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Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life

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A one-volume biography of Roosevelt by the #1 New York Times bestselling biographer of JFK, focusing on his career as an incomparable politician, uniter, and deal maker In an era of such great national divisiveness, there could be no more timely biography of one of our greatest presidents than one that focuses on his unparalleled political ability as a uniter and consensus A one-volume biography of Roosevelt by the #1 New York Times bestselling biographer of JFK, focusing on his career as an incomparable politician, uniter, and deal maker In an era of such great national divisiveness, there could be no more timely biography of one of our greatest presidents than one that focuses on his unparalleled political ability as a uniter and consensus maker. Robert Dallek’s Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life takes a fresh look at the many compelling questions that have attracted all his biographers: how did a man who came from so privileged a background become the greatest presidential champion of the country’s needy? How did someone who never won recognition for his intellect foster revolutionary changes in the country’s economic and social institutions? How did Roosevelt work such a profound change in the country’s foreign relations? For FDR, politics was a far more interesting and fulfilling pursuit than the management of family fortunes or the indulgence of personal pleasure, and by the time he became president, he had commanded the love and affection of millions of people. While all Roosevelt’s biographers agree that the onset of polio at the age of thirty-nine endowed him with a much greater sense of humanity, Dallek sees the affliction as an insufficient explanation for his transformation into a masterful politician who would win an unprecedented four presidential terms, initiate landmark reforms that changed the American industrial system, and transform an isolationist country into an international superpower. Dallek attributes FDR’s success to two remarkable political insights. First, unlike any other president, he understood that effectiveness in the American political system depended on building a national consensus and commanding stable long-term popular support. Second, he made the presidency the central, most influential institution in modern America’s political system. In addressing the country’s international and domestic problems, Roosevelt recognized the vital importance of remaining closely attentive to the full range of public sentiment around policy-making decisions—perhaps FDR’s most enduring lesson in effective leadership.


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A one-volume biography of Roosevelt by the #1 New York Times bestselling biographer of JFK, focusing on his career as an incomparable politician, uniter, and deal maker In an era of such great national divisiveness, there could be no more timely biography of one of our greatest presidents than one that focuses on his unparalleled political ability as a uniter and consensus A one-volume biography of Roosevelt by the #1 New York Times bestselling biographer of JFK, focusing on his career as an incomparable politician, uniter, and deal maker In an era of such great national divisiveness, there could be no more timely biography of one of our greatest presidents than one that focuses on his unparalleled political ability as a uniter and consensus maker. Robert Dallek’s Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life takes a fresh look at the many compelling questions that have attracted all his biographers: how did a man who came from so privileged a background become the greatest presidential champion of the country’s needy? How did someone who never won recognition for his intellect foster revolutionary changes in the country’s economic and social institutions? How did Roosevelt work such a profound change in the country’s foreign relations? For FDR, politics was a far more interesting and fulfilling pursuit than the management of family fortunes or the indulgence of personal pleasure, and by the time he became president, he had commanded the love and affection of millions of people. While all Roosevelt’s biographers agree that the onset of polio at the age of thirty-nine endowed him with a much greater sense of humanity, Dallek sees the affliction as an insufficient explanation for his transformation into a masterful politician who would win an unprecedented four presidential terms, initiate landmark reforms that changed the American industrial system, and transform an isolationist country into an international superpower. Dallek attributes FDR’s success to two remarkable political insights. First, unlike any other president, he understood that effectiveness in the American political system depended on building a national consensus and commanding stable long-term popular support. Second, he made the presidency the central, most influential institution in modern America’s political system. In addressing the country’s international and domestic problems, Roosevelt recognized the vital importance of remaining closely attentive to the full range of public sentiment around policy-making decisions—perhaps FDR’s most enduring lesson in effective leadership.

30 review for Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life

  1. 5 out of 5

    Michael Finocchiaro

    Having been disappointed in recent presidents (and in particular #43 and #45), I wanted to refresh my memory and learn about some of the presidents that are more or less universally recognized as being the best of breed. Luckily for me, Robert Dallek published his FDR biography in November 2017 which I immediately pre-ordered when I saw it on Amazon and read it avidly once I received it. It is well written and thoroughly enjoyable despite being very long and very detailed. One other political no Having been disappointed in recent presidents (and in particular #43 and #45), I wanted to refresh my memory and learn about some of the presidents that are more or less universally recognized as being the best of breed. Luckily for me, Robert Dallek published his FDR biography in November 2017 which I immediately pre-ordered when I saw it on Amazon and read it avidly once I received it. It is well written and thoroughly enjoyable despite being very long and very detailed. One other political note before I comment on the biographical details that caught my attention: it is instructive to read about the creation of the New Deal now that the most effective attack on these principles is well underway in Congress led by the Drumpf White House. OK, rant over. I found that FDR was quite different in many ways than the vague impressions I had formed about him. I knew he was related to Teddy Roosevelt (himself #4 or #5 on nearly every Best Presidents Ever list), but had not realized how they were similar (both wealthy patrician backgrounds who each embraced (some) progressive causes) and how they were different (Teddy was a Republican, FDR the great Democrat) and the incredible influence that Uncle Teddy had on his nephew, both personally and politically. They actually backed different people and causes but without this ever leading to a break in their relationship. His relationship to Eleanor was FAR more complex than I had ever realized. They were cousins (I knew that), but she was awkward and far less social than Franklin when they got married (that I did not kn0w). Following an early affair which Eleanor discovered, their sexual life fizzled to near inexistence and politically they were often at odds. Franklin had many, many women friends but it is uncertain whether his infidelity went beyond flirting. Eleanor had some very close relationships with women, but there is not hard evidence that she slept with them either. So, there was this forced co-habitation for several decades spanning the Great Depression and WWII that they were forced to live within that must have been complicated. And speaking of the differences between Eleanor and Franklin, it was sadly interesting to see that while Eleanor fervently embraced women's issues and the fight against racism and Nazism, Franklin was pretty lukewarm on both of these. He was all-in for labor issues and detested Nazi imperialism in Europe, but when it came to expanding women's rights, he was dismissive, when it came to saving Jews from the camps in the 40s, he demurred, and when it came to ending some of worst Jim Crow abuses in the south against black Americans, he was mute. This takes nothing away the enormous credit he justifiably takes for having steered America out of the morass of the Great Depression and maneuvering America into World War II in a manner that saw the United States as the world's first power immediately following the war. Well, for a few minutes anyway before being outmaneuvered by Stalin and having to share the stage with the USSR during the subsequent Cold War. I enjoyed this informative biography and want to read more about other 20th century presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Herbert Hoover.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    https://bestpresidentialbios.com/2022... Given the panoply of meritorious FDR biographies it is logical to ask why Dallek felt the need to add “one more” to the pile. His answer: to remind people “what great presidential leadership looks like”. That hardly-satisfying explanation is the earliest evidence of Dallek’s high regard for his subject and his place in history. With 627 pages of text and no shortage of historical insight, this dense presidential biography is undeniably comprehensive, detail https://bestpresidentialbios.com/2022... Given the panoply of meritorious FDR biographies it is logical to ask why Dallek felt the need to add “one more” to the pile. His answer: to remind people “what great presidential leadership looks like”. That hardly-satisfying explanation is the earliest evidence of Dallek’s high regard for his subject and his place in history. With 627 pages of text and no shortage of historical insight, this dense presidential biography is undeniably comprehensive, detailed and fact-filled. And Dallek is extraordinarily facile with the nuances of Roosevelt and his era. But this is not a book which draws in readers with colorful scene-setting or an engrossing bird’s-eye view of the world. Nor does it provide fresh insights into Roosevelt’s life based on new primary sources. Instead, this is essentially an articulate but disappointingly dry synthesis of previous FDR biographies infused with Dallek’s point of view (along with incremental emphasis on Roosevelt’s health issues). One important way biographers can bring a subject to life is by exploring his or her closest personal and professional relationships. But not only does Dallek fail to meaningfully examine the individuals in whom Roosevelt placed his trust, but he also fails to fully investigate why the famously circumspect Roosevelt was able to place his faith in each. And, partly as a result, FDR never fully comes to life in this story. In addition, Dallek assumes a significant degree of historical knowledge by his audience; he focuses surprisingly little time on the “big picture” of FDR’s time and place. There is, for example, almost no explicit emphasis on Roosevelt’s “first hundred days.” And readers lacking a familiarity with World War II will wander around FDR’s war-bubble with little appreciation for most of its major strategic thrusts. But for readers seeking a straightforward “facts only” review of Roosevelt’s life this biography may hit the mark. And if Dallek fails to explore the nuances of FDR’s relationships or place the reader “in the scene” at Yalta, Warm Springs or the White House then it may come as some solace that the narrative is consistently thoughtful and uncommonly dispassionate. And while the discussion of some of Roosevelt’s shortcomings and policy failures are curiously reserved for the book’s last chapter – such as the internment of Japanese Americans – this biography is surprisingly objective. In fact, Dallek highlights his subject’s flaws so well that one might wonder on what basis the author is convinced that FDR is “one of the country’s three greatest presidents”. Overall, Robert Dallek’s 2017 “Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life” is a competent but clinical (and generally colorless) exploration of FDR’s life and legacy. Readers already familiar with Roosevelt are unlikely to find this biography revealing or compelling. And those seeking a thorough but interesting introduction to the 32nd president will probably do better to look elsewhere. Overall Rating: 3¼ stars

