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Vogel, Stephen. The Pentagon, a History: The Untold Story of the Wartime Race to Build the Pentagon, and to Restore It Sixty Years Later.

Vogel, Stephen. The Pentagon, a History: The Untold Story of the Wartime Race to Build the Pentagon, and to Restore It Sixty Years Later. New York: Random House, 2007. 626pp. $32.95

This title accurately describes Stephen Vogel's book, but it does not do his engrossing story justice. Vogel, a veteran military reporter for the Washington Post, has written the biography of a building, complete with its conception, formative years, aging, and even crisis events. The building comes to life through the experiences of the strong cast of personalities who planned, built, upgraded, repaired, and worked within it throughout the first sixty years of its history. Vogel's story takes shape in early 1941, with Franklin Roosevelt's War Department and its concerns about the ability of the United States to plan for and wage what it saw as a coming global war. At that time, the War Department had twenty-four thousand employees, scattered throughout Washington, D.C., Virginia, and Maryland, in twenty-three separate buildings, including apartments, shacks, and even a Leary's Garage at 24th and M streets. After Germany invaded Russia in June 1941, the requirement for more space was urgent, and the Army turned to Brigadier General Brehon B. Somervell, its Quartermaster Corps's Chief of Construction Division, to solve the problem.

Vogel fills with color and detail his story of the fast-paced construction of the largest office building in the world. By March 1942, over ten thousand men were working on the site. They dredged 680,000 tons of sand and gravel from the Potomac and pounded in 41,492 concrete piles and columns that would support a building with 17.5 miles of corridors and five floors, plus a mezzanine and basement.

Vogel does not end his story with the completion of the building in February 1943. He describes numerous later events as diverse as General Eisenhower's getting lost in the building, the Navy brass refusing to move in, and stories of secretaries of defense James Forrestal and Robert McNamara. His book includes chapters on the Vietnam antiwar protests at the Pentagon on 21 October 1967 and on the over-billion-dollar "remaking" of the Pentagon during major improvements and upgrades during the 1990s. The two concluding and most moving chapters relate the tragic loss of 184 lives and the destruction and repair of the west side of the Pentagon from the horrific impact of the hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 on 11 September 2001. Despite the damage the building held, in part due to the strength of the spiral steel reinforcing bar used in the concrete columns during its original construction. Perhaps this and the related remarkable story of the rebuilding of the Pentagon in less than a year are fitting testimonies to the quality of the people and builders of yesterday and today. Vogel has stated that "it took me longer to write the book than it took them to build the Pentagon." No doubt true, but Vogel's book and its story of a Washington landmark and a globally recognized icon of American power were worth the wait.

WILLIAM CALHOUN

Naval War College
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Author:Calhoun, William
Publication:Naval War College Review
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 22, 2008
Words:514
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