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A one-volume biography of Roosevelt by the #1 New York Times bestselling biographer of JFK, focusing on his career as an incomparable politician, uniter, and deal maker In an era of such great national divisiveness, there could be no more timely biography of one of our greatest presidents than one that focuses on his unparalleled political ability as a uniter and consensus A one-volume biography of Roosevelt by the #1 New York Times bestselling biographer of JFK, focusing on his career as an incomparable politician, uniter, and deal maker In an era of such great national divisiveness, there could be no more timely biography of one of our greatest presidents than one that focuses on his unparalleled political ability as a uniter and consensus maker. Robert Dallek’s Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life takes a fresh look at the many compelling questions that have attracted all his biographers: how did a man who came from so privileged a background become the greatest presidential champion of the country’s needy? How did someone who never won recognition for his intellect foster revolutionary changes in the country’s economic and social institutions? How did Roosevelt work such a profound change in the country’s foreign relations? For FDR, politics was a far more interesting and fulfilling pursuit than the management of family fortunes or the indulgence of personal pleasure, and by the time he became president, he had commanded the love and affection of millions of people. While all Roosevelt’s biographers agree that the onset of polio at the age of thirty-nine endowed him with a much greater sense of humanity, Dallek sees the affliction as an insufficient explanation for his transformation into a masterful politician who would win an unprecedented four presidential terms, initiate landmark reforms that changed the American industrial system, and transform an isolationist country into an international superpower. Dallek attributes FDR’s success to two remarkable political insights. First, unlike any other president, he understood that effectiveness in the American political system depended on building a national consensus and commanding stable long-term popular support. Second, he made the presidency the central, most influential institution in modern America’s political system. In addressing the country’s international and domestic problems, Roosevelt recognized the vital importance of remaining closely attentive to the full range of public sentiment around policy-making decisions—perhaps FDR’s most enduring lesson in effective leadership.


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A one-volume biography of Roosevelt by the #1 New York Times bestselling biographer of JFK, focusing on his career as an incomparable politician, uniter, and deal maker In an era of such great national divisiveness, there could be no more timely biography of one of our greatest presidents than one that focuses on his unparalleled political ability as a uniter and consensus A one-volume biography of Roosevelt by the #1 New York Times bestselling biographer of JFK, focusing on his career as an incomparable politician, uniter, and deal maker In an era of such great national divisiveness, there could be no more timely biography of one of our greatest presidents than one that focuses on his unparalleled political ability as a uniter and consensus maker. Robert Dallek’s Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life takes a fresh look at the many compelling questions that have attracted all his biographers: how did a man who came from so privileged a background become the greatest presidential champion of the country’s needy? How did someone who never won recognition for his intellect foster revolutionary changes in the country’s economic and social institutions? How did Roosevelt work such a profound change in the country’s foreign relations? For FDR, politics was a far more interesting and fulfilling pursuit than the management of family fortunes or the indulgence of personal pleasure, and by the time he became president, he had commanded the love and affection of millions of people. While all Roosevelt’s biographers agree that the onset of polio at the age of thirty-nine endowed him with a much greater sense of humanity, Dallek sees the affliction as an insufficient explanation for his transformation into a masterful politician who would win an unprecedented four presidential terms, initiate landmark reforms that changed the American industrial system, and transform an isolationist country into an international superpower. Dallek attributes FDR’s success to two remarkable political insights. First, unlike any other president, he understood that effectiveness in the American political system depended on building a national consensus and commanding stable long-term popular support. Second, he made the presidency the central, most influential institution in modern America’s political system. In addressing the country’s international and domestic problems, Roosevelt recognized the vital importance of remaining closely attentive to the full range of public sentiment around policy-making decisions—perhaps FDR’s most enduring lesson in effective leadership.