  3. 5 out of 5

    Joseph J.

    It is difficult to read a Presidential biography and not reflect on our current divisive politics. A massive tome about FDR seems to appear every ten or so years. Robert Dallek's focus is on FDR's Presidential years. Anyone requiring more on the years before 1933 must look to Kenneth Davis or Geoffrey Ward; for the Roosevelt marriage consider Blanche Cooke or Joseph Lash. Dallek's volume opens with the dismal conditions in a Depression plagued United States the March 1933 day of FDR's inaugurati It is difficult to read a Presidential biography and not reflect on our current divisive politics. A massive tome about FDR seems to appear every ten or so years. Robert Dallek's focus is on FDR's Presidential years. Anyone requiring more on the years before 1933 must look to Kenneth Davis or Geoffrey Ward; for the Roosevelt marriage consider Blanche Cooke or Joseph Lash. Dallek's volume opens with the dismal conditions in a Depression plagued United States the March 1933 day of FDR's inauguration. There follows a fast paced overview of FDR's formative years and personal background. The meat of this book is the Presidency. Dallek is superb on FDR's fringe enemies-Huey Long (especially so) and Fr. Coughlin. In a time of financial collapse in an isolationist nation facing a threatening world order, FDR was a consensus builder against ever louder voices. And Dallek details FDR's precarious health and places its beginnings closer to 1940 and the third term run, rather than focusing on his obvious decline during the 1944 campaign. A very heavy smoker trapped in a wheelchair of his own design, Roosevelt suffered a variety of ills, with even hemorrhoids so severe he required blood transfusions. By 1944, perhaps understandably so his D-Day blood pressure was 226/118. An ironically lonely man who gradually lost his trusted disciples (Howe and Missy LeHand), Dallek continues the work of Geoffrey Ward in detailing the importance of Daisy Suckley in FDR's life. His humanity is seen when wheeled into a ward of soldiers missing arms an legs; the wheelchair bound President leaves with tears in his eyes. More has been done on the final days and death at Warm Springs; a small point: Elizabeth Shoumatoff was not working on sketches at FDR's death but actually painting the portrait which remains at Warm Springs. With a focus on Roosevelt the President, Dallek's massive volume will remain the source for viewing one of our greatest Presidents. Indeed, he cites at beginning and end The New York Times judgement at FDR's death that "Men will thank God on their knees 100 years from now, that Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the White House."

  4. 5 out of 5

    Colleen Browne

    This is unquestionably the best biography I have read on FDR. 700 pages may seem like too few to write about a life as full as Roosevelt's but Dallek manages to do it. His research, as always, is thorough, his ability to get to the heart of his topic in a manner that is succinct and precise and his perspective as a historian who views his subject as a fallible human with flaws but at the same time a great leader is second to none. He gives FDR the biography he deserves. His exploration of the re This is unquestionably the best biography I have read on FDR. 700 pages may seem like too few to write about a life as full as Roosevelt's but Dallek manages to do it. His research, as always, is thorough, his ability to get to the heart of his topic in a manner that is succinct and precise and his perspective as a historian who views his subject as a fallible human with flaws but at the same time a great leader is second to none. He gives FDR the biography he deserves. His exploration of the relationships in Roosevelts life reveal more about the people than any other historian I have read. These are the reasons that Dallek is considered probably the foremost presidential historian. I highly recommend this book. I have read many biographies of FDR and many histories of the period but none has impressed me so much. In addition to exploring all the great things that Roosevelt did for his country and for the world, Dallek neither excuses or fails to detail the three great failures of his presidency which are fairly well known: His refusal to do more for African-Americans, his refusal to allow more immigrants, especially Jews facing torture and death into the country, and his placement of Japanese Americans in camps during the War. His accomplishments include land mark legislation, much of which we have with us still, his ability to inspire hope and deal with the worst depression the country has ever known, and his steering the country through WWII despite his failing health, make him one of our greatest presidents, if not the greatest.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    One of the many jobs in my background was managing the bookstore at the FDR Memorial in DC. FDR, along with his distant cousin TR, is one of my top book subjects. Up to now Jean Smith' bio has been my favorite 1 volume bio of FDR. Dallek's bio is now on the top of my list. Of particular interest is the attention Dallek places on FDR's health issues early on in FDR's Prsidency. A One of the many jobs in my background was managing the bookstore at the FDR Memorial in DC. FDR, along with his distant cousin TR, is one of my top book subjects. Up to now Jean Smith' bio has been my favorite 1 volume bio of FDR. Dallek's bio is now on the top of my list. Of particular interest is the attention Dallek places on FDR's health issues early on in FDR's Prsidency. A

