FDR

FDR

4.0 46
by Jean Edward Smith
     
 

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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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Overview

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.

Editorial Reviews

This magisterial, gracefully crafted biography immerses us again in the life of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882-1945), a chief executive generally regarded as one of the foremost in our history. Only Lincoln and Washington are the subjects of more biographies than FDR, but Smith manages to present the epoch of the four-term president with refreshing adroitness. Never descending into mere hagiography, he recounts Roosevelt's grievous mistakes (the packing of the Supreme Court, Japanese-American internments) as well as his numerous domestic and wartime achievements. He tracks his subject as FDR sheds his Duchess County provincialism and becomes a national political figure, despite crippling poliomyelitis. A timely addition to the debates about presidential legacies.
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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781588366245
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
05/15/2007
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
880
Sales rank:
148,581
File size:
11 MB
Note:
This product may take a few minutes to download.

Meet the Author

Jean Edward Smith is the author of twelve books, including the highly acclaimed biographies Grant (a 2002 Pulitzer Prize finalist and a New York Times Notable Book), John Marshall: Definer of a Nation (a New York Times Notable Book), and Lucius D. Clay: An American Life (a New York Times Notable Book). A graduate of Princeton University and Columbia University, Smith taught at the University of Toronto thirty-five years before joining the faculty at Marshall University, where he is the John Marshall Professor of Political Science.


From the Hardcover edition.

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FDR 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 41 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
fdr is a very well crafted biography, it has tremendous balance between everything fdr had to juggle during his 12 years in office. there is no doubt that fdr had the most adversety to deal with from the great depression to hitler and the nazis to pearl harbor and wwii, all while dealing with his handicap. after reading this book the legacy of franklin roosevelt will be drilled in your brain forever.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the best biography of perhaps the greatest president of modern time. Jean Edward Smith has given us a classic. How could a man born of wealth, social standing and privilege understand the needs of the poor and ordinary man? Yet FDR did. He quickly saw the devastation of the pre Depression time and the resulting impact of the Depression as it spread. Anyone who lived during that time readily credits FDR with saving them and the nation. From Depresstion to World War II, FDR again rose to the occasion. Although the ultimate politician, he knew the heart of America. This book should be required reading for ALL political candidates and especially those seeking the presidency. They might learn something. God knows they need to!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent read. If you enjoy history at all, read this book.
rwmatse More than 1 year ago
I am just about finished reading this tome. Most of the presidential biographies I have read as slow-going and contain way too much detail on certain topics, such as going into minute detail of a piece of legislation (who sponsored it, why they sponsored, back room dealing, names of everyone even remotely involved, belabored discussion). This book reads differently, almost like a historical novel. It contains interesting facts, just enough information about issues and situation without getting bogged down in details. (vast majority of the time). It even includes many photos, which I like. (I've read some bios where there is not a single image of the president ...??). I like this author's style, and have purchased his biography of "Eisenhower in War and Peace", hoping it will read as easily as FDR.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Overall this book was very well done. It really gave a deep view into FDR's life and the relationships he developed with many of his colleagues, companions, and family members that came and went throughout his life. For example, like Louis Howe, Sara, ER and Lucy just to name a few. The only qualm I had with the book was the ending which I thought a bit abrupt and not as meaningful as it could have been. This particular reader would have liked to see an extra chapter/epilogue or even just a few more pages wrapping up FDR's death and subsequently rehashing the importance of this particular president for these United States. Further reactions from ordinary Americans, and especially ER, to Roosevelt's passing would have been a nice touch as well. In any case, the book was thoroughly entertaining and chalk full of knowledge.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am astonished that this masterful biography has not made it to the best seller list. Mr. Smith should be considered once more for the Pulitzer Prize for writing such a comprehensive, yet readable book about the life of one of our greatest presidents. Mr. Smith gives one a complete picture of the strengths, weaknesses, errors and courage of FDR, his family and his political advisers. The author offers insights into the experiences and mistakes that made Franklin Roosevelt a consummate politician, one dedicated to the welfare of the average citizen. At a time when our democracy is becoming an aristocracy, reading about a man who cared for the citizens with the least, rather than the enrichment of just a few, gives one a perspective into what democracy can and did mean.
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A great bio about the great man. Jean Edward Smith writes page turning history. Its one of the books you won't want to put down until you finish.
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Although the book (thankfully) does not go into great detail about all of the policies FDR put into place and about the decisions he made during WWII, it does give a great overview of FDR's life and what he did while President.
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