30 review for Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life

  1. 4 out of 5

    Michael Finocchiaro

    Having been disappointed in recent presidents (and in particular #43 and #45), I wanted to refresh my memory and learn about some of the presidents that are more or less universally recognized as being the best of breed. Luckily for me, Robert Dallek published his FDR biography in November 2017 which I immediately pre-ordered when I saw it on Amazon and read it avidly once I received it. It is well written and thoroughly enjoyable despite being very long and very detailed. One other political no Having been disappointed in recent presidents (and in particular #43 and #45), I wanted to refresh my memory and learn about some of the presidents that are more or less universally recognized as being the best of breed. Luckily for me, Robert Dallek published his FDR biography in November 2017 which I immediately pre-ordered when I saw it on Amazon and read it avidly once I received it. It is well written and thoroughly enjoyable despite being very long and very detailed. One other political note before I comment on the biographical details that caught my attention: it is instructive to read about the creation of the New Deal now that the most effective attack on these principles is well underway in Congress led by the Drumpf White House. OK, rant over. I found that FDR was quite different in many ways than the vague impressions I had formed about him. I knew he was related to Teddy Roosevelt (himself #4 or #5 on nearly every Best Presidents Ever list), but had not realized how they were similar (both wealthy patrician backgrounds who each embraced (some) progressive causes) and how they were different (Teddy was a Republican, FDR the great Democrat) and the incredible influence that Uncle Teddy had on his nephew, both personally and politically. They actually backed different people and causes but without this ever leading to a break in their relationship. His relationship to Eleanor was FAR more complex than I had ever realized. They were cousins (I knew that), but she was awkward and far less social than Franklin when they got married (that I did not kn0w). Following an early affair which Eleanor discovered, their sexual life fizzled to near inexistence and politically they were often at odds. Franklin had many, many women friends but it is uncertain whether his infidelity went beyond flirting. Eleanor had some very close relationships with women, but there is not hard evidence that she slept with them either. So, there was this forced co-habitation for several decades spanning the Great Depression and WWII that they were forced to live within that must have been complicated. And speaking of the differences between Eleanor and Franklin, it was sadly interesting to see that while Eleanor fervently embraced women's issues and the fight against racism and Nazism, Franklin was pretty lukewarm on both of these. He was all-in for labor issues and detested Nazi imperialism in Europe, but when it came to expanding women's rights, he was dismissive, when it came to saving Jews from the camps in the 40s, he demurred, and when it came to ending some of worst Jim Crow abuses in the south against black Americans, he was mute. This takes nothing away the enormous credit he justifiably takes for having steered America out of the morass of the Great Depression and maneuvering America into World War II in a manner that saw the United States as the world's first power immediately following the war. Well, for a few minutes anyway before being outmaneuvered by Stalin and having to share the stage with the USSR during the subsequent Cold War. I enjoyed this informative biography and want to read more about other 20th century presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Herbert Hoover.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Joseph J.

    It is difficult to read a Presidential biography and not reflect on our current divisive politics. A massive tome about FDR seems to appear every ten or so years. Robert Dallek's focus is on FDR's Presidential years. Anyone requiring more on the years before 1933 must look to Kenneth Davis or Geoffrey Ward; for the Roosevelt marriage consider Blanche Cooke or Joseph Lash. Dallek's volume opens with the dismal conditions in a Depression plagued United States the March 1933 day of FDR's inaugurati It is difficult to read a Presidential biography and not reflect on our current divisive politics. A massive tome about FDR seems to appear every ten or so years. Robert Dallek's focus is on FDR's Presidential years. Anyone requiring more on the years before 1933 must look to Kenneth Davis or Geoffrey Ward; for the Roosevelt marriage consider Blanche Cooke or Joseph Lash. Dallek's volume opens with the dismal conditions in a Depression plagued United States the March 1933 day of FDR's inauguration. There follows a fast paced overview of FDR's formative years and personal background. The meat of this book is the Presidency. Dallek is superb on FDR's fringe enemies-Huey Long (especially so) and Fr. Coughlin. In a time of financial collapse in an isolationist nation facing a threatening world order, FDR was a consensus builder against ever louder voices. And Dallek details FDR's precarious health and places its beginnings closer to 1940 and the third term run, rather than focusing on his obvious decline during the 1944 campaign. A very heavy smoker trapped in a wheelchair of his own design, Roosevelt suffered a variety of ills, with even hemorrhoids so severe he required blood transfusions. By 1944, perhaps understandably so his D-Day blood pressure was 226/118. An ironically lonely man who gradually lost his trusted disciples (Howe and Missy LeHand), Dallek continues the work of Geoffrey Ward in detailing the importance of Daisy Suckley in FDR's life. His humanity is seen when wheeled into a ward of soldiers missing arms an legs; the wheelchair bound President leaves with tears in his eyes. More has been done on the final days and death at Warm Springs; a small point: Elizabeth Shoumatoff was not working on sketches at FDR's death but actually painting the portrait which remains at Warm Springs. With a focus on Roosevelt the President, Dallek's massive volume will remain the source for viewing one of our greatest Presidents. Indeed, he cites at beginning and end The New York Times judgement at FDR's death that "Men will thank God on their knees 100 years from now, that Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the White House."

  3. 4 out of 5

    Dale

    USA 2018. You need to read this. F0r those who have read countless books about FDR, depression, WW2, you will reminded what made America great and imperfect. For the young, you might learn that what it means to have a United country. I love the fact that in April 1945, USA had to have conversations about the following: 1. Eliminate our hate toward groups (blacks, Jews) 2. The need to connect with each other versus isolationism 3. The concern for the Palestine citizen 4. The importance to keep communi USA 2018. You need to read this. F0r those who have read countless books about FDR, depression, WW2, you will reminded what made America great and imperfect. For the young, you might learn that what it means to have a United country. I love the fact that in April 1945, USA had to have conversations about the following: 1. Eliminate our hate toward groups (blacks, Jews) 2. The need to connect with each other versus isolationism 3. The concern for the Palestine citizen 4. The importance to keep communicating with Russia 5. The role of government 6. The end of unilateral decisions (internationally) FDR - a political genius

  4. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    One of the many jobs in my background was managing the bookstore at the FDR Memorial in DC. FDR, along with his distant cousin TR, is one of my top book subjects. Up to now Jean Smith' bio has been my favorite 1 volume bio of FDR. Dallek's bio is now on the top of my list. Of particular interest is the attention Dallek places on FDR's health issues early on in FDR's Prsidency. A