  6. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

    A very detail-oriented, nuanced overview of one of our greatest presidents. The author reveals the struggles FDR had with his physical disability and his remarkable ability to rise above it to lead the country through the Great Depression and WW2. Along the way, we learn of FDR's struggles and also his triumphs. We learn just how sick he was toward the end of his presidency, and how he somehow guided the country on the path to peace. An excellent presidential biography overall and well worth the A very detail-oriented, nuanced overview of one of our greatest presidents. The author reveals the struggles FDR had with his physical disability and his remarkable ability to rise above it to lead the country through the Great Depression and WW2. Along the way, we learn of FDR's struggles and also his triumphs. We learn just how sick he was toward the end of his presidency, and how he somehow guided the country on the path to peace. An excellent presidential biography overall and well worth the effort of reading it, despite the prodigious 600 plus page length.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Joseph Stieb

    A good biography for getting the general feel of FDR's life and political style. Dallek's background as a diplomatic historian really shows, as the focus is on FDR's conduct of foreign affairs, where he goes into a lot of detail, rather than New Deal policies, which are covered but not in depth. You get a nice sense of the personality of this admirable man, a humane and unstoppable optimist who pulled his country through 2 of its greatest crises all while dealing with a serious disability. I've A good biography for getting the general feel of FDR's life and political style. Dallek's background as a diplomatic historian really shows, as the focus is on FDR's conduct of foreign affairs, where he goes into a lot of detail, rather than New Deal policies, which are covered but not in depth. You get a nice sense of the personality of this admirable man, a humane and unstoppable optimist who pulled his country through 2 of its greatest crises all while dealing with a serious disability. I've always admired the version of America that, in an age of crude, posturing, militaristic dictators, embraced a man who couldn't walk as their leader. FDR had an inner strength that is just incalculable as well as a political acumen and style that recharged the can-do spirit of the country as well as its concern for the left out and left behind. A good bio if you want a general sense of the person, but not an essential bio like Hamilton.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Bret

    With the many books written on Roosevelt I feel that this one most likely didn't need to be written. Rather than display the facts and give you a full presentation of Roosevelt's life I feel like the author was a Roosevelt fan boy who wanted to display a full picture but thought that Roosevelt could do no wrong and was justified in some of his shady dealings. With the many books written on Roosevelt I feel that this one most likely didn't need to be written. Rather than display the facts and give you a full presentation of Roosevelt's life I feel like the author was a Roosevelt fan boy who wanted to display a full picture but thought that Roosevelt could do no wrong and was justified in some of his shady dealings.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Stan Prager

    When identifying the “greatest presidents,” historians consistently rank Washington and Lincoln in the top two slots; the third spot almost always goes to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who served as chief executive longer than any before or since and shepherded the nation through twin existential crises of economic depression and world war. FDR left an indelible legacy upon America that echoes loudly both forward to our present and future as well as back to his day. Lionized by the left today—espec When identifying the “greatest presidents,” historians consistently rank Washington and Lincoln in the top two slots; the third spot almost always goes to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who served as chief executive longer than any before or since and shepherded the nation through twin existential crises of economic depression and world war. FDR left an indelible legacy upon America that echoes loudly both forward to our present and future as well as back to his day. Lionized by the left today—especially by its progressive wing—far more than he was in his own time, he remains vilified by the right, then and now. Today’s right, which basks in the extreme and often eschews common sense, conflating social security with socialism, frequently casts him as villain. Yet his memory, be it applauded or heckled, is nevertheless of an iconic figure who forever changed the course of American history, for good or ill. FDR has been widely chronicled, by such luminaries as James MacGregor Burns, William Leuchtenburg, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Jay Winik, Geoffrey C. Ward, and a host of others, including presidential biographer Robert Dallek, winner of the Bancroft Prize for Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 1932–1945. Dallek now revisits his subject with Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life, the latest contribution to a rapidly expanding genre focused upon politics and power, showcased in such works as Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, and most recently, in George Washington: The Political Rise of America’s Founding Father, by David O. Stewart. A rough sketch of FDR’s life is well known. Born to wealth and sheltered by privilege, at school he had difficulty forming friendships with peers. He practiced law for a time, but his passion turned to politics, which seemed ideally suited to the tall, handsome, and gregarious Franklin. To this end, he modeled himself on his famous cousin, President Theodore Roosevelt. He married T.R.’s favorite niece, Eleanor, and like Theodore eventually became Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Unsuccessful as a vice-presidential candidate in the 1920 election, his political future still seemed assured until he was struck down by polio. His legs were paralyzed, but not his ambition. He never walked again, but equipped with heavy leg braces and an impressive upper body strength, he perfected a swinging gait that propelled him forward while leaning into an aide that served, at least for brief periods, as a reasonable facsimile of the same. He made a remarkable political comeback as governor of New York in 1928, and won national attention for his public relief efforts, which proved essential in his even more remarkable bid to win the White House four years later. Reimagining government to cope with the consequences of economic devastation never before seen in the United States, then reimagining it again to construct a vast war machine to counter Hitler and Tojo, he bucked tradition to win reelection three times, then stunned the nation with his death by cerebral hemorrhage only a few months into the fourth term of one of the most consequential presidencies in American history. That “brief sketch” translates into mountains of material for any biographer, so narrowing the lens to FDR’s “political life” proves to be a sound strategy that underscores the route to his many achievements as well as the sometimes-shameful ways he juggled competing demands and realities. Among historians, even his most ardent admirers tend to question his judgment in the run-up to the disaster at Pearl Harbor, as well as his moral compass in exiling Japanese Americans to confinement camps, but as Dallek reveals again and again in this finely wrought study, these may simply be the most familiar instances of his shortcomings. If FDR is often recalled as smart and heroic—as he indeed deserves to be—there are yet plenty of salient examples where he proves himself to be neither. Eleanor Roosevelt once famously quipped that John F. Kennedy should show a little less profile and a little more courage, but there were certainly times this advice must have been just as suitable to her husband. What is clear is that while he was genuinely a compassionate man capable of great empathy, FDR was at the same time at his very core driven by an almost limitless ambition that, reinforced by a conviction that he was always in the right, spawned an ever-evolving strategy to prevail that sometimes blurred the boundaries of the greater good he sought to impose. Shrewd, disciplined, and gifted with finely tuned political instincts, he knew how to balance demands, ideals, and realities to shape outcomes favorable to his goals. He was a man who knew how to wield power to deliver his vision of America, and the truth is, he could be quite ruthless in that pursuit. To his credit, much like Lincoln and Washington before him, his lasting achievements have tended to paper over flaws that might otherwise cling with greater prominence to his legacy. I read portions of this volume during the 2020 election cycle and its aftermath, especially relevant given that the new President, Joe Biden—born just days after the Battle of Guadalcanal during FDR’s third term—had an oversize portrait of Roosevelt prominently hung in the Oval Office across from the Resolute Desk. But even more significantly, Biden the candidate was pilloried by progressives in the run-up to November as far too centrist, as a man who had abandoned the vision of Franklin Roosevelt. But if the left correctly recalls FDR as the most liberal president in American history, it also badly misremembers Roosevelt the man, who in his day very deftly navigated the politics of the center lane. Dallek brilliantly restores for us the authentic FDR of his own era, unclouded by the mists of time that has begotten both a greater belligerence from the right as well as a distorted worship from the left. This context is critical: when FDR first won election in 1932, the nation was reeling from its greatest crisis since the Civil War, the economy in a tailspin and his predecessor, Herbert Hoover, unwilling to use the power of the federal government to intervene while nearly a quarter of the nation’s workforce was unemployed, at a time when a social safety net was nearly nonexistent. People literally starved to death in the United States of America! This provoked radical tugs to the extreme left and extreme right. There was loud speculation that the Republic would not survive, with cries by some for Soviet-style communism and by others for a strongman akin to those spearheading an emerging fascism in Europe. It was into this arena that FDR was thrust. Beyond fringe radical calls for revolution or reaction, despite his party’s congressional majority, like Lincoln before him perhaps Roosevelt’s greatest challenge after stabilizing the state was contending with the forces to the left and right in his own party. This, as Dallek details in a well-written, fast-moving narrative, was to be characteristic of much of his long tenure .. READ THE REST OF REVIEW HERE: https://regarp.com/2021/10/17/review-...

