Driven Patriot

James Forrestal was one of the most brilliant, and ultimately most tragic, of the men who guided the United States through World War II and into the Cold War. In DRIVEN PATRIOT: THE LIFE AND TIMES OF JAMES FORRESTAL, Townsend Hoopes, who served as an aid to Forrestal, and the young historian Douglas Brinkley sympathetically examine the career of this enigmatic public figure.

The son of Irish immigrants, Forrestal rejected his origins and set out to build a new life for himself at Princeton and on Wall Street. During the 1920’s, Forrestal became a successful investment banker and led a glamorous existence amongst the high society of the Jazz Age. Following the Great Crash, he worked behind the scenes to support New Deal reforms on Wall Street. President Franklin Roosevelt summoned Forrestal to Washington in 1940 to serve as under secretary of the navy. Forrestal’s greatest accomplishment was supervising the construction of the powerful fleet which helped lead the United States to victory in World War II. Promoted to secretary of the navy in 1944 and appointed the first secretary of defense in 1947, Forrestal played a key role in developing the postwar consensus on policy toward the Soviet Union and reshaping government institutions to meet the challenges of the Cold War.

Unfortunately, Forrestal exhausted himself in office, both physically and emotionally. When this became obvious, and President Harry Truman asked him to resign in 1949, Forrestal suffered a mental collapse. He committed suicide shortly after leaving his post. Hoopes and Brinkley’s study is an important contribution to our knowledge about a crucial period, and a worthy tribute to a man who sacrificed himself to the service of his country.