  5. 4 out of 5

    Colleen Browne

    This is unquestionably the best biography I have read on FDR. 700 pages may seem like too few to write about a life as full as Roosevelt's but Dallek manages to do it. His research, as always, is thorough, his ability to get to the heart of his topic in a manner that is succinct and precise and his perspective as a historian who views his subject as a fallible human with flaws but at the same time a great leader is second to none. He gives FDR the biography he deserves. His exploration of the re This is unquestionably the best biography I have read on FDR. 700 pages may seem like too few to write about a life as full as Roosevelt's but Dallek manages to do it. His research, as always, is thorough, his ability to get to the heart of his topic in a manner that is succinct and precise and his perspective as a historian who views his subject as a fallible human with flaws but at the same time a great leader is second to none. He gives FDR the biography he deserves. His exploration of the relationships in Roosevelts life reveal more about the people than any other historian I have read. These are the reasons that Dallek is considered probably the foremost presidential historian. I highly recommend this book. I have read many biographies of FDR and many histories of the period but none has impressed me so much. In addition to exploring all the great things that Roosevelt did for his country and for the world, Dallek neither excuses or fails to detail the three great failures of his presidency which are fairly well known: His refusal to do more for African-Americans, his refusal to allow more immigrants, especially Jews facing torture and death into the country, and his placement of Japanese Americans in camps during the War. His accomplishments include land mark legislation, much of which we have with us still, his ability to inspire hope and deal with the worst depression the country has ever known, and his steering the country through WWII despite his failing health, make him one of our greatest presidents, if not the greatest.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Bret

    With the many books written on Roosevelt I feel that this one most likely didn't need to be written. Rather than display the facts and give you a full presentation of Roosevelt's life I feel like the author was a Roosevelt fan boy who wanted to display a full picture but thought that Roosevelt could do no wrong and was justified in some of his shady dealings.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt have long been of interest to me to the point of reading many, many books about the couple. One might think that I would not learn anything new about them. This is not true. I especially appreciated the amount of information in this book about Franklin's health and the health of people who assisted FDR (Missy LeHand, Harry Hopkins, etc.). Occasionally, Dallek referenced my favorite historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin. That always made me feel that Dallek had done his h Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt have long been of interest to me to the point of reading many, many books about the couple. One might think that I would not learn anything new about them. This is not true. I especially appreciated the amount of information in this book about Franklin's health and the health of people who assisted FDR (Missy LeHand, Harry Hopkins, etc.). Occasionally, Dallek referenced my favorite historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin. That always made me feel that Dallek had done his homework.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Terrie

    I get the sense that Roosevelt had a bit of a savior complex. It doesn't help that the author agrees with Roosevelt- that Roosevelt was the only person on the planet that was capable of leading the United States through World War II. I felt the book made a number of dubious claims and a lot of "what if" statements to cover up a number of Roosevelt's missteps. The author also places blame on the American people for a couple of Roosevelt's less palatable policies. Overall the book just came across I get the sense that Roosevelt had a bit of a savior complex. It doesn't help that the author agrees with Roosevelt- that Roosevelt was the only person on the planet that was capable of leading the United States through World War II. I felt the book made a number of dubious claims and a lot of "what if" statements to cover up a number of Roosevelt's missteps. The author also places blame on the American people for a couple of Roosevelt's less palatable policies. Overall the book just came across as one man's opinion , rather then a book intending to inform about Roosevelt as a politician.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Alex Mulligan

    In an era of applied politics, it’s difficult not to read this book without a yearning for the leaders of the past. That is not to say the pst was perfect, nor Roosevelt. But, it is the desire for a leader who has conviction, dreams, and a message of change and hope for the future that’s drives that yearning for leaders past. Dallek does an incredible job tracing Roosevelt’s political life from start to finish. Dallek neither paints and overly critical nor overly glossy role on Roosevelt. He isn In an era of applied politics, it’s difficult not to read this book without a yearning for the leaders of the past. That is not to say the pst was perfect, nor Roosevelt. But, it is the desire for a leader who has conviction, dreams, and a message of change and hope for the future that’s drives that yearning for leaders past. Dallek does an incredible job tracing Roosevelt’s political life from start to finish. Dallek neither paints and overly critical nor overly glossy role on Roosevelt. He isn’t afraid to highlight both strengths and weaknesses. I’m doing so he paints a clear picture of the President and his impact on America and the world.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Harriet Brown

    Franklin D. Roosevelt a Political Life Franklin D. Roosevelt A Political Life by Robert Fallen is an interesting, information book. What a sense of history. I highly recommend this book.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Keith Landry

    At times, getting through this colossal book was a real effort. That being said, all the key points and motivations for FDR's extraordinary success during complicated times are explored more than competently. I learned a considerable amount about this fascinating man.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kay Wright

