The fifth volume of Kenneth S. Davis's magisterial, much-praised biography follows FDR from his re-election to an unprecedented third term in November 1940 through New Year's Eve, 1942, when he screened a brand-new film, Casablanca
, at the White House. During the intervening 25 months, President Roosevelt prepared a reluctant nation for the war that he knew was coming, then struggled to maintain the government's commitment to his New Deal social programs, as well as the conflict overseas. Like its predecessors, this installment combines shrewd, intimate psychological insights into Roosevelt's character with a sweeping historical narrative of world events and a superbly detailed account of Washington political maneuvers--all three laid out in grave, elegant prose. Perhaps Davis's most notable achievement lies in tracing the links between FDR's personality and his leadership style: the unexpected benefits of his maddening indecisiveness, his ability to use even his crippling physical handicap to political advantage, the way in which the adult president cemented personal and professional ties with the evasive charm that he developed in adolescence to defend himself against a smothering mother. Admirers of serious yet accessible biography can regret only that the author's death in 1999 means that there will be no concluding volume to this magnificent series, which has shed so much light on one of the more complex men ever to inhabit the White House. --Wendy Smith
From Publishers Weekly
Davis, who died in June 1999, was in his usual excellent form with this last book in his critically acclaimed, five-volume portrait of the man many consider our greatest 20th-century president. We can probably blame Davis's untimely end for an untimely conclusion to this volume, which wraps up its narrative in December 1942 (a year and a half before D-Day) rather than with FDR's death in April 1945, shortly before the close of the war. That excusable flaw aside, his account is brilliant and engrossing in its vibrant and carefully researched portraits of Roosevelt as war politician, diplomat and commander-in-chief. Davis skillfully narrates Roosevelt's subtle diplomacy (both domestic and foreign) before Pearl Harbor, when the president did an end run around isolationists by orchestrating what Davis describes as a "guided drift toward war." Later, Davis lets readers sit beside the commander-in-chief as he directs the movement of ships and men that resulted in the Battles of the Coral Sea and Midway (May and June 1942, respectively), the long siege at Guadalcanal (August through December 1942) and the success of the invasion of French North Africa (Operation Torch) in November of '42. The narrative is similarly adept in its profiles of FDR's closest wartime associatesDMorgenthau, Stimson and Hopkins among them. In the end, however, one inevitably leaves this splendid book wishing for more and for a proper conclusion, and wishing as well that Davis had been granted the time to give it to us. (Nov.)
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