Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom

Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom

by Conrad Black

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In this magisterial biography, Conrad Black makes a compelling case for Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the most important figure of the twentieth century, the nation's most accomplished leader since Abraham Lincoln, and one of America's greatest presidents. How could this man, whose life nearly ended with an illness at age thirty-nine, have accomplished so much as a


In this magisterial biography, Conrad Black makes a compelling case for Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the most important figure of the twentieth century, the nation's most accomplished leader since Abraham Lincoln, and one of America's greatest presidents. How could this man, whose life nearly ended with an illness at age thirty-nine, have accomplished so much as a politician, war leader, strategist, and global visionary? The sheer scope of FDR's life and achievements has deterred many historians and biographers from attempting a comprehensive biography. Conrad Black has risen to the challenge. He is masterful on the public and wise on the private Roosevelt, telling us how this privileged, seemingly facile young man became the vigorous young president and then the redoubtable older president. Roosevelt was underestimated as a young man and, as Black makes clear, continues, incredibly, to be underestimated. FDR's life was distinguished by the variety and totality of his achievements. Here that life is revealed in a work that is as comprehensive, ambitious, and surprising as the man it describes.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
However unexpected, this enormous book is also one of the best one-volume biographies of Roosevelt yet. It is not particularly original, has no important new revelations or interpretations and is based mostly on secondary sources (and rather old ones at that). But it tells the remarkable story of Roosevelt's life with an engaging eloquence and with largely personal and mostly interesting opinions about the people and events he is describing. Lord Black's enormous admiration for Roosevelt is based on many things. He reveres what he calls Roosevelt's great courage and enormous skill in moving the United States away from neutrality and first toward active support of Britain and China in the early years of World War II and then toward full intervention. He admires Roosevelt's skill in managing the war effort and his deftness in handling the diplomacy that accompanied it. — Alan Brinkley
Chicago Sun-Times
...the best one-volume 1,296 pages biography of its subject... also a fascinating history of the Roosevelt era.
New York Sun
For grace of style and force of perception, I put it at the top.
Black's chronicle of a man of strength and vision is a worthy tribute of his legacy.
The New York Times Book Review
[Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom] is fun at times in its eclectic range, if you like this sort of doorstop; especially in the touches that reflect the perspective of others in the English-speaking world.

....Encyclopedic in detail, Lord Black's work is also packed with droit du seigneur conceit and abandon. It gives off the familiar air of vanity publishing; the touch of the haughty proprietor who's read a lot. — Michael Janeway

Washington Post Book World
....Black does have an unfortunate tendency to repeat information already supplied, even if it was given only a few pages before. The book is certainly longer than it needs to be and could have benefited from a dose of judicious editing, particularly in the later chapters, which appear to have been composed in too much haste. By the early part of the concluding chapter, Black gives the impression of having pieced together a string of notes, jumping from one topic to another without benefit of transition. A paragraph about Roosevelt's assertions of friendship with Charles de Gaulle, for example, concludes with a wholly unrelated sentence about the president not being able to hold his hand steady enough to light a cigarette.

....For those with enough time and interest in the subject to warrant going through a study of much more than a thousand pages, Black's biography is worth reading. But most readers, as well as professional historians, will find Justice Jackson's "insider's portrait" of Roosevelt of greater interest. — Robert S. McElvaine

