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The Darkest Year

The American Home Front 1941-1942

William K. Klingaman


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Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (12/8/2020)
Compact Disc (2/19/2019)
MP3 CD (2/19/2019)


The Darkest Year is acclaimed author William K. Klingaman’s narrative history of the American home front from December 7, 1941 through the end of 1942, a psychological study of the nation under the pressure of total war.

For Americans on the home front, the twelve months following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor comprised the darkest year of World War Two. Despite government attempts to disguise the magnitude of American losses, it was clear that the nation had suffered a nearly unbroken string of military setbacks in the Pacific; by the autumn of 1942, government officials were openly acknowledging the possibility that the United States might lose the war.

Appeals for unity and declarations of support for the war effort in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor made it appear as though the class hostilities and partisan animosities that had beset the United States for decades — and grown sharper during the Depression — suddenly disappeared. They did not, and a deeply divided American society splintered further during 1942 as numerous interest groups sought to turn the wartime emergency to their own advantage.

Blunders and repeated displays of incompetence by the Roosevelt administration added to the sense of anxiety and uncertainty that hung over the nation.

The Darkest Year focuses on Americans’ state of mind not only through what they said, but in the day-to-day details of their behavior. Klingaman blends these psychological effects with the changes the war wrought in American society and culture, including shifts in family roles, race relations, economic pursuits, popular entertainment, education, and the arts.

Praise For The Darkest Year: The American Home Front 1941-1942

“A fascinating look at the home front during a pivotal moment in time.” —New York Post

"This expansive survey paints an extraordinary portrait of America’s home front during the first year of WWII...Klingaman uses media, literature, journals, and letters to illustrate the year, and the resulting history is riveting." —Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

"The appeal of The Darkest Year is in enabling readers to feel the immediacy of well-known historical events as they unfolded. [It] successfully evokes a sense of what life was like during an anxious time."—Christian Science Monitor

"In this fast-paced narrative of the American home front during the first year of the country's participation in World War II, Will Klingaman demonstrates a marvelous knack for placing the reader in the middle of the chaotic mobilization of the economy and armed forces of a nation unprepared for war. Shortages, rationing, and confusion in the conversion of industry to war production gave only fitful promise in 1942 of America's eventual emergence as the arsenal of democracy."—James M. McPherson, Professor of History Emeritus, Princeton University, and Pulitzer-Prize-winning author of Battle Cry of Freedom

"Klingaman deftly navigates the ensuing roller-coaster of unease and complacency that characterized home front sentiments during the first year of U.S. involvement in World War II. This thoroughly researched and accessible text will prove elucidating to anyone curious about social history, World War II, or the rhetoric of a country in crisis."—Library Journal (starred review)

"So many of us learned in high school that the misery of the Great Depression was defeated by the victory of World War II. Missing from that overview, however, was the moment when many Americans were afraid that we might lose to Hitler, and that our country would cease to exist. The Darkest Year reveals that soul-stirring moment in all its detail." —Craig Nelson, author of Rocket Men and Pearl Harbor

"In stitch and scope, Klingaman's vast tapestry depicts in a swift narrative Americans' struggles as they came to grips with the demands and terror of World War II. This is the book to start with to understand how total war transformed a once-reluctant home front into a launch pad for victory."–Marc Wortman, author of 1941: Fighting the Shadow War

"[A] vigorous narrative.The author is good at teasing out small but telling detail...[and] also delivers entertaining anecdotes. A welcome study of an aspect of wartime history that is little known among those too young to have experienced it."—Kirkus reviews

St. Martin's Press, 9781250133175, 384pp.

Publication Date: February 19, 2019

About the Author

WILLIAM K. KLINGAMAN has taught at the University of Virginia and the University of Maryland. He is the co-author The Year Without Summer with Nicholas P. Klingaman, as well as the author of narrative histories of the years 1918, 1929 and 1941.