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by Jean Edward Smith, Richard McGonagle

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One of today’s premier biographers has written a modern, comprehensive, indeed ultimate book on the epic life of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In this superlative volume, Jean Edward Smith combines contemporary scholarship and a broad range of primary source material to provide an engrossing narrative of one of America’s greatest presidents.

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One of today’s premier biographers has written a modern, comprehensive, indeed ultimate book on the epic life of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In this superlative volume, Jean Edward Smith combines contemporary scholarship and a broad range of primary source material to provide an engrossing narrative of one of America’s greatest presidents.

This is a portrait painted in broad strokes and fine details. We see how Roosevelt’s restless energy, fierce intellect, personal magnetism, and ability to project effortless grace permitted him to master countless challenges throughout his life. Smith recounts FDR’s battles with polio and physical disability, and how these experiences helped forge the resolve that FDR used to surmount the economic turmoil of the Great Depression and the wartime threat of totalitarianism. Here also is FDR’s private life depicted with unprecedented candor and nuance, with close attention paid to the four women who molded his personality and helped to inform his worldview: His mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, formidable yet ever supportive and tender; his wife, Eleanor, whose counsel and affection were instrumental to FDR’s public and individual achievements; Lucy Mercer, the great romantic love of FDR’s life; and Missy LeHand, FDR’s longtime secretary, companion, and confidante, whose adoration of her boss was practically limitless.

Smith also tackles head-on and in-depth the numerous failures and miscues of Roosevelt’s public career, including his disastrous attempt to reconstruct the Judiciary; the shameful internment of Japanese-Americans; and Roosevelt’s occasionally self-defeating Executive overreach. Additionally, Smith offers a sensitive and balanced assessment of Roosevelt’s response to the Holocaust, noting its breakthroughs and shortcomings.

Summing up Roosevelt’s legacy, Jean Smith declares that FDR, more than any other individual, changed the relationship between the American people and their government. It was Roosevelt who revolutionized the art of campaigning and used the burgeoning mass media to garner public support and allay fears. But more important, Smith gives us the clearest picture yet of how this quintessential Knickerbocker aristocrat, a man who never had to depend on a paycheck, became the common man’s president. The result is a powerful account that adds fresh perspectives and draws profound conclusions about a man whose story is widely known but far less well understood. Written for the general reader and scholars alike, FDR is a stunning biography in every way worthy of its subject.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Jonathan Yardley
Though the fruits of his legacy certainly warrant reconsideration, the relative neglect into which he has fallen is an injustice. So it is good indeed to have Smith's new biography of him. That he has managed to compress the whole sweep of Roosevelt's life into a bit more than 600 pages may seem in and of itself miraculous, but his achievement is far larger than that. His FDR is at once a careful, intelligent synopsis of the existing Roosevelt scholarship (the sheer bulk of which is huge) and a meticulous re-interpretation of the man and his record. Smith pays more attention to Roosevelt's personal life than have most previous biographers. He is openly sympathetic yet ready to criticize when that is warranted, and to do so in sharp terms; he conveys the full flavor and import of Roosevelt's career without ever bogging down in detail.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Independent biographer Smith (1996's John Marshall: Definer of a Nation and 2001's Grant) crafts a magisterial biography of our most important modern president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Scores of books have been written about Roosevelt, exploring every nook and cranny of his experience, so Smith breaks no "news" and offers no previously undisclosed revelations concerning the man from Hyde Park. But the author's eloquent synthesis of FDR's complex and compelling life is remarkably executed and a joy to read. Drawing on the papers of the Franklin Roosevelt Presidential Library as well as Columbia University's oral history collection and other repositories, Smith minutely explores the arc of FDR's intertwined political and private lives. With regard to the political, the biographer seamlessly traces Roosevelt's evolution from gawky, aristocratic, political newcomer nibbling at the edges of the rough-and-tumble Dutchess County, N.Y., Democratic machine to the consummate though physically crippled political insider—a man without pretensions who acquired and performed the jobs of New York governor and then United States president with shrewd, and always joyous, efficiency. As is appropriate, more than half of Smith's narrative deals with FDR as president: the four terms (from 1933 until his death in 1945) during which he waged war, in turn, on the Depression and the Axis powers. As for the private Roosevelt, Smith reveals him as a devoted son; an unhappy husband who eventually settled into an uneasy peace and working partnership with his wife and cousin Eleanor; an emotionally absent father; and a man who for years devotedly loved two women other than his wife—Lucy MercerRutherford and Missy LeHand, the latter his secretary. This erudite but graceful volume illuminates FDR's life for scholars, history buffs and casual readers alike. Photos not seen by PW. (May)

Library Journal

Smith (political science, Marshall Univ.; John Marshall: Definer of a Nation), a constitutional law scholar and the author of several penetrating biographies, including an account of one of our least regarded presidents (Grant), now tackles a President of the highest repute. To understand Franklin D. Roosevelt's legacy requires an appreciation for the unique role that the United States occupies in world history. Understanding America's founding promise and the challenges of the Civil War, the Great Depression, and World War II, Smith unravels the motivation of perhaps the greatest U.S. President—if not the greatest democratic leader—of the 20th century. Smith clearly admires both FDR and his policies. Rather than finding new data, the author excels at placing his narrative in a balanced context. He is especially effective in undermining conspiracy theorists who see Pearl Harbor as a presidential ploy to get the United States into war. As he did so effectively with John Marshall, Smith shows FDR as a human being capable of betrayal, hubris, and stubbornness. This page-turner is the best single-volume biography available of America's 32nd president, complementing the recent work of Doris Kearns Goodwin (No Ordinary Time) and Conrad Black (Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom). Essential. [See Prepub Alert, LJ1/07.]
—William D. Pederson

Kirkus Reviews
An outstanding biography of "the most gifted American statesman of the twentieth century," who, to the consternation of conservatives ever since, created the activist presidency. Franklin Roosevelt was callow and arrogant when he entered politics. Descended from the colonial aristocracy, he had all the prejudices of the moneyed class. But, recounts an admiring Smith (John Marshall, 1996, etc.), the polio that confined him to a wheelchair converted him into a champion of the common man for much of his career, particularly as president. Smith writes that FDR was hardworking, astute, smart and vindictive; he punished enemies for decades, while his political friends reaped ample rewards. So it was that, in the storied Hundred Days that opened the New Deal, Roosevelt "let it be known that he would make no patronage appointments until the end of the session"-and he had more than 100,000 of them to hand out, an arsenal calculated to repay loyalty. Just so, Roosevelt carefully administered the pork, though at the same time he delegated authority to those he deemed trustworthy-a roster that did not include his wife, Eleanor-and practiced what might be called a controlled candor so that the press and people would see things his way. The result of this highly practical, even Machiavellian politics was an unprecedented four terms in office, preceded by unprecedented electoral landslides. Critics will note in Smith's pages that FDR was preparing to enter the war on the Allied side much earlier than the standard sources allow, but they may be disarmed by Smith's view of FDR's response to the Holocaust, which has generated much controversy. (The sole shortcoming: FDR's career was so vast and complexthat, large though it is, Smith's narrative sometimes takes shortcuts; his account of the GI Bill of Rights, for example, leaves out key players and elides the tale so that FDR seems its only author.)Altogether, an exemplary and highly readable work that ably explains why FDR merits continued honor.

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Product Details

Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Abridged, 7 CDs, 8 hours
Product dimensions:
5.07(w) x 5.92(h) x 1.08(d)

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