    It’s really long, almost 1000 pages, very dry, very detailed but full of the respect and affection Dallek has for FDR. In a time when the Presidency itself is under siege looking back on a man who overcame incredible personal obstacles and led us through the depression and WWII mainly by force of personality is inspiring. Dallek lets the reader infer much from his Joe Friday writing, (just the facts, ma'am) but uses material from many sources. He does argue briefly that FDR did not know that Pea It’s really long, almost 1000 pages, very dry, very detailed but full of the respect and affection Dallek has for FDR. In a time when the Presidency itself is under siege looking back on a man who overcame incredible personal obstacles and led us through the depression and WWII mainly by force of personality is inspiring. Dallek lets the reader infer much from his Joe Friday writing, (just the facts, ma'am) but uses material from many sources. He does argue briefly that FDR did not know that Pearl Harbor bombing was imminent. He also condemns his internment of Japanese Americans and shows why he thinks there was little the Allies could do to save Jews except win the war quickly. The subtitle gives you fair warning that this is mostly about FDR’s life as an elected official and the balancing act required to get enough support to do what was needed. It was refreshing to read that he had no comprehensive plan to end the depression but relied on instinct. And it might not have worked without the war to stimulate the economy. If you do read this I highly recommend Harry Truman’s 2volume autobiography or Truman by David McCullough to finish the story. Those two presidents shaped the America we live in, for better or worse. It’s helps to understand why we are where we are. What we can do about it, well that’s another book.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Grady

    This is a solid and enjoyable one-volume biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but it is written without much styistic flair, and the citations are rudimentary. At a few places in the book, I found myself thinking, ‘oh, that’s a nice touch - that anecdote really offers an insight’ and so looked up the notes to see where it came from - and repeatedly, the cite referenced other, earlier books by Dallek on FDR, Lyndon Johnson, or American foreign policy. I have to think this work, which the autho This is a solid and enjoyable one-volume biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but it is written without much styistic flair, and the citations are rudimentary. At a few places in the book, I found myself thinking, ‘oh, that’s a nice touch - that anecdote really offers an insight’ and so looked up the notes to see where it came from - and repeatedly, the cite referenced other, earlier books by Dallek on FDR, Lyndon Johnson, or American foreign policy. I have to think this work, which the author admits relies heavily on secondary sources, does not reflect the full quality of Dallek’s signature books. One challenge in the book’s composition is that while there are through-themes in the narrative, they don’t drive the structure. Once Roosevelt is elected President, the main narrative is chopped up chronologically, so within each nine to twelve month period, a chapter tours domestic issues, then foreign issues, with a paragraph or two for each. Two themes receive a lot of emphasis: Roosevelt’s reliance on a number of women (other than his wife Eleanor) for companionship and emotional support, especially Margaret ‘Daisy’ Suckley, whose letters and diaries are quoted extensively; and Roosevelt’s failing health across his Presidency, but especially during his third and final terms in office. Dallek doesn’t raise the question of whether Roosevelt could have lived longer had he retired after one or two terms, but he does argue that Roosevelt kept pushing himself past his capacity out of a sense that he owed the nation nothing less. The book is subtitled ‘a political life’, and Roosevelt’s certainly was; but that’s not actually Dallek’s main lens. There are a lot of political figures, of course, but not a lot of context or background, and very little focus on the ways Roosevelt changed party politics or communications. There’s also little here on how Roosevelt processed the actual administrative work of the presidency, apart from the consistent habit of surrounding himself with advisors and cabinet seretaries with differing views, and then telling them contradictory things. Rather, this is more of an intimate biography - what happened to Roosevelt himself, who he had around him, what he knew versus what he said, and why. Once the story reaches World War II, all domestic issues except isolationism recede very far into the background of Dallek’s narrative. One strand that I really wondered about, and is almost entirely absent, is how Roosevelt worked with Harry Truman, and the extent to which he prepared him to take over after the President’s death. In sum, this book was interesting, and - since I hadn’t previously read a biography of FDR - filled up my head with a lot of useful and logically organized facts; but it’s hard to imagine this will be regarded as the definitive one volume biography of FDR.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    This is a dry, detailed biography of the fascinating president who made modern America. It rushes quickly through Roosevelt's early years of limitless wealth and seemingly mediocre accomplishments, and didn't do a great job with the causality or reasoning around the jump from "generic rich kid" to "president" - in a lot of ways, the early section felt rushed. But once it gets into his time as President, from 1933 onwards, the book starts to sparkle and shine. Humbled by a case of polio that affli This is a dry, detailed biography of the fascinating president who made modern America. It rushes quickly through Roosevelt's early years of limitless wealth and seemingly mediocre accomplishments, and didn't do a great job with the causality or reasoning around the jump from "generic rich kid" to "president" - in a lot of ways, the early section felt rushed. But once it gets into his time as President, from 1933 onwards, the book starts to sparkle and shine. Humbled by a case of polio that afflicted him from 1921 (age 39), Roosevelt was able to skillfully maneuver America from an isolationist backwater into the forefront of the world stage. The thing I appreciated the most about this book was the deep analysis of the politics of Roosevelt: the specific tactical actions that he took to prepare America for war, to build consensus, to bide his time and to take advantage of events when opportunities emerged. While it's easy to look back and criticize many of his decisions, especially around his conservative approach to mitigating the devastating impact of the Holocaust and the constitutionally questionable internment of Japanese Americans, Dallek's treatment is fundamentally sympathetic - the brilliance of Roosevelt was his ability to be the coalition-builder to his wife's activism. Overall, Roosevelt's "grace under fire" - he took advantage of the instability created by the Great Depression to fundamentally remake America by signing 15 major laws in his first 100 days in office - and his clear-eyed military leadership - he recognized the necessity of American involvement in WWII years before most of his contemporaries - were remarkable qualities. But the thing I was amazed by wasn't his vision: as a leader, his execution and ability to take advantage of political timing and not overplay his hand seemed almost divine. Though at some point I need to read a biography about his relationship with Eleanor, because man was that weird... As a final note, every time I read about the past I'm reminded how timeless the core challenges facing us are - the urban / rural divide, the questions about American oligarchy, questions of inequality and privilege, and the challenge of leading a vast and diverse American electorate are questions that faced Roosevelt as much as they face us today. And the question of executive privilege is core to a true assessment of Roosevelt's legacy: King Franklin ran roughshod over the rest of the political landscape, and his unilateral control was necessary for many of this greatest triumphs, but it does make you wonder a lot about how much to limit executive power. It's always good to have more when your guy is in charge...