  10. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt have long been of interest to me to the point of reading many, many books about the couple. One might think that I would not learn anything new about them. This is not true. I especially appreciated the amount of information in this book about Franklin's health and the health of people who assisted FDR (Missy LeHand, Harry Hopkins, etc.). Occasionally, Dallek referenced my favorite historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin. That always made me feel that Dallek had done his h Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt have long been of interest to me to the point of reading many, many books about the couple. One might think that I would not learn anything new about them. This is not true. I especially appreciated the amount of information in this book about Franklin's health and the health of people who assisted FDR (Missy LeHand, Harry Hopkins, etc.). Occasionally, Dallek referenced my favorite historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin. That always made me feel that Dallek had done his homework.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Terrie

    I get the sense that Roosevelt had a bit of a savior complex. It doesn't help that the author agrees with Roosevelt- that Roosevelt was the only person on the planet that was capable of leading the United States through World War II. I felt the book made a number of dubious claims and a lot of "what if" statements to cover up a number of Roosevelt's missteps. The author also places blame on the American people for a couple of Roosevelt's less palatable policies. Overall the book just came across I get the sense that Roosevelt had a bit of a savior complex. It doesn't help that the author agrees with Roosevelt- that Roosevelt was the only person on the planet that was capable of leading the United States through World War II. I felt the book made a number of dubious claims and a lot of "what if" statements to cover up a number of Roosevelt's missteps. The author also places blame on the American people for a couple of Roosevelt's less palatable policies. Overall the book just came across as one man's opinion , rather then a book intending to inform about Roosevelt as a politician.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Alex Mulligan

    In an era of applied politics, it’s difficult not to read this book without a yearning for the leaders of the past. That is not to say the pst was perfect, nor Roosevelt. But, it is the desire for a leader who has conviction, dreams, and a message of change and hope for the future that’s drives that yearning for leaders past. Dallek does an incredible job tracing Roosevelt’s political life from start to finish. Dallek neither paints and overly critical nor overly glossy role on Roosevelt. He isn In an era of applied politics, it’s difficult not to read this book without a yearning for the leaders of the past. That is not to say the pst was perfect, nor Roosevelt. But, it is the desire for a leader who has conviction, dreams, and a message of change and hope for the future that’s drives that yearning for leaders past. Dallek does an incredible job tracing Roosevelt’s political life from start to finish. Dallek neither paints and overly critical nor overly glossy role on Roosevelt. He isn’t afraid to highlight both strengths and weaknesses. I’m doing so he paints a clear picture of the President and his impact on America and the world.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    Really good. I liked this much more than the same author's biography of John F. Kennedy, though admittedly I'm not sure if it's because it's any better written or just because I find FDR to be a more compelling - not to mention a more admirable and inspirational - figure than JFK. Nevertheless, very much worth a read. Really good. I liked this much more than the same author's biography of John F. Kennedy, though admittedly I'm not sure if it's because it's any better written or just because I find FDR to be a more compelling - not to mention a more admirable and inspirational - figure than JFK. Nevertheless, very much worth a read.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Mirabella

    I'm glad I started my 2022 tour of Presidential biographies and memoirs with FDR. It's a little hard for me to separate my review of the President from my review of the book, but I'll try... The book had enough quotes and excerpts from personal letters that I felt I really got to know Franklin and those closest to him but also enough objectivity that I felt both personally and academically invested the entire time. Big fan of the author and his style and am excited to read his biography for Trum I'm glad I started my 2022 tour of Presidential biographies and memoirs with FDR. It's a little hard for me to separate my review of the President from my review of the book, but I'll try... The book had enough quotes and excerpts from personal letters that I felt I really got to know Franklin and those closest to him but also enough objectivity that I felt both personally and academically invested the entire time. Big fan of the author and his style and am excited to read his biography for Truman next! (A little frustrated that the book ended before the war, but I can't ACTUALLY hold that against it in the review, so... 5 stars)

  15. 4 out of 5

    Harriet Brown

    Franklin D. Roosevelt a Political Life Franklin D. Roosevelt A Political Life by Robert Fallen is an interesting, information book. What a sense of history. I highly recommend this book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    This was excellent. A meat and potatoes one volume biography. Highly recommend. All that said, Eleanor Roosevelt does not come off too well in this. I am going to have to read Blanche Weisen Cook's biography as a counterbalance. This was excellent. A meat and potatoes one volume biography. Highly recommend. All that said, Eleanor Roosevelt does not come off too well in this. I am going to have to read Blanche Weisen Cook's biography as a counterbalance.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Keith Landry

