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Franklin Delano Roosevelt (American Presidents Series)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt (American Presidents Series)

3.0 3
by Roy Jenkins, Richard Rohan (Read by), Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. (Editor)

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A masterly, posthumous work by the New York Times bestselling author of Churchill and Gladstone

A protean figure and a man of massive achievement, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the only man to be elected to the presidency more than twice. In a ranking of chief executives, no more than three of his predecessors could truly be placed in


A masterly, posthumous work by the New York Times bestselling author of Churchill and Gladstone

A protean figure and a man of massive achievement, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the only man to be elected to the presidency more than twice. In a ranking of chief executives, no more than three of his predecessors could truly be placed in contention with his standing, and of his successors, there are so far none.

In acute, stylish language, Roy Jenkins tackles all of the nuances and intricacies of FDR’s character. He was a skilled politician with astounding flexibility; he oversaw an incomparable mobilization of American industrial and military effort; and all the while aroused great loyalty and dazzled those around him with his personal charm. Despite several setbacks and one apparent catastrophe, his life was buoyed by the influence of Eleanor, who was not only a wife but an adviser and one of the twentieth century’s greatest political reformers.

Nearly complete before Jenkins’s death in January 2003, this volume was finished by historian Richard Neustadt.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times
Breezy and brief, Franklin Delano Roosevelt is a small-scale biography of an outsize personality, and succeeds brilliantly. The joy that Jenkins takes in Roosevelt, and the reformers and rogues that surround him, is manifest, and difficult not to share. — Jeff Shesol
Publishers Weekly
Distinguished British historian Jenkins (author of the recent bestselling biography Churchill) died in January 2003. He left this brief biography of FDR for Arthur Schlesinger's American Presidents series largely complete. Now published with a conclusion written by another eminent historian, Richard Neustadt, the volume comprises a concise yet coherent and quite reliable summation of Roosevelt's fascinating life and presidency. Jenkins captures FDR in all his contradictions. As the author astutely notes, although a Knickerbocker squire from New York's Hudson Valley-arguably the most Europe-oriented part of the United States-FDR was "peculiarly successful at transcending geography and uniting the continent." Whomever he met, he charmed, be it some simple farmer or Winston Churchill. But the one he charmed before most others, his fifth cousin and spouse, Eleanor Roosevelt, came to view him cynically. She recognized that intermixed with his enormous capacity and willingness to do good, there was a certain self-serving casualness that permitted numerous petty lies perpetrated on friends, allies and family. Elegantly describing FDR's course through a score of personal and political ordeals, Jenkins astutely shows us the man in all his many incarnations: the confident son of privilege who morphed into a wry, young politico on the rise; the startled victim, for whom all things had previously come so easily, hitting the brick wall of polio and fighting back, strenuously leading his broken country out of its two great 20th-century crises: the Great Depression and World War II. (Nov. 4) Forecast: This is the short alternative for readers unwilling to take on Conrad Black's 1,300-page biography (Forecasts, Sept. 22) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Foreign Affairs
This brilliant short biography provides more insight and reward than many Roosevelt biographies ten times its length. Jenkins, who died in the final stages of completing the manuscript, was ideally suited to appreciate the longest-serving U.S. president. As a master biographer, political practitioner, and partisan of the same Anglo-American liberal tradition that shaped Roosevelt, Jenkins had the intellectual and political background to understand F.D.R.; as a foreigner, he was able to view Roosevelt's accomplishments and failures from a judicious distance. The light touch and deft style that Jenkins employed when treating even the weightiest matters illuminate rather than distract: to call Eleanor Roosevelt's childhood circumstances "a House of Mirth atmosphere" is to say more, and more economically, than most others who have written on the theme. The carefully selected facts and quotations in the book are memorable precisely because they are so spare. Jenkins' long biographies of statesmen such as Gladstone and Churchill showed that he was a master of the long form; his life of Roosevelt shows that his biographical talents, undiminished by age, did not require acres of paper to achieve their full effect.
Library Journal
