . . . [Olson] doesn’t so much revisit a historical period as inhabit it; her scenes flicker as urgently as a newsreel. While highlighting Lindbergh and FDR as its stars, Those Angry Days embraces a cast of characters far beyond the book’s title characters.”—The Christian Science Monitor
“Masterfully describes America’s conflicting opinions before Pearl Harbor . . . a comprehensive take on another era of angry divisions.”—Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Spanning the years 1939 to 1941, Lynne Olson’s masterful book relives American’s debate over whether to go to war—a bitter clash personified by FDR and Charles Lindbergh.”—Parade
“A fully fleshed-out portrait of the battle between the interventionists and isolationists in the eighteen months leading up to Pearl Harbor . . . a vivid, colorful evocation of a charged era.”—Kirkus Reviews
“Humanizing public events with private strains . . . Olson delivers a fluid rendition of a tempestuous time.”—Booklist
“[Olson] manages to keep her complex, character-filled story on keel as she describes the forces bearing down on FDR’s administration while the world slipped into war. . . . Delicious tales abound.”—Publishers Weekly
From the Hardcover edition.