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bill Lucey

    Historian Robert Dallek, author of “An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963,” and “Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power,” among other seminal works on presidential power, presents a sparkling one-volume biography on the Squire of Hyde Park, “Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life.” Dallek’s skillfully researched, splendidly written book leaves little mystery why Roosevelt is easily ranked as one of the three greatest presidents in U.S. history. Imagine, before FDR, there was no welfare s Historian Robert Dallek, author of “An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963,” and “Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power,” among other seminal works on presidential power, presents a sparkling one-volume biography on the Squire of Hyde Park, “Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life.” Dallek’s skillfully researched, splendidly written book leaves little mystery why Roosevelt is easily ranked as one of the three greatest presidents in U.S. history. Imagine, before FDR, there was no welfare state, where American workers could earn a minimum wage (including the lack of regulated hours), along with no unemployment insurance. Labor unions weren't legitimized until Roosevelt's rise to power. Coming to power with the country gripped in the Great Depression, King Franklin acted with “grace under fire,” by signing a whopping 15 major laws in his first 100 days, ushering in a new age in which the government would play a much larger role in American society. In foreign affairs, FDR brought America out of its isolationist mode, making it an “arsenal of democracy,” in helping countries fight Nazi aggression. Before entering the war, believe it or not, the United States had the 18th largest army in the world, with a meager 500,000 troops. Mr. Dallek, thankfully, doesn’t let FDR off the hook when chronicling his legacy. Roosevelt’s reluctance to combat widespread lynching in the South for fear of losing support with Southern Democrats to his New Deal legislation is a noteworthy blemish on his legacy. So too is his ill-advised decision to intern Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor, an inexcusable violation of civil rights if there ever was one. Most damning of all, of course, was his slow response to allowing Jewish refugees into the country who were fleeing the brutality of Hitler and Nazi Germany in great numbers, calling into question FDR’s lack of courage to do the right thing despite a lack of support within his own country. Still, despite all those nasty blemishes and unconscionable oversights, FDR during his unprecedented four terms in office, profoundly changed the landscape of the American working class, while elevating the United States into a new peacekeeping capacity with the hope of ensuring another Adolf Hitler would never run roughshod over the sovereignty of European nations again. --Bill Lucey March 27, 2018

  16. 5 out of 5

    Brett

    Good overview of FDR's career, emphasizing his time in the presidency, and providing what were, for me, some new insights. Notes: His 3rd and 4th term elections were attributed largely to the war situation, he basically aware that he would take the U.S. into war despite giving the opposite impression during the election. The crucial selection of FDR-loyalist Truman as VP was a compromise pick to avoid a party split between the North and South (Southerners wanting Justice Byrnes and Northerns and Good overview of FDR's career, emphasizing his time in the presidency, and providing what were, for me, some new insights. Notes: His 3rd and 4th term elections were attributed largely to the war situation, he basically aware that he would take the U.S. into war despite giving the opposite impression during the election. The crucial selection of FDR-loyalist Truman as VP was a compromise pick to avoid a party split between the North and South (Southerners wanting Justice Byrnes and Northerns and FDR preferring Wallace). Limits to do more to help Jewish refugees avoid death in Hitler's camps were noted to largely stem from the opposition of Breckinridge Long in the State Department. The author was good to point out FDR errors in judgment, such as his (early) reluctance to embrace Keynes' affinity for deficit spending to get the country out of the depression, and his fear of espionage leading him to assent to the internment of Japanese during the war. Other 'errors' were ground in FDR's understanding of domestic politics, such as American isolationist sentiment limiting efforts to avert WWII. Some of those errors were more blatant (though products of his time), such as appointing someone, Black, who he knew to be part of the KKK to the Supreme Court, and firing a gay staffer, Welles, from the State Department. Personality clashes with de Gaulle seemed to affect his policy toward France, which he criticized for not being a fighting ally. I also noticed Churchill's reluctance to move ahead with the D-Day invasion (FDR had it in mind as early as 1943), which the book never clearly addressed. Aside from policy, I was surprised how independent and non-conventional his marriage with Eleanor was; from this book, you got a much more intimate idea of FDR's feelings and emotions from his relationship with his cousin, Daisy. In view of present policies, it was clear the objectives FDR had are quite different from those of the current administration: movement away from isolationism, 'reduction of armaments, reduction of trade barriers, stabilization of currencies, and better relations between all nations,' not to mention appointment of people from the opposing party to his cabinet. Overall, this book effectively showed FDR to be the historic and effective leader that he was, while also being evenhanded in acknowledging his errors.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Andy Miller