More than half a century after Abraham Lincoln's presidency, the first best single volume biography of him was authored by Lord Charnwood (Godfrey Rathbone Benson), and now after only a slightly longer period, another certain classic on America's best president since Lincoln has been authored by another Englishman, Lord Black. The publication of this FDR biography is quite a feat since America's 32nd president served three times longer than its 16th president. A perspective that truly comprehends the global magnitude of America's two greatest chief executives may require the perspective from someone abroad. Author of two previous books and the chairman/CEO of Hollinger International, Inc. (publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times, Daily and Sunday Telegraph, the Spectator, and the Jerusalem Post), Black is a capable writer, able to sustain interest in a long narrative. However, his major achievement is putting FDR's leadership in both an American and an international perspective. He captures its prudential nature, always aiming for the middle ground between extremists at home (e.g., Huey Long and Douglas MacArthur) and modern ideological dictators abroad. The author clearly understands that FDR was the democratic alternative that made him the most important leader of the 20th century, surpassing the traditionalism of Winston Churchill. FDR's personal shortcomings are fully addressed, but Black shows that they did not undermine his political legacy. Both the general public and scholars will benefit from this highly readable account. An essential purchase for all libraries. Another British observer, Jenkins (Churchill), a Labor Party Member of Parliament and the author of 21 books, had nearly finished this short work on FDR when he died earlier this year. (Political scientist and Harvard professor Richard Neustadt completed it for him.) Jenkins's approach to FDR is generally positive. He notes that had FDR maintained the two-term tradition, he would have been regarded as only a nearly great president. Except for the British interest in social class and occasional comparisons to its leaders, this is a conventional introduction to FDR that political buffs and FDR fans will enjoy reading. Libraries with budget restraints are better served with the Black biography or with Patrick J. Maney's readable but more scholarly short biography, The Roosevelt Presence.-William D. Pederson, Louisiana State Univ., Shreveport Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-To distill the life of Roosevelt into a book of less than 200 pages is a major challenge; to succeed in doing so without shortchanging readers is a true accomplishment. As president, FDR faced America's worst financial crisis and the world's most destructive war. He also influenced the larger trends of the 20th century, from the progressive movement of his younger days to the Cold War and the welfare state that followed him. Jenkins admirably describes his subject's background and development and outlines how Roosevelt dealt with the Great Depression and the Second World War. But Jenkins is not only an accomplished biographer, he was also one of the leading British politicians of the second half of the 20th century. His nationality gives him a perspective on FDR that would be difficult to obtain as an American. Likewise, his study of other great political leaders allows him to gain a broader view of Roosevelt as president. This is one of the best short biographies of Roosevelt imaginable.-Ted Westervelt, Library of Congress, Washington, DC Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
One of America’s greatest presidents becomes a barely recognizable caricature. It’s hard to imagine who the audience is supposed to be for this latest installment in the American Presidents series, presided over by Arthur Schlesinger. Of course, Jenkins (Churchill, 2001, etc.), who died earlier this year, had an unenviable task: to take the life of FDR—patrician, world leader, master politician—and condense it into fewer than 200 breezy pages. There’s plenty to choose from. Roosevelt was the scion of one of the country’s truest blue-blood families, and, strangely enough, the author seems most comfortable sketching this genteel Knickerbocker heritage. In describing the almost feudal atmosphere of the Hudson River Valley estates where FDR was raised, Jenkins points out how paradoxical it was that this man, "a product not of the heartland but of the extreme eastern edge and most Europe-centered part of America," would be so successful at "transcending geography and uniting the continent." Although permanently linked in the public mind, FDR and intellectual roustabout Teddy Roosevelt, whom FDR greatly admired and tried to emulate, were only distant cousins. Jenkins describes the halting and imperfect road that FDR took toward the White House, marked by such relatively low points as his undistinguished term as assistant secretary of the Navy and an unsuccessful vice-presidential candidacy in 1920. But even after FDR’s election as New York governor and finally his ascendancy to the White House in 1932 (an office he would hold until his death in 1945) this life fails to take flight. Only in limning the chinks in the normally revered FDR’s armor—especially in his less-than-romanticrelationship with wife Eleanor—does Jenkins manage to render any of it terribly interesting. Too skimpy to interest serious historians, too dull and stiff for general readers looking for a quick overview. (For the other descriptive extreme, see Conrad Black, above.)

