The best books on U.S. mobilization for World War II

Why am I passionate about this?

As a scholar, I take pleasure in developing novel interpretations and arguments and persuading colleagues and readers of their merits. Over the past two decades, I’ve advanced a new macroeconomic narrative for the United States. In earlier publications, I argued that the Depression years were the most technologically progressive of the twentieth century. Behind the backdrop of double-digit unemployment, potential output grew rapidly, an increase that helped enable the country to produce prodigious amounts of WWII armaments. It also, I maintain, established most of the supply side foundations for the golden age (1948-73). The conventional wisdom tends instead to credit U.S. postwar economic dominance to experience manufacturing military durables. 


I wrote...

The Economic Consequences of U.S. Mobilization for the Second World War

By Alexander J. Field,

Book cover of The Economic Consequences of U.S. Mobilization for the Second World War

What is my book about?

Many believe that despite its destructive character, war ultimately boosts long-term economic growth. For the United States, this view is often supported by appeal to the experience of the Second World War, understood as a triumph of both production and productivity. I show that between 1941 and 1945 manufacturing productivity declined, depressed by changes in the output mix and resource shocks from enemy action, including curtailed access to natural rubber and, on the Eastern Seaboard, petroleum. The war forced a shift away from producing goods in which the country had a great deal of experience toward those in which it had little. Postwar economic dominance, I argue, was due less to the experience of making war goods and more to the country’s productive potential in 1941.  

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Destructive Creation: American Business and the Winning of World War II

Alexander J. Field Why did I love this book?

The book gives great insight into the role of organized efforts at persuasion in establishing and reinforcing much of what we think we know about mobilization for the war.

Business wanted credit for the success of war production, even though most of it was achieved in government owned, government operated (GOGO) or government owned, contractor operated (GOCO) plants. The public sector played a much larger role in planning, directing, and controlling the mobilization effort than business wished the American public to acknowledge.

By Mark R. Wilson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Destructive Creation as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

During World War II, the United States helped vanquish the Axis powers by converting its enormous economic capacities into military might. Producing nearly two-thirds of all the munitions used by Allied forces, American industry became what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called "the arsenal of democracy." Crucial in this effort were business leaders. Some of these captains of industry went to Washington to coordinate the mobilization, while others led their companies to churn out weapons. In this way, the private sector won the war-or so the story goes.
Based on new research in business and military archives, Destructive Creation shows that…


Book cover of Growing American Rubber: Strategic Plants and the Politics of National Security

Alexander J. Field Why did I love this book?

Natural rubber was the one strategic material for which the United States had effectively no domestic sourcing. In February 1942, the Japanese overran Singapore, and shortly thereafter seized control of all the rubber exporting sites in Southeast Asia, effectively depriving the U.S. of more than 95 percent of its supply. 

The effects of the U.S. rubber famine on the U.S. economy and its military capability were dire. Much attention has been given to the U.S. development of a synthetic rubber industry, much less to the search for plant-based alternatives to Hevea brasiliensis as a source of latex.

Finlay’s narrative provides a fascinating and informative discussion of these efforts.


Book cover of The Public Image of Henry Ford: An American Folk Hero and His Company

Alexander J. Field Why did I love this book?

Iconic images of the Willow Run plant, built by the U.S. government but operated by Ford, have probably done more than anything else to cement in the minds of scholars and the public the standard narratives about mobilization for the Second World War.

In fact, Willow Run was a questionable success, employing at its peak barely 40 percent of the headcount for which it was designed. It eventually relied extensively on subcontracting, which Ford had intended to avoid. And, because Ford insisted on freezing designs for substantial periods, Willow Run B-24s had to be flown to government modification centers before they could be used in combat.

As late as 1943, the Truman Committee was threatening to transfer the plant to another contractor because Ford’s performance had been so abysmal. But if Ford’s record as a builder of bombers was mixed, there is no question that the company operated a world-class public relations department, so successful that most people thought Ford was the number one World War II contractor (GM was number one; Ford was number four).

Lewis’s book provides the details.

Book cover of War, Economy and Society, 1939-1945

Alexander J. Field Why did I love this book?

This is a classic book on economic mobilization for the Second World War.

The range of Milward’s scholarship is impressive, he has thought deeply about important questions, and he is not afraid to take positions on controversial issues.

It’s relatively weaker on U.S. mobilization, accepting much of the received wisdom, and acknowledges the scarcity of available materials for the Soviet Union and Italy at the time he wrote. But it is useful in putting the U.S. effort in context, and particularly helpful in providing comparative details on the British and German efforts. 

Book cover of Warship Builders: An Industrial History of U.S. Naval Shipbuilding 1922-1945

Alexander J. Field Why did I love this book?

The historiography of the Second World War is littered with stylized facts which are either wrong or only partly true. 

One is that the U.S. economy was almost completely demilitarized during the 1930s. This is largely true insofar as ground and air forces are concerned. It was not true for the Navy. As a former undersecretary of the Navy Roosevelt had a soft spot for sea power. So did important leaders in the legislature. 

The two Vinson-Trammel Acts passed in the 1930s allowed the US to build up to treaty limits. At the time of the Pearl Harbor attack, U.S. naval power ranked only slightly behind that of the Royal Navy, and ahead of the Japanese (although not in the Pacific).

Moreover, the U.S. possessed an industrial infrastructure and an experienced workforce in both government and private shipyards that was capable of rapidly building multiple ships. Heinrich provides an excellent education on all of this.

You might also like...

Act Like an Author, Think Like a Business: Ways to Achieve Financial Literary Success

By Joylynn M Ross, Falessia Booker (editor),

Book cover of Act Like an Author, Think Like a Business: Ways to Achieve Financial Literary Success

Joylynn M Ross

New book alert!

What is my book about?

Act Like an Author, Think Like a Business is for anyone who wants to learn how to make money with their book and make a living as an author. Many authors dive into the literary industry without taking time to learn the business side of being an author, which can hinder book sales and the money that can be made as an author.

This resource serves as a guide to mastering the art of financial literary success and to help avoid the mistakes that many authors make while learning the ropes on their own. This book helps authors “think outside…

Act Like an Author, Think Like a Business: Ways to Achieve Financial Literary Success

By Joylynn M Ross, Falessia Booker (editor),

What is this book about?

Do you want to make money with your book? Do you want to make a living as an author? There’s more to doing so than simply writing and publishing your book. Many authors dive into the literary industry without taking time to learn the business side of being an author. This could dramatically hinder your book sales and the money you can make as an author. Without a guide such as this, mastering the art of financial literary success can take you years, and you’ll be sure to make mistakes during the learning phase. Some mistakes could cost you money;…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Franklin D. Roosevelt, presidential biography, and World War 1?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Franklin D. Roosevelt, presidential biography, and World War 1.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Explore 56 books about Franklin D. Roosevelt
Presidential Biography Explore 19 books about presidential biography
World War 1 Explore 900 books about World War 1