    I may have appreciated this biography more if I had not already read 15 books on FDR. Especially because they included Multi Volume Series(Schlesinger and Davis) that could detail FDR's life in a way a single volume never could and books that were about one or two years in his life allowing a focus not available in a single volume life. Those 15 are supplemented by biographies of those close to FDR such as Blanche Cook's excellent multi volume biography on Eleanor and and the Watkins biography o I may have appreciated this biography more if I had not already read 15 books on FDR. Especially because they included Multi Volume Series(Schlesinger and Davis) that could detail FDR's life in a way a single volume never could and books that were about one or two years in his life allowing a focus not available in a single volume life. Those 15 are supplemented by biographies of those close to FDR such as Blanche Cook's excellent multi volume biography on Eleanor and and the Watkins biography of Harold Ickes. This does not mean it is not a worthwhile read. It is well written and thoroughly researched, Dallek cites original resources instead of surveying earlier biographies and gives an occasional different emphasis such as the relationship with Margaret Suckley, quoting liberally from their correspondence and Dallek's downplaying of FDR's polio on changing FDR's approach to life and politics. What I appreciated most was reading a biography in today's political discussion citing FDR as a Social Democrat and programs like social security as socialist as evidence that identification with Democratic Socialism could win elections today. Reading excerpts from FDR's speeches, fireside chats and political strategies dispels any such comparison. FDR never described himself as a Democratic socialist, in fact he hit back hard against Republican efforts to describe his programs as socialist. On page 157 he quotes from a May 7, 1933 fireside chat when he answered critics who attacked the New Deal as socialistic. He declared that the New Deal was simply multiplying "the number of American shareholders" that it was wrong to say that the New Deal was Government taking control of farming, industry and transportation but was rather " a partnership between Government and farming and industry and and transportation, not partnership in profits, for the profits still go to the citizens, but rather a partnership in planning..." Throughout FDR's presidency he sought to reform, sometimes dramatically reform, the economic system in an incremental way by building broad political consensus for his programs. This is not to argue FDR vs Democratic socialism but to correct arguments by some today that FDR campaigned as a Democratic Socialist when FDR was anything but

  18. 5 out of 5

    Steve Cunningham

    I don't for a minute believe that the timing of Robert Dallek's biography of FDR is a coincidence. If you were to choose one President to represent the antithesis of everything that #45 represents, it would have to be Roosevelt. This book is a magnificent work of historical synthesis, though I am not sure that it adds very much that is new to the literature of the FDR era, it offers a clear, balanced narrative of Roosevelt's political career. At 630 pages, it is a weighty volume, but it is hard I don't for a minute believe that the timing of Robert Dallek's biography of FDR is a coincidence. If you were to choose one President to represent the antithesis of everything that #45 represents, it would have to be Roosevelt. This book is a magnificent work of historical synthesis, though I am not sure that it adds very much that is new to the literature of the FDR era, it offers a clear, balanced narrative of Roosevelt's political career. At 630 pages, it is a weighty volume, but it is hard to see how a presidency that lasted an unprecedented and unparalleled thirteen years could deal with the subject matter in fewer. As the title suggests, it is a work overwhelmingly concerned with politics and policy. So while some fascinating elements of Roosevelt's personal life are present - his disability from polio and relationship with Eleanor most notably - are present, they are seen largely through the prism of their impact on his political life. And while Dallek is unashamedly admiring of FDR, he does not shy away from criticism of some of the more unpalatable aspects of his subject's administration; his refusal to tackle lynching in the Southern states, seeming ambivalence to political corruption in New York, the internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War II and failure to effectively prevent or disrupt the mass murder of Jews by the Nazis are black marks that the vicissitudes of political expediency cannot excuse. Yet what shines through all is FDRs overwhelming humanity and concern for his fellow human beings. His determination and sense of duty to "see the job through" undoubtedly contributed hugely to his declining health from 1943 and ultimately caused his death at the age of 63 in 1945, but his legacy represents the very best of what the United States contributed to the world in the twentieth century.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Corny