Product Details

Macmillan Audio
Publication date:
American Presidents Series
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5.14(w) x 5.88(h) x 0.58(d)

Read an Excerpt

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

By Roy Jenkins

Times Books

Copyright © 2003 Roy Jenkins
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-805-06959-3

Chapter One

Roosevelt Cousins

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the thirty-second president of the United States, and the only one to be elected more than twice. In any rating of presidents there can be no more than three of his predecessors who could be placed in contention with him and of his successors there are so far none. Although of a provenance grander in the social scale than any of the others except perhaps for George Washington and his own kinsman Theodore Roosevelt, he did not coast to the White House, and soon after he got there aroused unprecedented upper-class hostility. Known as Feather Duster by some of his early contemporaries, he was originally regarded as a lightweight, and his life contained several setbacks and one apparent catastrophe.

He was more tested in peace and war than any president other than Lincoln. Although often seen as a patrician among professional politicians, he was perhaps the most skilled politician of the lot. He was even more than that: he was a blazer of trails. He aroused great loyalty and he dazzled those around him with inspiriting personal charm. Yet by the end of his not very long life several of those who had most helped his rise had moved not only to detachment but to full opposition. He was therefore a man as full of ambiguity ashe was of power and interest.

He was protean, and hence very difficult to get hold of. He was a hero who had many unheroic characteristics. He was almost the opposite of the tribute that his companion in arms Winston Churchill paid to his own great friend Lord Birkenhead. "In any affair, public or personal," Churchill wrote, "if he was with you on the Monday, you would find him the same on the Wednesday; and on the Friday, when things looked blue, he would still be marching forwards with strong reinforcements." If Roosevelt was pressing an associate to undertake some controversial assignment on a Monday, it was only too likely that by the Wednesday he would have decided to split the job, or to give it to somebody else instead, and that by the Friday, if things looked blue, he would have moved toward abandoning the project altogether, or at any rate for the time being. Yet he was a man of massive achievement, whom, on balance, it is difficult not greatly to admire.

Equally paradoxically, while he was thought of as a leader with a program - the New Deal has remained resonant in history for over seventy years - he was much more of an improviser than an ideologue. He nudged his way forward. If something did not work, he was always willing to try something else. After three election victories and nearly nine highly controversial years in the White House, he became engaged in the winning of the biggest war in American history, although it is arguable that Lincoln's experience was still more testing because it came nearer to defeat. But what is indisputable is that 1941-45 saw an incomparable mobilization of American effort, industrial and military. In Europe by 1945, the U.S. Army dwarfed the British by three to one, and in the Pacific the preponderance was many times greater. But, above all, it was the massive outpouring of American industrial strength, converted to guns and tanks, aircraft and ships, which became the eighth wonder of the world, and after the relatively short period of three and a half years made victory inevitable over the formidable military machines of Germany and Japan. Roosevelt, who had been so excoriated by business leaders for much of his first and second terms, was able in his third term to preside over this spectacular achievement, even if under a good deal of government direction, of the capitalist-controlled American industrial machine.

Another of Roosevelt's paradoxes was that, although a New Yorker of Dutch family origin and a Hudson Valley squire - in other words, a product not of the heartland but of the extreme eastern edge and most Europe-oriented part of America - he was peculiarly successful at transcending geography and uniting the continent. His strongest support was never on the eastern seaboard. In his landslide victory of 1936, for instance, the only two states that stood against the Republican debacle were Vermont and Maine. And in 1944, which was the last contest and the hardest fought, it was the late-declaring western states that contradicted the equivocation of the early eastern results.