    At times, getting through this colossal book was a real effort. That being said, all the key points and motivations for FDR's extraordinary success during complicated times are explored more than competently. I learned a considerable amount about this fascinating man. At times, getting through this colossal book was a real effort. That being said, all the key points and motivations for FDR's extraordinary success during complicated times are explored more than competently. I learned a considerable amount about this fascinating man.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kay Wright

    It’s really long, almost 1000 pages, very dry, very detailed but full of the respect and affection Dallek has for FDR. In a time when the Presidency itself is under siege looking back on a man who overcame incredible personal obstacles and led us through the depression and WWII mainly by force of personality is inspiring. Dallek lets the reader infer much from his Joe Friday writing, (just the facts, ma'am) but uses material from many sources. He does argue briefly that FDR did not know that Pea It’s really long, almost 1000 pages, very dry, very detailed but full of the respect and affection Dallek has for FDR. In a time when the Presidency itself is under siege looking back on a man who overcame incredible personal obstacles and led us through the depression and WWII mainly by force of personality is inspiring. Dallek lets the reader infer much from his Joe Friday writing, (just the facts, ma'am) but uses material from many sources. He does argue briefly that FDR did not know that Pearl Harbor bombing was imminent. He also condemns his internment of Japanese Americans and shows why he thinks there was little the Allies could do to save Jews except win the war quickly. The subtitle gives you fair warning that this is mostly about FDR’s life as an elected official and the balancing act required to get enough support to do what was needed. It was refreshing to read that he had no comprehensive plan to end the depression but relied on instinct. And it might not have worked without the war to stimulate the economy. If you do read this I highly recommend Harry Truman’s 2volume autobiography or Truman by David McCullough to finish the story. Those two presidents shaped the America we live in, for better or worse. It’s helps to understand why we are where we are. What we can do about it, well that’s another book.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ronald

    I listened to the audiobook version. Admittedly, there were times where I did doze off, so I’m sure some parts are a bit hazy for me, but was still overall really enjoyable. As usual, with biographies like these, the childhood and early accomplishments of great people fascinate me to no end. I Think it really explains a lot of powerful qualities that would emerge later on in their lives. In the case of FDR, he was proud, cared for achievement, and extremely charismatic. Having been born wealthy I listened to the audiobook version. Admittedly, there were times where I did doze off, so I’m sure some parts are a bit hazy for me, but was still overall really enjoyable. As usual, with biographies like these, the childhood and early accomplishments of great people fascinate me to no end. I Think it really explains a lot of powerful qualities that would emerge later on in their lives. In the case of FDR, he was proud, cared for achievement, and extremely charismatic. Having been born wealthy and moving around a bit internationally for school, he set a pretty high expectation of himself and those around him. Not being good at sports, no problem, he’ll find another role. He admired his cousin Teddy Roosevelt and joined the marines. He gains political influence working close in the White House and his charm just shows. I think his natural people skills is one of the things that I admire most about FDR. He really has a way of connecting to people as a child and eventually as president, only because he is so careful with his words. The book does show that he does feel lonely sometimes because of it. One character I grew to really like was Louie Howe, who seemed to be so different from FDR, but has such loyalty, it was insane. He makes me think of Doug Stamper in House of Cards, and his friendship with FDR was something that I really enjoyed listening to. I was surprised about was his troubles with his wife Eleanor Roosevelt. She was from a good family too, and it seemed like it was good until Roosevelt had his affair. It seemed to do permanent damage to the marriage, and while they stayed together, they couldn’t get as close anymore. Roosevelt had a really tough personal life afterwards, and would write more frequently to his friend Daisy than his own wife. House of Cards also mentioned this in one episode when Frank and Claire were falling out. It makes sense now. And that’s on top of his physical ailments. What incredible mental fortitude it had to have to serve all those years in office. Time after time, we see how intense the responsibilities of the president really is, yet he still manages to lead the United States through the depression and WW2. Through the complicated controversies of being elected 4 terms. Through the grueling presidential campaigns and showing what a strong president looks like. Through the criticisms of dictatorship. Through international travels and conferences with the other great powers of Russia and England. He had issues with China’s Chang and France’s Dougall. It’s really wild that he was able to get through all of that all while handicapped as he was. I did want to point out that it was neat how he would have all these stressful events and then take days or weeks off to fully relax and let it all go. The epilogue does a good job painting FDR in both good and bad. He talks about the internment camps of the Japanese during this time, the issues of tyrannical dictatorship, and the questionable benefits of the new deal today. Along with his affairs and other deeds, FDR isn’t perfect. He’s not a man without issues, and it’s important to recognize that. And we also have to acknowledge the impact this man has had in life. Through listening to this man’s life, I really saw how the times progressed and leveled up. It’s crazy to see the impacts of the world happening told in the perspective of when everything was so uncertain. The author really demonstrates the predicaments and tensions that arose around conservatives, Russia’s Stalin, the campaigns, the anti-war sentiment towards WW2, and so much more. All of these things have such a big impact in the world, and we still live to see it today. This man is wild and has issues, but I respect this man

