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A First-Class Temperament: The Emergence of Franklin Roosevelt, 1905-1928 Paperback – 9 Sep 2014
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"Definitive for our time." --The Boston Globe"An incomparable study . . . immensely informative about Roosevelt's meteoric public career but also refreshingly honest about a private life that was both spacious and constricted."--The New York Times Book Review
"Ward's sensitive biography avoids easy judgments . . . With an empathy heightened by a shared physical disability, Ward depicts, in extraordinary and moving detail, the ways a lifetime battle against polio affected Roosevelt . . . a beautiful story, beautifully told."--Los Angeles Times
"Every American knows the story in its outline, but this remarkable book tells it with fresh materials, fresh insights and fresh power--a splendid and moving achievement."--Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. "A brilliant portrait of 'the great man' in the making."--David McCullough, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of John Adams
About the Author
Geoffrey C. Ward is the coauthor of The Civil War (with Ken Burns and Ric Burns), and the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Francis Parkman Prize. He lives in New York City.
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If Before the Trumpet details those influences that made FDR the man he became, A First Class Temperament covers those factors in his life that made him one of our most influential leaders. The key events in A First Class Temperament include his early forays into politics, his desire to follow in the footsteps of his distant cousin Teddy Roosevelt, and his battles with Tammany Hall. Quite a bit of time is dedicated to his stint as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the Woodrow Wilson administration. During this time, Eleanor Roosevelt discovered the infidelity of her husband with her social secretary, Lucy Mercer. This event caused a change in the dynamics of their marriage and allowed Eleanor more freedom to take on the causes that were important to her. During the years covered, FDR will meet many individuals who will play an important part in his administration including Louis Howe, Frances Perkins and Marguerite LeHand. And then there is his contracting polio and his unsuccessful fight of many years to fully recover. This not only made Roosevelt a different man, but again, it helped push Eleanor to become more independent and more politically active.
One aspect of Roosevelt's life that I found particularly interesting was his time spent as Assistant Secretary of the Navy. I always thought that Roosevelt looked down his patrician nose at Naval Secretary, Josephus Daniels. FDR thought that the North Carolina newspaper editor was a bit of a country bumpkin. Yet Ward shows us that although Daniels had no naval experiences, he was shrewd when it came to the DC political game and he had much to teach his young charge. “Years of political experience had taught the older man the ways and means with which to deal effectively with Congress; he spent much of his time as Secretary on the Hill, doing the sort of amiable, indispensable lobbying on the Navy's behalf that the impatient, impulsive younger man would then have found impossible.” Daniels gave us young assistant many lessons in dealing with Congress, admirals, and big business. It was also compelling to read about his struggle against polio. This often debilitating disease turned him from “a spoiled, self-absorbed youth cut short by an illness whose searing impact somehow transformed its victim into a thoughtful and compassionate leader.” This change gave him the empathy to deal with those less fortunate and was a important lesson leading up to the Great Depression.
I was privileged to see Geoffrey C. Ward not too long ago for an author talk with Ken Burns, promoting their mini-series, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. Ward spoke of the steady stream of questions that people ask him about when he is going to finish his biographical work on FDR. His answer was that the mini-series and companion book are the ending. For our sake, I hope not! I don't think that anybody has done FDR better than Geoffrey C. Ward.
The book covers in great depth and colorful anecdotal reportage the following seminal events in FDR s rise from the son of a Hudson River squire to the governorship of New York in 1928.
1. Franklin weds Eleanor and the couple sail for an extended honeymoon in Europe.
2. Franklin takes classes at the Columbia Law School leaving without a legal degree.
3. Franklin becomes an attorney at an important New York City law firm but does not like practicing law.
4. Franklin wins two terms to the New York State Assembly. The family lives in Albany, Hyde Park, New York City and vacations in Campobello Island in Canada.
5. FDR is named and serves as the Assistant Secretary to the Naval Secretary Josephus Daniels in the Woodrow Wilson administration from
1912-20. He loses a bid for Senator from New York. FDR visits Europe twice during the Great War.
6. FDR runs for Vice-President of the United States in 1920 but the Cox-Roosevelt ticket is trounced by Warren Harding s victory
7. FDR suffers polio in 1921 which makes him handicapped for life. He is guided back to a public life at the urging of his assistant Louis Howe
Eleanor and his mother Sarah help him recover emotionally and physically from this traumatic illness.
8. The book ends with FDR winning the race for Governor of New York in 1928.
These facts are the barebones of this incredible book! Ward is the award winning historian who labors with filmmaker Ken Burns on many programs which illuminate the American past. Their latest collaboration has been the amazing seven part series on the Roosevelt family which aired on PBS. FDR adored his fifth cousin Theodore Roosevelt and followed in his career footsteps on his way to the presidency. Like Teddy the younger Roosevelt served as a legislator in Albany, assistant secretary of the United States Navy, Governor of New York state and a graduate of Harvard. FDR never served in uniform though he did try to join the Navy in World War I.
Eleanor grew from an ugly duckling to the most famous woman in the world. She learned of FDR s affair with Lucy Mercer while living in Washington during the Navy Years. She continued to support FDR but their intimacy was ended by the affair. She gave birth to six children and loved them deeply. Eleanor was a deeply complex person Eleanor (called Babs by FDR who loved her in his own manner) learned to hold her own with Sarah her formidable mother-in-law and type A husband.
FDR was a sharp political operator who was guided by ambition and the genuine desire to help other less fortunate than he. FDR was an only child guided by his overprotective mother Sarah. His father died in 1900. The family was very rich as were the Republican Roosevelt clan of Teddy Roosevelt living at Oyster Bay. It is fascinating how Geoffrey C. Ward can tell a page turning story of over 800 small printed pages making them feel like one is reading a superb work of historical fiction. The only caveat I have with the experience of reading this book is the hundreds of informative but hard on old eyes footnotes at the bottom of almost every other page! The biography is based on incredible research being written with love by a fellow sufferer of polio. I hope Ward produces a third volume to finish the inspirational story of Franklin Delano Roosevelt a champion of freedom. A must for anyone interested in the Roosevelt family. One of the best books on FDR ever written!
The young FDR is a surprisingly self-absorbed overconfident young man of patrician originas whose wealthy mother and " grande dame" of Hyde Park never deneid him anything. The emetgence of FDR who becamse President started in some way only after he battled polio and what it had done to his political aspirations. Well written and very informative book about one of our greatest Presidents!