Roosevelt was also an outstanding example of a leader who, although not in any full sense an intellectual (he was a book collector rather than a book reader, and his Harvard grades were of a mediocrity that suggest that today he might have had difficulty in gaining entry to that august institution), had an unusual capacity to inspire the intellectual classes. So did John F. Kennedy, and so, too, did FDR's family predecessor in the presidency, Theodore Roosevelt. But TR, bizarre mixture of frenetic cowboy and New York grandee though he was, had much greater historical knowledge and a higher capacity for literary composition than anything Franklin Roosevelt ever exhibited. Yet any serious assessment would put the President Roosevelt of 1933-45 substantially higher than the President Roosevelt of 1901-1909. They both had long enough presidencies (FDR's of unprecedented length) to qualify for a gold medal. Franklin Roosevelt effortlessly achieves it, but Theodore Roosevelt has to remain content with a silver or perhaps even a bronze.

It is impossible to understand Franklin Roosevelt (difficult enough in any case) without appreciating the influence that his remote cousin had upon the first thirty-eight years of his life. Although their degree of consanguinity (they were fifth cousins) was far less than that of the two Adamses, the two Harrisons, or the two Bushes, the resonance of the Roosevelt name in American history is not only greater than that of the other pairs but is also a joint legacy of both its presidential bearers. Both Theodore and Franklin were eighth-generation Americans, being equally descended from Claes Martenszen van Rosenvelt, who had arrived in New Amsterdam from Haarlem in Holland about twenty years before the change of name to New York in 1664. The two presidents were equally descended from his son Nicholas, American born in 1658. Thereafter the two families split, the elder of Nicholas's two sons founding what became known as the Oyster Bay (Long Island) branch of the family, into which, almost two hundred years later, Theodore was to be born, and the younger producing the Hyde Park (Hudson Valley) branch, which added Franklin twenty-three years after that. The position was complicated by Franklin marrying in 1905 a daughter of the (dead) younger brother of Theodore, who was then in the White House but who nonetheless came to New York and gave a presidential blessing to the wedding. What is indisputable is that both Roosevelt presidents came of impeccable New York stock, with many generations of prosperity behind them. Insofar as there is an American aristocracy (and a very powerful case can be made for its existence) both Roosevelts clearly belonged to it. Indeed the middle stretch of the Hudson Valley, particularly the eastern bank, from just south of Albany through Tivoli, Hyde Park, Poughkeepsie, and Garrison to Peekskill, was laid out in a series of grand squirearchical estates unmatched by any concentration in England or France. They followed one another along the river like fine pearls in a necklace. They made the properties in the so-called dukeries of northwest Nottinghamshire look sporadic. And there the riparian squires lived a pattern of life that was not ostentatious but determinedly gentlemanly.


Excerpted from Franklin Delano Roosevelt by Roy Jenkins Copyright © 2003 by Roy Jenkins. Excerpted by permission.
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Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Roy Jenkins was the author of many books, including Churchill and Gladstone , which won the Whitbread Prize for Biography. Active in British politics for half a century, he entered the House of Commons in 1948 and subsequently served as Minister of Aviation, Home Secretary, and Chancellor of the Exchequer; he was also the President of the European Commission and Chancellor of Oxford University. In 1987 he took his seat in the House of Lords.

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt (American Presidents Series) 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Schantz More than 1 year ago
I didn’t like this book as much as I have enjoyed reading the other books in the American Presidents Series. The main reason for my dislike was the way the book was written. I consider myself an educated man and I have no problem with looking up words if I don’t understand how they are being used or phrased...and, in some cases, when I have never even heard of a word. However in this book, there were so many words I had to look up that I began to realize that this book was a classic contradiction. For as example, one part of the contradiction comes in to play because FDR is considered heroic for all his social programs he created for the lower-class, yet the lower-class (and perhaps I just found out that I am of this class) would not have understood some of the words that were written such as “materiel” or “eleemosynary”. Secondly, another contradiction was that FDR's main critics during his presidency accused him of being a traitor to his upper class roots which is duly-noted throughout the book by an author who wrote as if the upper-class is the new cheering committee. As for the last contradiction (and maybe this was on purpose), the book seemed to tell an aloof story about an aloof president who didn’t care much for details or micromanaging…yet it was just those very things which changed the country for the better during the course of his time as president.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago