Masters and Commanders, By Andrew Roberts

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The Independent Culture

Exceptional in both research and thundering narrative, this revealing book tells the story of the four key players on the Allied side in the Second World War.

Roosevelt's patrician charm was yoked to an impressive command of strategy, George C. Marshall who was characterised by laser-like insight and a lack of self-promotion usual among generals.

On the British side, General Sir Alan Brooke was a bright loner obsessed by ornithology. The wild card in the quartet was Churchill, described by one of his generals as "lacking in strategical knowledge".

The Marshall admired Churchill's "splendid contempt for the enemy" but "dreaded" his influence on Roosevelt. It is typical of Roberts's originality that he devotes appendix to the weird codenames for operations: Grapefruit, Manhole, Blot.