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  • FDR
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VINE VOICEon 12 October 2014
This is a thorough and eminently readable biography of one of the giants of twentieth-century politics. Before reading this, I knew a little about FDR, gleaned through biographies and other texts on WW2. This book doesn't require a huge amount of prior knowledge, and explains background in concise, clear detail. It's clear that Smith has a great deal of respect for FDR, and overall it's a very positive presentation of his life and presidency. However, it's not uncritical; certain decisions, particularly ill-conceived attempts to influence the Senate or Congress are deconstructed, and their flaws clearly explained. Particularly interesting is the emphasis on FDR's close circle of family and other confidants; these show a man of loyalty and single-mindedness, who inspired great devotion from many who knew him closely. The account of the WW2 years is one of the most engaging sections of the book; it portrays a world statesman at the height of his political powers able to convince others, ranging from influential leaders such as Churchill and Stalin, to the general populace, of his views and methods. His declining health is movingly described, and the book ends rather abruptly with his death. It is perhaps a pity that there is no detail given on his funeral, for instance, and no attempt at summing up his life and influence. Overall, though, biography at its best - thorough and engaging.
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on 19 May 2009
This is the book Obama was reading before taking office and you can see why. FDR is a giant in American history and politics, brokering the New Deal and steering the USA during the terrors of WWII. Smith conveys the pros and cons of the man with fairness and objectivity. Its never overly sentimental and presents FDR as he was: a flawed but great man. A triumph, as FDR is not an easy subject on which to write.
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on 7 September 2012
This is NOT the book for someone who wants a quick summary of FDR's life and achievements. But if you're really interested in his life and work this is a terrific read. It's also a properly annotated book with extensive bibliography and additional notes for those who want to research further. It's also well written and captures the spirit of the man who was arguably the greatest President America ever had.
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on 22 May 2015
I did not think l would like this book as l had little interest in the man or the era. But l was at once absorbed
into this fascinating story of a man who rode his luck and connections. But he was also a great politician, a smart
operator on many levels and a great reader of others. His relationship with Churchill is particularly well drawn
and gives a real insight into the power-broking which went on around these great men and Stalin. If l have a
criticism it is that it all seems a bit rushed at the end, as if his decline and death were almost an afterthought.
No do you get much, if any, of what went on with Truman - maybe the answer is, as with many VPs, not much!
Well written, well paced and well researched l would recommend anyone, even those with passing interest to
dip into this life of the only man to be elected President three times.
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I'm such a big fan of Teddy Roosevelt that for me FDR has always been 'the other Roosevelt' - although I'm very aware for most people the Roosevelts are very much reversed and Teddy is the other lesser Roosevelt. It's no coincidence, after all, that FDR is generally ranked in the top five of all America's presidents.

American often seems quite fortunate in its Presidents; when the situation is really desperate the right man seems to present himself. They were fortunate indeed with Washington during the Revolution, with Lincoln during the Civil War, and with FDR during the Depression and Second World War. Of course, it's easy to say such things with the benefit of hindsight, and very much an academic exercise in historical what-ifs to wonder how the war might have progressed with another man at the helm, or how the Depression might have deepened. And it's impossible to say how much was the situation and how much was the man.

That said, it cannot be denied that Roosevelt faced more in his four terms as President that most of his predecessors. Pulling the country out of the Depression alone would have ranked as a great achievement; that he used the occasion to propel the country on an almost-revolutionary path of welfare, social security, banking reform, government spending - the legacies of which are still felt to this day. It was FDR who pulled the Democrats from their reactionary, racist Southern roots and made it the party of the common man, the party of the poor, the down-trodden, the excluded - an almost complete U-turn. It was because of FDR that African-Americans abandoned the Republic party, the party of Lincoln, and they've never gone back since.

And it was FDR who did all he could to help the Allies short of joining the war, well aware that the attitude of the American people was not ready for war yet. The Lend-Lease Act gave an almost-bankrupt Britain the means to continue fighting, and the knowledge that he had a kindred spirit in the White House gave Churchill the morale to keep the country fighting. And once the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour FDR was secure enough not to interfere with his military chiefs, to appoint the right men for the task, men like Eisenhower, and let them do their jobs.

My own criticism of this biography is that I never once felt like it revealed anything new about Roosevelt. I never felt that it got under his skin or explored his thoughts and feelings in any great depth. His family is little touched upon beyond his early years, and his fascinating relationship with Eleanor is little-plumbed. As a recital of Roosevelt's actions as a politician and President it is an excellent biography, but I can't say I've come away from it with any greater understanding of the man.
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on 27 September 2013
Just finished this fine biography and found it a very compelling read. J.E. Smith has the ability to make drying paint sound interesting and F.D Roosevelt like other brilliant politicians spent a lot of time in a mundane environment dealing with humdrum issues and disputes.
This makes for a comprehensive study of the great man without the pain.
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on 27 March 2013
I purchased this book to gain a more detailed insight into the person, life, politics and career of Franklin D. Roosevelt former President of the United States of America. You will get no better resource.
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on 27 November 2012
Very interesting and enjoyable read not heavy reading either. Only shame that it ends rather abrubtly. No one can challenge him.
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on 8 March 2013
There was a load of hoo-hah when Obama got elected due to the colour of his skin. They are ahead of us Brits on that one. Same for disability. President Roosevelt got himself elected over 80 years ago from a wheelchair, and hardly anybody noticed.

Those were the days. Of course they didn't have 24 hour 'news' following everybody everywhere up to and including bathroom back then, but still the lack of vast libraries of photos showing a man in a wheelchair must be a staggering achievement.

I suppose coming from a privileged background might have helped, as did having another president in the family (albeit a looney one), but its hard to imagine it being repeated even now. So have we really advanced that much?

The book ends a bit abruptly. Biographies always have sad endings, ie the subject dies. But this chap died on 12 April 1945, less than a month before his nemesis Hitler died and the war ended. So a bit of continuity would not have been amiss. But a good read for all that.
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on 18 April 2015
Excellent up until FDR's death. Nothing said about family reaction or the nation's really. Would have been interesting to have learnt a little bit more hence the four instead of five stars.
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