The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope

The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope

by Jonathan Alter
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Overview

The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope by Jonathan Alter

This is the story of a political miracle—the perfect match of man and moment.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in March of 1933 as America touched bottom. Banks were closing everywhere. Millions of people lost everything. The Great Depression had caused a national breakdown. With the craft of a master storyteller, Jonathan Alter brings us closer than ever before to the Roosevelt magic. Facing the gravest crisis since the Civil War, FDR used his cagey political instincts and ebullient temperament in the storied first Hundred Days of his presidency to pull off an astonishing conjuring act that lifted the country and saved both democracy and capitalism.

Who was this man? To revive the nation when it felt so hopeless took an extraordinary display of optimism and self-confidence. Alter shows us how a snobbish and apparently lightweight young aristocrat was forged into an incandescent leader by his domineering mother; his independent wife; his eccentric top adviser, Louis Howe; and his ally-turned-bitter-rival, Al Smith, the Tammany Hall street fighter FDR had to vanquish to complete his preparation for the presidency.

“Old Doc Roosevelt” had learned at Warm Springs, Georgia, how to lift others who suffered from polio, even if he could not cure their paralysis, or his own. He brought the same talents to a larger stage. Derided as weak and unprincipled by pundits, Governor Roosevelt was barely nominated for president in 1932. As president-elect, he escaped assassination in Miami by inches, then stiffed President Herbert Hoover's efforts to pull him into cooperating with him to deal with a terrifying crisis. In the most tumultuous and dramatic presidential transition in history, the entire banking structure came tumbling down just hours before FDR's legendary “only thing we have to fear is fear itself” Inaugural Address.

In a major historical find, Alter unearths the draft of a radio speech in which Roosevelt considered enlisting a private army of American Legion veterans on his first day in office. He did not. Instead of circumventing Congress and becoming the dictator so many thought they needed, FDR used his stunning debut to experiment. He rescued banks, put men to work immediately, and revolutionized mass communications with pioneering press conferences and the first Fireside Chat. As he moved both right and left, Roosevelt's insistence on "action now" did little to cure the Depression, but he began to rewrite the nation's social contract and lay the groundwork for his most ambitious achievements, including Social Security.

From one of America's most respected journalists, rich in insights and with fresh documentation and colorful detail, this thrilling story of presidential leadership—of what government is for—resonates through the events of today. It deepens our understanding of how Franklin Delano Roosevelt restored hope and transformed America.

The Defining Moment will take its place among our most compelling works of political history.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780743246019
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 05/08/2007
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 432
Sales rank: 644,327
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Jonathan Alter is an analyst and contributing correspondent for NBC News and MSNBC. He is a former senior editor and columnist for Newsweek, where he worked for twenty-eight years, writing more than fifty cover stories. He has also written for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, The New Republic, and other publications. He is the author of The Promise: President Obama, Year One and The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope, both New York Times bestsellers, and Between the Lines, a collection of his Newsweek columns.

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Defining Moment 3.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 41 reviews.
KyBorn More than 1 year ago
Despite the Subtitle, this book does not primarily focus on the first 100 days. Over half the book covers FDR's political life before his first inauguration. Since my primary reason for buying this book was to educate myself on the parallels between then and now as well as the policy action.

That being said, this is a good book for anyone wanting to learn about FDR's early political career and the events that shaped his character and methods.
tenspeed More than 1 year ago
I read this book twice, once rather rapidly for "enjoyment" and a second time several months after to get the "substance." I can say without equivocation that Parts 1, 2 and 3 fit nicely into Francis Tiffany's idea that, "...all is but prelude...." The meat, if it can be called such, is Part 4 when the 100 days is actually discussed. While the first 3 parts don't really cover the 100 days, they do give a rather deep, and at times slogging, review of FDR's life before the election of 1932 and the start of his presidency. But, was it really worth it? I've wondered that for a while now. However, without an idea of what made the man, can you truly understand what the man made?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is enlightening! It presents the first hundred days of Franklin Roosevelt's presidency in a very readable format. The people involved in Roosevelt's personal and political lives come to life in an exciting yet historically accurate rendering of the events of the first hundred days. You feel like you really get to know the people. They are fleshed out, real people--not just the Roosevelt family, but other people involved in the politics of the times. Jonathan Alter is an excellent writer.
JL_Garner More than 1 year ago
In a story recounted in "Newsweek" senior editor Jonathan Alter's "The Defining Moment," President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called on former Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes during his first hundred days in office. Afterwards, Holmes mentioned FDR's cousin Theodore, and made the remark "A second-class intellect, but a first-class temperament." (Holmes never clarified which Roosevelt he was talking about, though most historians have assumed he meant Franklin.)

Alter's book is just that: first-class writing, but as far as a deep and probing analysis of the legendary 100-day emergency session of Congress that marked the beginning of the Roosevelt Administration, this book only rates second-class (and that's being incredibly generous). The book spends too much time setting up the players -- FDR, Eleanor, Sara, Louis Howe, Herbert Hoover -- and how they got there, and not enough time on what they actually DID. It rehashes FDR's early career, but brings little that's new or groundbreaking to the table. The coverage of the actual 'Hundred Days' is rather perfunctory and almost seems like an afterthought.

"The Defining Moment" also suffers from feeling too much like a collection of "Newsweek" pieces rather than a cohesive long-form historical narrative. Most chapters are short enough they could probably have been run in Alter's magazine as a series of 4-5 page articles. Alter's writing reads like a "Newsweek" article, too -- well-polished, but with the intellectual depth of a child's wading pool. Those used to lengthy, well-researched tomes by the likes of David McCullough and Doris Kearns Goodwin will be vastly disappointed.

Alter's book has resurfaced again because of comparisons between the crisis FDR faced in March 1933 and the crisis facing president-elect Barack Obama in 2009. (Keith Olbermann flogging it every time Alter appears on MSNBC's "Countdown" doesn't hurt either.) While there may be some interesting parallels between Roosevelt's crisis and Obama's, this is far from the best book out there if you want to read up on the historical side of this story.
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MerlinDB More than 1 year ago
Interesting and informative, but could use some editing. Prone to wander off the subject.
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This is an excellent account of FDR's life and presidency. This is well researched and objective. A must for anyone who enjoys American history.
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