  20. 4 out of 5

    Grady

    This is a solid and enjoyable one-volume biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but it is written without much styistic flair, and the citations are rudimentary. At a few places in the book, I found myself thinking, ‘oh, that’s a nice touch - that anecdote really offers an insight’ and so looked up the notes to see where it came from - and repeatedly, the cite referenced other, earlier books by Dallek on FDR, Lyndon Johnson, or American foreign policy. I have to think this work, which the autho This is a solid and enjoyable one-volume biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but it is written without much styistic flair, and the citations are rudimentary. At a few places in the book, I found myself thinking, ‘oh, that’s a nice touch - that anecdote really offers an insight’ and so looked up the notes to see where it came from - and repeatedly, the cite referenced other, earlier books by Dallek on FDR, Lyndon Johnson, or American foreign policy. I have to think this work, which the author admits relies heavily on secondary sources, does not reflect the full quality of Dallek’s signature books. One challenge in the book’s composition is that while there are through-themes in the narrative, they don’t drive the structure. Once Roosevelt is elected President, the main narrative is chopped up chronologically, so within each nine to twelve month period, a chapter tours domestic issues, then foreign issues, with a paragraph or two for each. Two themes receive a lot of emphasis: Roosevelt’s reliance on a number of women (other than his wife Eleanor) for companionship and emotional support, especially Margaret ‘Daisy’ Suckley, whose letters and diaries are quoted extensively; and Roosevelt’s failing health across his Presidency, but especially during his third and final terms in office. Dallek doesn’t raise the question of whether Roosevelt could have lived longer had he retired after one or two terms, but he does argue that Roosevelt kept pushing himself past his capacity out of a sense that he owed the nation nothing less. The book is subtitled ‘a political life’, and Roosevelt’s certainly was; but that’s not actually Dallek’s main lens. There are a lot of political figures, of course, but not a lot of context or background, and very little focus on the ways Roosevelt changed party politics or communications. There’s also little here on how Roosevelt processed the actual administrative work of the presidency, apart from the consistent habit of surrounding himself with advisors and cabinet seretaries with differing views, and then telling them contradictory things. Rather, this is more of an intimate biography - what happened to Roosevelt himself, who he had around him, what he knew versus what he said, and why. Once the story reaches World War II, all domestic issues except isolationism recede very far into the background of Dallek’s narrative. One strand that I really wondered about, and is almost entirely absent, is how Roosevelt worked with Harry Truman, and the extent to which he prepared him to take over after the President’s death. In sum, this book was interesting, and - since I hadn’t previously read a biography of FDR - filled up my head with a lot of useful and logically organized facts; but it’s hard to imagine this will be regarded as the definitive one volume biography of FDR.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    This is a dry, detailed biography of the fascinating president who made modern America. It rushes quickly through Roosevelt's early years of limitless wealth and seemingly mediocre accomplishments, and didn't do a great job with the causality or reasoning around the jump from "generic rich kid" to "president" - in a lot of ways, the early section felt rushed. But once it gets into his time as President, from 1933 onwards, the book starts to sparkle and shine. Humbled by a case of polio that affli This is a dry, detailed biography of the fascinating president who made modern America. It rushes quickly through Roosevelt's early years of limitless wealth and seemingly mediocre accomplishments, and didn't do a great job with the causality or reasoning around the jump from "generic rich kid" to "president" - in a lot of ways, the early section felt rushed. But once it gets into his time as President, from 1933 onwards, the book starts to sparkle and shine. Humbled by a case of polio that afflicted him from 1921 (age 39), Roosevelt was able to skillfully maneuver America from an isolationist backwater into the forefront of the world stage. The thing I appreciated the most about this book was the deep analysis of the politics of Roosevelt: the specific tactical actions that he took to prepare America for war, to build consensus, to bide his time and to take advantage of events when opportunities emerged. While it's easy to look back and criticize many of his decisions, especially around his conservative approach to mitigating the devastating impact of the Holocaust and the constitutionally questionable internment of Japanese Americans, Dallek's treatment is fundamentally sympathetic - the brilliance of Roosevelt was his ability to be the coalition-builder to his wife's activism. Overall, Roosevelt's "grace under fire" - he took advantage of the instability created by the Great Depression to fundamentally remake America by signing 15 major laws in his first 100 days in office - and his clear-eyed military leadership - he recognized the necessity of American involvement in WWII years before most of his contemporaries - were remarkable qualities. But the thing I was amazed by wasn't his vision: as a leader, his execution and ability to take advantage of political timing and not overplay his hand seemed almost divine. Though at some point I need to read a biography about his relationship with Eleanor, because man was that weird... As a final note, every time I read about the past I'm reminded how timeless the core challenges facing us are - the urban / rural divide, the questions about American oligarchy, questions of inequality and privilege, and the challenge of leading a vast and diverse American electorate are questions that faced Roosevelt as much as they face us today. And the question of executive privilege is core to a true assessment of Roosevelt's legacy: King Franklin ran roughshod over the rest of the political landscape, and his unilateral control was necessary for many of this greatest triumphs, but it does make you wonder a lot about how much to limit executive power. It's always good to have more when your guy is in charge...

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jack Vasen

    My biggest takeaway from this book is the FDR was (at best) a pragmatist. He put the political picture first in almost everything he did from the time he entered politics, with the possible exception of his private relationships. Several moral or justice issues arose during his Presidency and he avoided dealing with them justly because they would rock the boat for other issues that he obviously considered more important. FDR followed the axiom that the ends justify the means. These issues includ My biggest takeaway from this book is the FDR was (at best) a pragmatist. He put the political picture first in almost everything he did from the time he entered politics, with the possible exception of his private relationships. Several moral or justice issues arose during his Presidency and he avoided dealing with them justly because they would rock the boat for other issues that he obviously considered more important. FDR followed the axiom that the ends justify the means. These issues included civil rights for African-Americans and Japanese, and the Holocaust. The argument can be made that little could be done for the Jews other than winning the war. This book, by the inherent nature of a biography, is a little like a book that needs a sequel to complete the story. When FDR died, a lot of issues were left up in the air and RD assumes the reader will know how those things turned out. For things such as the Atomic Bomb and the war, and maybe a few others, most readers already know the outcomes. For many, the outcomes of things like the Polish question are a little fuzzier. As to style, I occasionally had trouble with overly long sentences containing many clauses. (I personally succumb to this fault.) Regarding the 100 Days, RD only briefly covers FDR taking the US of the Gold Standard. FDR had promised not todo so during the campaign, and in the weeks running up to his inauguration, many banks failed which wouldn't have if FDR had repeated that promise and lived up to it. Likewise, Hoover proposed some legislative items during that lame duck period which might have helped the situation but the Democratic Congress refused to pass them, until FDR was inaugurated. The author does acknowledge that FDR wanted a clear demarcation between Hoover's term and his, regardless of who might suffer in the mean time. As to FDR's efforts to restore the economy, it sure sounds like he didn't have a clue but was at least trying different things. I think most historians agree that the economy only truly started to recover as a result of the war. RD reveals a lot about FDR's health issues and how they interfered with his efficacy. Was FDR conceited to think that he was more qualified at his greatly reduced capacity than any one else at 100%? It does appear that FDR persevered far more than anyone had a right to expect. Apparently, many of the altruistic actions taken by FDR are thanks to Eleanor's pressure and prestige.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Bill Lucey