    I read Dallek’s JFK book which was a favorite because of his detailed treatment of Kennedy’s many serious ailments which he overcame to reach the nation’s highest office. FDR had to do much the same thing and the author is at his best when describing these challenges. However, his treatment of political matters is somewhat dry and his constant use of opinion polls, citing numbers with too much frequency wire thin on this reader. I also felt the book relied too much on quotations from FDR’s many I read Dallek’s JFK book which was a favorite because of his detailed treatment of Kennedy’s many serious ailments which he overcame to reach the nation’s highest office. FDR had to do much the same thing and the author is at his best when describing these challenges. However, his treatment of political matters is somewhat dry and his constant use of opinion polls, citing numbers with too much frequency wire thin on this reader. I also felt the book relied too much on quotations from FDR’s many speeches. Less quoting and perhaps more analysis might have been better. Despite these criticisms, I believe the author has delivered a first rate account of FDR’s presidency. He seems to have paid little attention to his early years and only a bit more to the pre presidential offices. However, the man remains impenetrable. I don’t think we will ever truly know what drove him to endure so many physical challenges, considerably shortening his life. Unlike his distant cousin TR, FDR was not particularly intellectual and did not seem to have many interests outside his job. Fishing in the daytime and sparkling conversations in the evening filled his nonworking days. He confided in few but Dallek has found those few and done an excellent job of weaving their stories into the main narrative. Despite the somewhat tedious portions mentioned above, I am very glad to have learned more about one of our best and most inscrutable presidents.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Porter Broyles

    This book teaters between 3 and 4 stars. It is a well written book on a very important subject. My biggest problem with it is that it did not add much to my understanding of FDR. The book provides a solid foundation to FDR and helps to explain how an individual who is confined to a wheel chair could be elected president. Basically it boils down to a sympathetic press and a concerted effort to hide the infirmity. While everybody knew that he had been confined to a wheel chair, FDR made it a point This book teaters between 3 and 4 stars. It is a well written book on a very important subject. My biggest problem with it is that it did not add much to my understanding of FDR. The book provides a solid foundation to FDR and helps to explain how an individual who is confined to a wheel chair could be elected president. Basically it boils down to a sympathetic press and a concerted effort to hide the infirmity. While everybody knew that he had been confined to a wheel chair, FDR made it a point to stand before the public and turned his illness into a strength. If FDR can overcome polio, imagine what he can do for the country! It is also an excellent counter to Dorris Kearns Goodwin. DKG's "No Ordinary Life" is a more enjoyable read, but DKG tends to 1) become more of an apologist for her subjects and 2) tends to accentuate affairs. While DKG might pay lip service to there being no evidence that sexual relations existed, she tends to take the story to the edge where you cannot help but believe they existed. Dallek provides a more cautionary view point on his subject and his affairs. The book does a good job at providing background on FDR and covering his pre-WWII years, but 2/3rds of the book focuses on the WWII years---the era which I am most familiar with his work. Thus, it lost some of its appeal. Still, if you aren't familiar with FDR and are looking for a good solid introduction, this book might be for you.

  21. 4 out of 5

    C. Patrick G. Erker

    Really good stuff. Gentleman, patrician, and exactly what the country needed coming out of the Great Depression and into the Second World War. FDR came from a life of privilege, but also overcame enormous health and other issues to put himself in the company of Washington and Lincoln in the pantheon of America's greatest and most consequential leaders. This was my first biography of FDR, so I can't compare it with others. This one dealt quite a bit with FDR's health, from the crippling polio to hi Really good stuff. Gentleman, patrician, and exactly what the country needed coming out of the Great Depression and into the Second World War. FDR came from a life of privilege, but also overcame enormous health and other issues to put himself in the company of Washington and Lincoln in the pantheon of America's greatest and most consequential leaders. This was my first biography of FDR, so I can't compare it with others. This one dealt quite a bit with FDR's health, from the crippling polio to his ongoing and worsening health conditions during WWII as he was meeting with Churchill, Stalin, and others. His failings, in particular his relationship (or lack thereof) with his wife, and his inaction with regards to Europe's persecuted Jewish population, are also covered with reasonable depth. But overall, this is a sympathetic portrait of a truly great leader. How different history might have been had FDR lived to finish his term. I wish the book had tackled some of the counter factuals (vis-a-vis the use of the bomb, or the rebuilding of Europe, or even who tells the story). Many Americans don't realize just how young FDR was (63) when he passed. He could easily have lived another 25-30 years. Had he done so, he could have helped lead the UN. He could have added his memoirs to those of Churchill and De Gaulle. He could have helped shape relations with the USSR. That, looking back on the book, is what I would have liked to have seen more of, if anything.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    Well written and good. It didn't strike me as excellent because of the things that the author focused on and the things that he skipped. Such a huge work kept my mind thinking throughout. I have a desire to capture some of the thoughts: What New Deal policies could be ended? Which should be expanded? Social Security expanded into basic income for all seems appropriate. Medicare for all as single payer healthcare is another. More Keynesian economics but paying back the debt in times of high tax r Well written and good. It didn't strike me as excellent because of the things that the author focused on and the things that he skipped. Such a huge work kept my mind thinking throughout. I have a desire to capture some of the thoughts: What New Deal policies could be ended? Which should be expanded? Social Security expanded into basic income for all seems appropriate. Medicare for all as single payer healthcare is another. More Keynesian economics but paying back the debt in times of high tax receipts. Free undergraduate education. An increase in taxes on those who benefited most from the deficit spending of Reagan onward. Taxed assets? A new CCCC at minimum wage for those who can't find work despite government services? Infrastructure investments. More NASA investments.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    Not a bad book per se. It’s not a “nuts and bolts” biography like Jean Edward Smith’s but highlights many of the political dilemmas faces by FDR and helps the reader appreciate the many issues he was dealing with. Imagine not only dealing with the Great Depression but trying to save democratic government in the US since many felt democracy had failed and fascism or communism would be a better system. Then throw a growing European War in for good measure. And then Japan! Dallek’s flaw is not his Not a bad book per se. It’s not a “nuts and bolts” biography like Jean Edward Smith’s but highlights many of the political dilemmas faces by FDR and helps the reader appreciate the many issues he was dealing with. Imagine not only dealing with the Great Depression but trying to save democratic government in the US since many felt democracy had failed and fascism or communism would be a better system. Then throw a growing European War in for good measure. And then Japan! Dallek’s flaw is not his skill as a historian, but his writing. Such an amazing story as FDR’s life needs more emotion to grab the empathy of the reader to really feel what this man went through. For that the best remains No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    Dallek, who has written impressive biographies of LBJ and JFK, here tackles THE giant of the 20th century presidency: FDR. There are so many aspects to the life and times of Franklin Roosevelt that condensing his life to one volume necessitates leaving out huge chunks. While this is a political biography, Dallek does a decent job of weaving FDR's personal life and habits into the story, in particular his close relationship with Daisy Suckley. Dallek does not appear to have consulted a multitude Dallek, who has written impressive biographies of LBJ and JFK, here tackles THE giant of the 20th century presidency: FDR. There are so many aspects to the life and times of Franklin Roosevelt that condensing his life to one volume necessitates leaving out huge chunks. While this is a political biography, Dallek does a decent job of weaving FDR's personal life and habits into the story, in particular his close relationship with Daisy Suckley. Dallek does not appear to have consulted a multitude of primary sources, providing instead a synthesis of previous books about FDR. Still, this is a good, solid one-volume biography of Roosevelt and takes its place alongside many other excellent books about FDR.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sai Vogirala

