As Metro-North trains grew progressively slower, Fairfield County commuters groaned.
When bad weather, aging infrastructure or acts of God turned delays of minutes into hours, men and women gnashed their teeth, or wished the windows opened so they could jump out.
Ted Aldrich was thrilled.
For 8 years, the banker used his time between Greens Farms and Grand Central not to try to answer emails, watch movies on a phone screen or wish he were anywhere else.
Aldrich read history books. He organized notes. Then he wrote a book.
Not just any book. He wrote 800 pages — then edited it down to 500 — on the odd relationship, and amazing success, of George Marshall and Henry Stimson.
The general and diplomat, Aldrich says, are hugely responsible for America’s logistical success in World War II. It’s a fresh area of study, one no historian has previously examined.
Yet Aldrich is not a historian. He’s a banker.
And this is his first book ever.
The Rowayton native and former Brien McMahon High School all-state soccer player has been a history buff as long as he remembers. But after playing at Colgate University, living and working in Europe, then moving to Westport in 1999, that passion was limited to reading on trains.
In 2008 he realized he could put that commuting time to productive use, by writing a book he’d long thought about. He had a subject: the collaboration between the unlikely duo of the U.S. Army chief of staff and President Roosevelt’s Secretary of War.
From adjoining offices at the Pentagon, the career military man and the Wall Street lawyer — both from vastly different backgrounds — created and led a war machine that helped crush a powerful enemy.
Blending politics, diplomacy, bureaucracy and war fighting, they transformed an outdated, poorly equipped army into a modern fighting force. They developed strategy and logistics, coordinated with allies, and planned for post-war peace.
Aldrich had the idea for the story. But with Metro-North’s spotty cell service, conducting the all-important research — during the only time he had available — was impossible.
Then he stumbled on Stimson’s 10,000-page diary. Because the men occupied adjoining offices, most of their collaboration took place in conversations. Little was written down — except in the diary.
It was housed at Yale, but not digitized. Aldrich paid to have it converted, and put it on a thumb drive. Suddenly, the train became his office.
The longer the commute was, the more productive and happier he became. Research took 3 years. Writing took 5 more.
Adlrich looked forward to to long business flights to Asia too. While most passengers slept or watched movies, Aldrich wrote, edited, and wrote some more.
That was the easy part. Selling his work to publishers seemed impossible. Major houses were not interested in a long book by a non-historian who had never written anything before.
Neither were smaller publishers.
Finally, Stackpole Books responded to Aldrich’s cold call. Three days later, they offered him a contract.
The Partnership: George Marshall, Henry Stimson, and the Extraordinary Collaboration That Won World War II will be published April 15. Best-selling author Walter Isaacson calls it “a valuable addition to history.”
Noted writer Evan Thomas adds:
The contrast to the current day will pop out at readers. Aldrich writes with a confident, readable style that carries you along. Through these men we remember how America truly did become great. At the same time, Aldrich has a clear eye about their foibles and blind spots. Stimson and Marshall were Olympian figures, yet in Aldrich’s capable hands, human and relatable.
Unlike many writers who head out on book tours, Aldrich has a full-time job. His personal promotion will be limited to groups in the tri-state area, and Washington — talks he can give while still working his day job.
Meanwhile, he’d love to write another book. But he has to find the right subject — and make sure much of the material is available on a thumb drive.
On the other hand, at the rate Metro-North is going, Aldrich may have even more time to write than before.
(For more information and to order Ted Aldrich’s book, click here.)