    Historian Robert Dallek, author of “An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963,” and “Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power,” among other seminal works on presidential power, presents a sparkling one-volume biography on the Squire of Hyde Park, “Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life.” Dallek’s skillfully researched, splendidly written book leaves little mystery why Roosevelt is easily ranked as one of the three greatest presidents in U.S. history. Imagine, before FDR, there was no welfare s Historian Robert Dallek, author of “An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963,” and “Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power,” among other seminal works on presidential power, presents a sparkling one-volume biography on the Squire of Hyde Park, “Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life.” Dallek’s skillfully researched, splendidly written book leaves little mystery why Roosevelt is easily ranked as one of the three greatest presidents in U.S. history. Imagine, before FDR, there was no welfare state, where American workers could earn a minimum wage (including the lack of regulated hours), along with no unemployment insurance. Labor unions weren't legitimized until Roosevelt's rise to power. Coming to power with the country gripped in the Great Depression, King Franklin acted with “grace under fire,” by signing a whopping 15 major laws in his first 100 days, ushering in a new age in which the government would play a much larger role in American society. In foreign affairs, FDR brought America out of its isolationist mode, making it an “arsenal of democracy,” in helping countries fight Nazi aggression. Before entering the war, believe it or not, the United States had the 18th largest army in the world, with a meager 500,000 troops. Mr. Dallek, thankfully, doesn’t let FDR off the hook when chronicling his legacy. Roosevelt’s reluctance to combat widespread lynching in the South for fear of losing support with Southern Democrats to his New Deal legislation is a noteworthy blemish on his legacy. So too is his ill-advised decision to intern Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor, an inexcusable violation of civil rights if there ever was one. Most damning of all, of course, was his slow response to allowing Jewish refugees into the country who were fleeing the brutality of Hitler and Nazi Germany in great numbers, calling into question FDR’s lack of courage to do the right thing despite a lack of support within his own country. Still, despite all those nasty blemishes and unconscionable oversights, FDR during his unprecedented four terms in office, profoundly changed the landscape of the American working class, while elevating the United States into a new peacekeeping capacity with the hope of ensuring another Adolf Hitler would never run roughshod over the sovereignty of European nations again. --Bill Lucey March 27, 2018

  24. 5 out of 5

    Brett

    Good overview of FDR's career, emphasizing his time in the presidency, and providing what were, for me, some new insights. Notes: His 3rd and 4th term elections were attributed largely to the war situation, he basically aware that he would take the U.S. into war despite giving the opposite impression during the election. The crucial selection of FDR-loyalist Truman as VP was a compromise pick to avoid a party split between the North and South (Southerners wanting Justice Byrnes and Northerns and Good overview of FDR's career, emphasizing his time in the presidency, and providing what were, for me, some new insights. Notes: His 3rd and 4th term elections were attributed largely to the war situation, he basically aware that he would take the U.S. into war despite giving the opposite impression during the election. The crucial selection of FDR-loyalist Truman as VP was a compromise pick to avoid a party split between the North and South (Southerners wanting Justice Byrnes and Northerns and FDR preferring Wallace). Limits to do more to help Jewish refugees avoid death in Hitler's camps were noted to largely stem from the opposition of Breckinridge Long in the State Department. The author was good to point out FDR errors in judgment, such as his (early) reluctance to embrace Keynes' affinity for deficit spending to get the country out of the depression, and his fear of espionage leading him to assent to the internment of Japanese during the war. Other 'errors' were ground in FDR's understanding of domestic politics, such as American isolationist sentiment limiting efforts to avert WWII. Some of those errors were more blatant (though products of his time), such as appointing someone, Black, who he knew to be part of the KKK to the Supreme Court, and firing a gay staffer, Welles, from the State Department. Personality clashes with de Gaulle seemed to affect his policy toward France, which he criticized for not being a fighting ally. I also noticed Churchill's reluctance to move ahead with the D-Day invasion (FDR had it in mind as early as 1943), which the book never clearly addressed. Aside from policy, I was surprised how independent and non-conventional his marriage with Eleanor was; from this book, you got a much more intimate idea of FDR's feelings and emotions from his relationship with his cousin, Daisy. In view of present policies, it was clear the objectives FDR had are quite different from those of the current administration: movement away from isolationism, 'reduction of armaments, reduction of trade barriers, stabilization of currencies, and better relations between all nations,' not to mention appointment of people from the opposing party to his cabinet. Overall, this book effectively showed FDR to be the historic and effective leader that he was, while also being evenhanded in acknowledging his errors.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Andy Miller

    I may have appreciated this biography more if I had not already read 15 books on FDR. Especially because they included Multi Volume Series(Schlesinger and Davis) that could detail FDR's life in a way a single volume never could and books that were about one or two years in his life allowing a focus not available in a single volume life. Those 15 are supplemented by biographies of those close to FDR such as Blanche Cook's excellent multi volume biography on Eleanor and and the Watkins biography o I may have appreciated this biography more if I had not already read 15 books on FDR. Especially because they included Multi Volume Series(Schlesinger and Davis) that could detail FDR's life in a way a single volume never could and books that were about one or two years in his life allowing a focus not available in a single volume life. Those 15 are supplemented by biographies of those close to FDR such as Blanche Cook's excellent multi volume biography on Eleanor and and the Watkins biography of Harold Ickes. This does not mean it is not a worthwhile read. It is well written and thoroughly researched, Dallek cites original resources instead of surveying earlier biographies and gives an occasional different emphasis such as the relationship with Margaret Suckley, quoting liberally from their correspondence and Dallek's downplaying of FDR's polio on changing FDR's approach to life and politics. What I appreciated most was reading a biography in today's political discussion citing FDR as a Social Democrat and programs like social security as socialist as evidence that identification with Democratic Socialism could win elections today. Reading excerpts from FDR's speeches, fireside chats and political strategies dispels any such comparison. FDR never described himself as a Democratic socialist, in fact he hit back hard against Republican efforts to describe his programs as socialist. On page 157 he quotes from a May 7, 1933 fireside chat when he answered critics who attacked the New Deal as socialistic. He declared that the New Deal was simply multiplying "the number of American shareholders" that it was wrong to say that the New Deal was Government taking control of farming, industry and transportation but was rather " a partnership between Government and farming and industry and and transportation, not partnership in profits, for the profits still go to the citizens, but rather a partnership in planning..." Throughout FDR's presidency he sought to reform, sometimes dramatically reform, the economic system in an incremental way by building broad political consensus for his programs. This is not to argue FDR vs Democratic socialism but to correct arguments by some today that FDR campaigned as a Democratic Socialist when FDR was anything but

  26. 4 out of 5

    Steve Cunningham

    I don't for a minute believe that the timing of Robert Dallek's biography of FDR is a coincidence. If you were to choose one President to represent the antithesis of everything that #45 represents, it would have to be Roosevelt. This book is a magnificent work of historical synthesis, though I am not sure that it adds very much that is new to the literature of the FDR era, it offers a clear, balanced narrative of Roosevelt's political career. At 630 pages, it is a weighty volume, but it is hard I don't for a minute believe that the timing of Robert Dallek's biography of FDR is a coincidence. If you were to choose one President to represent the antithesis of everything that #45 represents, it would have to be Roosevelt. This book is a magnificent work of historical synthesis, though I am not sure that it adds very much that is new to the literature of the FDR era, it offers a clear, balanced narrative of Roosevelt's political career. At 630 pages, it is a weighty volume, but it is hard to see how a presidency that lasted an unprecedented and unparalleled thirteen years could deal with the subject matter in fewer. As the title suggests, it is a work overwhelmingly concerned with politics and policy. So while some fascinating elements of Roosevelt's personal life are present - his disability from polio and relationship with Eleanor most notably - are present, they are seen largely through the prism of their impact on his political life. And while Dallek is unashamedly admiring of FDR, he does not shy away from criticism of some of the more unpalatable aspects of his subject's administration; his refusal to tackle lynching in the Southern states, seeming ambivalence to political corruption in New York, the internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War II and failure to effectively prevent or disrupt the mass murder of Jews by the Nazis are black marks that the vicissitudes of political expediency cannot excuse. Yet what shines through all is FDRs overwhelming humanity and concern for his fellow human beings. His determination and sense of duty to "see the job through" undoubtedly contributed hugely to his declining health from 1943 and ultimately caused his death at the age of 63 in 1945, but his legacy represents the very best of what the United States contributed to the world in the twentieth century.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ted Hunt

