Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Atlantic Monthly Press

1941: Fighting the Shadow War

A Divided America in a World at War

by Marc Wortman

A thrilling exploration of the little-known history of America’s clandestine involvement in World War II prior to Pearl Harbor.

  • Imprint Atlantic Monthly Press
  • Page Count 432
  • Publication Date April 19, 2016
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2511-8
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $27.00

About The Book

In 1941: Fighting the Shadow War, A Divided America in a World at War, historian Marc Wortman thrillingly explores the little-known history of America’s clandestine involvement in World War II before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Prior to that infamous day, America had long been involved in a shadow war. Winston Churchill, England’s beleaguered new Prime Minister, pleaded with Franklin D. Roosevelt for help. FDR concocted ingenious ways to come to his aid, without breaking the Neutrality Acts. Launching Lend-Lease, conducting espionage at home and in South America to root out Nazi sympathizers, and waging undeclared war in the Atlantic, were just some of the tactics with which FDR battled Hitler in the shadows.

FDR also had to contend with growing isolationism and anti-Semitism as he tried to influence public opinion. The largest obstacle was Charles Lindbergh and his America First Committee, with its following of hundreds of thousands. While Americans were sympathetic to those being crushed under Axis power, they were unwilling to enter a foreign war. Wortman tells the story through the eyes of the powerful as well as ordinary citizens. The book opens with two American journalists who witness Hitler’s invasion of Poland: William Shirer is appalled by the rise of Nazism, Philip Johnson is enthralled with Hitler. Their stories weave throughout the intricate tapestry of events that unfold during the crucial year of 1941.

Combining military and political history, Wortman tells the eye-opening story of how FDR took the country to war.


“Marc Wortman’s 1941 has the sweep and intimacy of an epic novel and the pace of a military thriller.” —Debby Applegate, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher

“A wide-ranging examination of America’s entry into World War II . . . [Wortman] displays a nice sense of the dramatic scene and a solid ear for telling quotes, and ample documentation gives readers the opportunity to look further into the history. Even readers familiar with the broad history of the era are likely to find new insights and new details of the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that preceded Pearl Harbor. An engaging and well-researched look behind the scenes of an important historic era. Highly recommended.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“In this probing chronicle of that tense year, Wortman illuminates the largely forgotten politics of a time when a fractured America debated the wisdom of joining the Allied cause in WWII. . . . A fascinating narrative of a domestic conflict presaging America’s plunge into global war.” —Booklist (starred review)

“Like the rumble of thunder before a storm, Marc Wortman’s 1941: Fighting the Shadow War creates a mesmerizing sense of ominous and terrifying foreboding. This is the fascinating story of the global war that most Americans know almost nothing about: the bitter and even deadly struggle pitting American against American as the United States confronted Hitler and Japan before our country’s actual entrance into World War II. There were heroes and villains and, as Wortman depicts so richly up to Pearl Harbor, nobody knew who would win.” —Nathaniel Philbrick, winner of the National Book Award for In the Heart of the Sea

“Engrossing . . . an absorbing world-wide epic set in [a] pivotal year. . . Wortman’s brisk narrative takes us across nations and oceans with a propulsive vigor that speeds the book along like a good thriller.” —Wall Street Journal

“Marc Wortman’s 1941: Fighting the Shadow War tells the story of America’s plunge into World War II in a way that is smart, suspenseful, and full of surprising historical twists. 1941 has the sweep and intimacy of an epic novel and the pace of a military thriller.” —Debby Applegate, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher

“With the skills of a mosaicist, Marc Wortman creates a fresh portrait of the most crucial year of the war, when the United States became the ‘arsenal of democracy,’ when Hitler invaded the Soviet Union, and when the nation had its rendezvous with destiny at Pearl Harbor. Wortman brings into a single view both the war abroad and the ‘shadow war’ at home between supporters and opponents of American intervention, a battle that continued until the end of that tumultuous year.” —Susan Dunn, author of 1940: FDR, Willkie, Lindbergh, Hitler—the Election Amid the Storm

“The story of Mr Roosevelt’s Hidden War on Nazi Germany and support of the British effort in 1940-1941 has been told before, of course, but not I think with such verve and delightful panache as in Marc Wortman’s new book. Its strength lies in his blend of characters high and low, from FDR and his highest confidantes to a normal family at Pearl Harbor to the U.S. journalists in Berlin as they saw war advancing across Europe and, then, towards America itself. It’s a smart book, and a great read.” —Paul Kennedy, J. Richardson Dilworth Professor of History at Yale University, and author of The Engineers of Victory: The Problem Solvers Who Turned the Tide in the Second World War

“Narrated with panache and a fastidious eye for detail, Wortman’s 1941: Fighting the Shadow War tells how FDR ingeniously helped Churchill by any means he could without breaking the Neutrality Act. Beset by furious, powerful domestic rivalries, who had the country in their grip, they were bested only when Pearl Harbor was attacked. An on-the-edge-of-your-chair thriller.” —Geoffrey Wolff, author of The Hard Way Around: The Passages of Joshua Slocum, and most recently A Day at the Beach


After his journey with Shirer to the Polish front, Philip Johnson returned home more convinced than ever of America’s impending fascist future. He was filled with fighting energy to help bring it about. He immediately began writing about Hitler, Germany, and the war, rebutting press coverage he thought was on the wrong side of history. “Our ‘neutral’ press,” he wrote in the pages of Father Coughlin’s Social Justice, “gives only one side of the war.” America was being fed a diet of falsehoods about the Nazis and about conditions in Poland and the nature of German war aims. The average American, he wrote, “knows too much about the war—90 percent of it wrong.”

The United States government was now working secretly hand in hand with U.S.-based British intelligence operatives. Together they intended to shine a bright light on Fifth Column activities and force German front organizations and agents out into the open. Johnson and the AFF had good reason to scurry out of sight. The British agents now slipping into the U.S. understood their Nazi enemies well and would employ some of the very same tricks and criminal tactics that fascist Fifth Columnists had employed so effectively in Europe.