    Often history books tend to be drowned by countless facts. History isn't merely about dates, people, locations and events. Rather it is how all these elements interact with each other to create a comprehensive STORY. Robert Dallek does a phenomenal job off weaving together various aspects of FDR's life to create a truly engaging book. There are some critics who feel that this book glorifies FDR too much and is written by a FDR "fanboy". I would disagree with this critique. Undoubtedly the author Often history books tend to be drowned by countless facts. History isn't merely about dates, people, locations and events. Rather it is how all these elements interact with each other to create a comprehensive STORY. Robert Dallek does a phenomenal job off weaving together various aspects of FDR's life to create a truly engaging book. There are some critics who feel that this book glorifies FDR too much and is written by a FDR "fanboy". I would disagree with this critique. Undoubtedly the author has much praise for FDR and his leadership. However, he does make sure to highlight FDR's shortcomings(no president is perfect) like his inaction towards civil rights issues at the time. I've truly enjoyed Dallek's writing style and I hope to read more of his writing in the future.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jeff J.

    Historian Robert Dallek’s latest doorstop of a biography focuses on President Franklin Roosevelt. The subtitle of the book is appropriate - not only does the book focus on his time in Government, it also makes abundantly clear that Roosevelt was a political animal. The New Deal was inspired less by humanistic concerns and more as a political calculation. I do take exception to Dallek’s assertion that Roosevelt was one of our three “greatest” presidents. To his credit he did win four presidential Historian Robert Dallek’s latest doorstop of a biography focuses on President Franklin Roosevelt. The subtitle of the book is appropriate - not only does the book focus on his time in Government, it also makes abundantly clear that Roosevelt was a political animal. The New Deal was inspired less by humanistic concerns and more as a political calculation. I do take exception to Dallek’s assertion that Roosevelt was one of our three “greatest” presidents. To his credit he did win four presidential elections, but I prefer the word “consequential” - seventy years later and we’re still dealing with the excesses of the New Deal and the consequent welfare state.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Engle

    With his focus squarely on the political aspects of Roosevelt's biography, this author reveals a dynamic facet of his subject ... quotes opinion polls, campaign rhetoric, newspaper critics, and fireside chats, giving substance to the author's view of Roosevelt ... goes into depth over the artistry exhibited by Roosevelt as an adroit political animal ... a welcome addition to the literature on this most fascinating of Presidents ...

  28. 4 out of 5

    Bob Miller

    Elegantly written, he is fair and judicious with a subject he clearly admires. Dallek examines the highs and lows of the longest presidential administration in our nation's history. Roosevelt was far from flawless, according to Dallek, yet few presidents have shown such dedication to public service and stewardship as did FDR. A great read for anyone interested in those times, because they still resonate today.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Hari

    An enjoyable book. Many new things about the life of FDR that I have not known before. It is interesting that he can achieve many great things and become a great president even though he seems to be not very idealistic and sometimes being quite a coward against public opinion (Antisemitism, Racism, etc ...). But maybe he just knew not to let the best to be the enemy of the good. Even now, those things are real problems that are hard to fight.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Robin Case

    What a disappointment. I was looking forward to a good biography on Franklin Roosevelt. This is not it. This is more like thick propaganda spread on a plate of narcissism. It looks like one book is just not enough to do an FDR biography properly. Not recommended. Sad. I really wanted to like this book.

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