    This book comes across as advertised. It is a biography of Franklin Roosevelt, but one that concentrates on the political, rather than the personal side of is life. FDR lies at the center of the book, as the policies that made up his New Deal program and the initiatives of his foreign policy are analyzed through the prism of the political pressures he was under. Dallek does a nice job of relating the give and take of the American political process, highlighting the impressive skills and instinct This book comes across as advertised. It is a biography of Franklin Roosevelt, but one that concentrates on the political, rather than the personal side of is life. FDR lies at the center of the book, as the policies that made up his New Deal program and the initiatives of his foreign policy are analyzed through the prism of the political pressures he was under. Dallek does a nice job of relating the give and take of the American political process, highlighting the impressive skills and instincts that FDR brought to this process. There are other books out there that examine the New Deal from the vantage point of Congress, and books that take a look at World War II from the battlefield. This book does not attempt to do anything that removes FDR from the center of the story, which leaves the reader marveling at the way that this man with such a incredibly physical disability was able to get so much time during his time as president. My one complaint about the book is that it is clear that the author is a huge fan of FDR, and while he points out the shortcomings and failures of his actions and policies, there is not a lot of analysis of the way that the politics of the south impeded his legislative initiatives in ways that made most of the New Deal programs very discriminatory in nature. If one is interested in that story, Ira Katznelson's book "Fear Itself" is a good place to start. But with his intense interest in liberal administrations and his access to many of FDR's personal correspondence, Dallek presents a compelling story.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Amarjeet Singh

    Politics, by its very existence, is a contentious element. But in the mundane grind of elect and dethrone, some political leaders emerge who rapidly define an era. Franklin D. Roosevelt was such a President who led the USA through a tumultuous seemingly never-ending economic depression; captained it through a post-World War period and then commanded it through a sanguinary second World War and all that while confronting his own internal battle with Polio (which rendered him immobile and wheelcha Politics, by its very existence, is a contentious element. But in the mundane grind of elect and dethrone, some political leaders emerge who rapidly define an era. Franklin D. Roosevelt was such a President who led the USA through a tumultuous seemingly never-ending economic depression; captained it through a post-World War period and then commanded it through a sanguinary second World War and all that while confronting his own internal battle with Polio (which rendered him immobile and wheelchair prone) as well as a fractured Senate. Dallek provides a comprehensive picture of the 32nd President of the United States who imparted a titanic world-building legacy which continues to this day in the form of the augmented welfare state as well as global peace initiatives. More crucially, Dallek also exonerates Franklin Roosevelt from the occasional charges of power-hungriness leveled at him by arguing that World War II disallowed Americans from dethroning him beyond the otherwise established two term precedent originating with George Washington. For what can only be called a tome, (I read the big font edition) Dallek spins a colorful tapestry of words which baits the reader into continually turning the pages. Remarkably, Dallek avoids the pattern of earlier Franklin biographies by analyzing the 32nd President sans the shadow of his cousin Theodore Roosevelt; the 26th President of the United States. An exceptional exegesis of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the President who set the political tone for much of the ensuing 20th century.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Corny

    I read Dallek’s JFK book which was a favorite because of his detailed treatment of Kennedy’s many serious ailments which he overcame to reach the nation’s highest office. FDR had to do much the same thing and the author is at his best when describing these challenges. However, his treatment of political matters is somewhat dry and his constant use of opinion polls, citing numbers with too much frequency wire thin on this reader. I also felt the book relied too much on quotations from FDR’s many I read Dallek’s JFK book which was a favorite because of his detailed treatment of Kennedy’s many serious ailments which he overcame to reach the nation’s highest office. FDR had to do much the same thing and the author is at his best when describing these challenges. However, his treatment of political matters is somewhat dry and his constant use of opinion polls, citing numbers with too much frequency wire thin on this reader. I also felt the book relied too much on quotations from FDR’s many speeches. Less quoting and perhaps more analysis might have been better. Despite these criticisms, I believe the author has delivered a first rate account of FDR’s presidency. He seems to have paid little attention to his early years and only a bit more to the pre presidential offices. However, the man remains impenetrable. I don’t think we will ever truly know what drove him to endure so many physical challenges, considerably shortening his life. Unlike his distant cousin TR, FDR was not particularly intellectual and did not seem to have many interests outside his job. Fishing in the daytime and sparkling conversations in the evening filled his nonworking days. He confided in few but Dallek has found those few and done an excellent job of weaving their stories into the main narrative. Despite the somewhat tedious portions mentioned above, I am very glad to have learned more about one of our best and most inscrutable presidents.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Porter Broyles

    This book teaters between 3 and 4 stars. It is a well written book on a very important subject. My biggest problem with it is that it did not add much to my understanding of FDR. The book provides a solid foundation to FDR and helps to explain how an individual who is confined to a wheel chair could be elected president. Basically it boils down to a sympathetic press and a concerted effort to hide the infirmity. While everybody knew that he had been confined to a wheel chair, FDR made it a point This book teaters between 3 and 4 stars. It is a well written book on a very important subject. My biggest problem with it is that it did not add much to my understanding of FDR. The book provides a solid foundation to FDR and helps to explain how an individual who is confined to a wheel chair could be elected president. Basically it boils down to a sympathetic press and a concerted effort to hide the infirmity. While everybody knew that he had been confined to a wheel chair, FDR made it a point to stand before the public and turned his illness into a strength. If FDR can overcome polio, imagine what he can do for the country! It is also an excellent counter to Dorris Kearns Goodwin. DKG's "No Ordinary Life" is a more enjoyable read, but DKG tends to 1) become more of an apologist for her subjects and 2) tends to accentuate affairs. While DKG might pay lip service to there being no evidence that sexual relations existed, she tends to take the story to the edge where you cannot help but believe they existed. Dallek provides a more cautionary view point on his subject and his affairs. The book does a good job at providing background on FDR and covering his pre-WWII years, but 2/3rds of the book focuses on the WWII years---the era which I am most familiar with his work. Thus, it lost some of its appeal. Still, if you aren't familiar with FDR and are looking for a good solid introduction, this book might be for you.

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