Washington Times
A rather superb book, eminently fair and very well researched. . . it deserves a wide audience. . .
Weekly Standard
The best biography of Roosevelt by far... tells Roosevelt's story engrossingly, combining historical rigor with a novelist's eye for detail...
Publishers Weekly
Flying over the Nile near Cairo in October 1943, President Roosevelt looked down and quipped, "Ah, my friend the Sphinx." Sometimes portrayed that way by cartoonists in his time, he is utterly unsphinxlike in Lord Black's new biography. Massive and moving, barbed yet balanced, it is scrupulously objective and coldly unsparing of agenda-ridden earlier biographers and historians. It leaps to the head of the class of Rooseveltian lives and will be difficult to supersede. To Black, the Canadian-born media mogul (he owns the London Daily Telegraph and the Chicago Sun-Times, among other papers worldwide), the second Roosevelt was, apart from Lincoln perhaps as savior of the Union, the greatest American president, and with no exceptions the greatest of its politicians. No FDR-haters have exposed, credibly, more of Roosevelt's "less admirable tendencies," from "naked opportunism," "deformed idealism" and "pious trumpery" to "insatiable vindictiveness." Yet the four-term president emerges in Black's compelling life as personifying vividly the civilization he, more than any other contemporary, rescued from demoralizing economic depression and devastating world war. His larger-than-life Roosevelt possesses consummate sensitivity and tactical skill, radiating power and panache despite a physical vulnerability from the polio that left him without the use of his legs at 39. "His insight into common men," Black writes, "was the more remarkable because he was certainly not one of them, and never pretended for an instant that he was." By comparison, Black claims, most associates and rivals seemed like kindergarten children, yet some exceptions are fleshed out memorably, notably Roosevelt's selfless political intimates Louis McHenry Howe and Harry Hopkins, and his vigorous presidential competitor in 1940, the surprising Wendell Willkie. (Roosevelt's wife, Eleanor, comes off as both harridan and heroine.) Barring occasional lapses into English locutions like "Boxing Day" and "Remembrance Day"(the days after Christmas and Armistice Day), or "drinking his own bathwater," Conrad's style is lucid and engaging, witty and acerbic, with lines that cry out to be quoted or read aloud, as when he scorns an attack on the devotion of Roosevelt's daughter, Anna, with "Filial concern does not make the President a vegetable or his daughter a Lady Macbeth." A few minor historical errors deserve correction in what will assuredly be further printings, and the later sections appear to be composed in undue haste, but the sweeping and persuasive impact of this possibly off-puttingly big book makes it not only the best one-volume life of the 32nd president but the best at any length, bound to be widely read and discussed. 32 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW. (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A staggering work of biography and social history, documenting in exquisite detail the "astonishing life" of the four-term president and world leader. For Black, the chairman of Hollinger International—publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times, Jerusalem Post, (London) Sunday Telegraph, and many other publications—"astonishing" may even be an understatement, for it is clear throughout that he regards FDR as something rather more than mere mortal, if surely less than saint. Black’s nuanced discussion of Roosevelt’s political missteps in the 1932 presidential campaign, when newsman Walter Lippmann characterized FDR as "a pleasant man who without any important qualifications for the office, would very much like to be President," speaks well to the author’s sense of balance: Black takes pains to note how FDR waffled on whether the US should back the League of Nations or join the World Court—whether, in short, it should be internationalist or isolationist. Some of that waffling, it appears, was meant to bring the anti-internationalist publisher William Randolph Hearst into the Roosevelt camp, for, Black suggests, FDR was nothing if not calculating, and he reckoned that even though Hearst was disreputable, his "comparative goodwill" might help win the Democratic nomination. (It may have, but, Black notes, Eleanor Roosevelt "was so disappointed with her husband that she didn’t speak to him for some time.") Once in the White House, FDR faced plenty of challenges, not only in combating the Depression and fascism, but also in coordinating a team of advisors and policymakers who did not much like each other and overcoming his own sometimes haphazard approach to governance; on FDR’s death,Henry Stimson remarked that "his administrative procedures [were] disorderly," but added, "his foreign policy was always founded on great foresight and keenness of vision." He rose to those challenges well. Black praises FDR for his domestic accomplishments, observing, for instance, that the WPA alone "built, expanded, or renovated 2,500 hospitals, nearly 4,000 schools, 13,000 parks and playgrounds, 78,000 bridges, and 651,000 miles of road" while also striking "a blow against philistinism, which customarily flourishes in times of economic hardship." Black is even more thorough in his considered praise of FDR as a statesman, especially in the president’s skill in handling allied leaders who had very different ideas of what to do with the world once they removed Hitler and company from the scene. Sound, sturdy, masterfully done. Agent: Mort Janklow/Janklow & Nesbit

Product Details

Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
Product dimensions:
6.44(w) x 9.56(h) x 2.51(d)

Meet the Author

Conrad Black was the chairman and chief executive officer of Hollinger International Inc., among whose newspaper holdings are the Daily and Sunday Telegraph and The Spectator in London, the Chicago Sun-Times, and the Jerusalem Post. He is the author of two previous books published in Canada and became a member of the British House of Lords as Lord Black of Crossharbour in 2001. He divides his time between London, Toronto, and New York.

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