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53 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Political Biography of a Great President
I recently had occasion to re-read James MacGregor Burns's marvelous Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox and was deeply impressed by how well its has withstood the test of time. The early paperback edition of this book, which was originally published in 1956 and covers the period from 1882 until 1940, characterized it as the "first political biography of Franklin Delano...
Published on April 4, 2001 by Steven S. Berizzi

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too much fact, not enough feeling
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was arguably the greatest president of the United States during the twentieth century. I'm guessing that if most historians didn't rank him as the best, they probably would have him listed in their top three. Sadly, after reading this book by James MacGregor Burns, you would have never known that.

First, let me confess that there are...
Published 5 months ago by Clem


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53 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Political Biography of a Great President, April 4, 2001
I recently had occasion to re-read James MacGregor Burns's marvelous Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox and was deeply impressed by how well its has withstood the test of time. The early paperback edition of this book, which was originally published in 1956 and covers the period from 1882 until 1940, characterized it as the "first political biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt," and it continues to be the authoritative study of Roosevelt's preparation for and then conduct of his first two terms as president, when domestic affairs demanded most of his attention. This remains a wonderful book about this country's greatest politician of the 20th century, and it also offers many penetrating insights into the American political system.
Burns's treatment of Roosevelt is comprehensive, "[treating] much of [Roosevelt's] personal as well as his public life, because a great politician's career remorselessly sucks everything into its vortex." Roosevelt was the only child of a member of the upstate New York landed gentry, and he could have led a life of leisure. Instead, he was sent to Groton School in Massachusetts, where the headmaster, according to Burns, "made much of his eagerness to educate his boys for political leadership." Roosevelt completed his formal education at Harvard College and Columbia University Law School. Burns writes that Roosevelt's first elective office, as a New York State Senator was a "political education," and he became a "Young Lion" in Albany. Roosevelt served as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in Washington, D.C., during World War I and was the candidate for Vice President on the Democrat Party's unsuccessful ticket in 1920. In 1921, Roosevelt was stricken with polio, and the crippling disease would have ended the public career of a less ambitious and determined man. Instead, he continued to work hard at politics, was elected Governor of New York in 1928 and then President in 1932. This was just the beginning of a remarkable career in high office.
Burns makes clear that Roosevelt was a progressive in the tradition of Woodrow Wilson but was without strong ideas or a specific agenda. According to Burns: "The presidency, Roosevelt said shortly after his election, `is preeminently a place of moral leadership.'" Retired Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes offered this cutting assessment: "A second -class intellect, but a first-class temperament." Action to combat the depression was necessary to restore public confidence in government, and the first Hundred Days of Roosevelt's first term was one of the great periods of legislative achievement in American history. Burns writes: "Roosevelt was following no master program." However, in Burns's view: "The classic test of greatness in the White House has been the chief executive's capacity to lead Congress." According to that test, Roosevelt was a great president. Burns writes that, "[i]n his first two years in office Roosevelt achieved to a remarkable degree the exalted position of being President of all the people." Burns explains: "A remarkable aspect of the New Deal was the sweep and variety of the groups it helped."
As early as 1934, however, organized conservative opposition to the New Deal was forming. (A newspaper cartoon reprinted here shows a figure identified as the Republican Party holding a sign stating: "Roosevelt is a Red!") Roosevelt was increasingly attacked as a traitor to his class, but a large measure of his genius was his ability to hold the more extreme elements of the New Deal in check. Roosevelt's political skills were tested in every way. For instance, Burns writes that Senator Robert Wagner's National Labor Relations Act, which proposed to"[vest] massive economic and political power in organized labor" "was the most radical legislation passed during the New Deal." According to Burns, Roosevelt's initial reaction to the bill was "invariably cool or evasive," and the president, with what Burns describes as "typical Rooseveltian agility," announced his support for the bill only after its passage was certain. Burns demonstrates that Roosevelt's support, both in Congress and among the public, gradually eroded in the late 1930s, but he was, of course, elected again in 1940 and 1944. Roosevelt's nomination in 1940 was especially skillful. Many in his own party favored maintaining the tradition of limiting presidents to two terms, and Democratic Party leaders lined up in the hope of succeeding Roosevelt. Roosevelt outfoxed all of them and was elected to his historic third term.
I believe it is fair to say that Burns admires Roosevelt, but this book is not a whitewash. Burns candidly writes about Roosevelt's "deviousness." And the author is appropriately critical of Roosevelt's attempt to "pack" the Supreme Court following his overwhelming re-election in 1936. However, in my opinion, these instances simply are proof of the truism that great men are not always good men. Burns took the subtitle of this book from the Italian Renaissance political philosopher Machiavelli's dictum that a political leader must be strong like a lion and shrewd like a fox. Franklin D. Roosevelt was both, and that made him a great president. This is a great political biography of that great president
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Decidedly Insightful, March 16, 2000
Gives a fantastic account of FDR from his privileged childhood and days at Groton, to his harsh induction into the world of politics; the skill at which he maneuvered the political currents to the New York Capital in Albany, and ultimately the White House. Once there Burns gives an account of passionate dedication to the American people, both during the Depression and WWII, that most likely was not seen since Lincoln. A must for anyone's Presidential Biographical collection.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Title Says It All, August 29, 2000
FDR was perhaps the craftiest politician to occupy the White House since Lincoln. The Title, "...Lion and the Fox" is an allusion to Machiavelli's dictum that one must be stouthearted like a lion and crafty like a fox. FDR combined these qualities to achieve political mastery of his time.
This book focus on his life up to the start of WWII. It paints a thorough life portrait of the president and illustrates the events and experiences that shaped this master politician. Although enjoying congressional majorities like no other president (that certainly aided the implementation of his program), FDR had to over come the reluctance of both GOP and Democrat conservatives to rework the federal government into the active economic and social player it is today. McGreggor's book explains how FDR the man made the New Deal possible.
This is a well written book that gives evidence of being thoroughly researched. For anyone interested in presidential history, I'd recommend this book.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A MUST for FDR fans!, March 18, 1997
By A Customer
This is the best account of pre-WWII FDR that has been
written. Burns combines established facts with a commentary
that examines the 32nd President's possible psychological
views on issues. From major decisions during the New Deal
to relationships with Eleanor and staff members, Burns
paints an objective picture of FDR. The picture is neither
rosy nor clouded, but is an intimate portrait of the longest-
serving President in American history.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Good Political Biography, January 20, 2008
By 
James Gallen (St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A.) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This first of a two volume biography of FDR gives the reader an excellent introduction to the life of this most significant icon of the Twentieth Century. Although primarily a political biography, Author James MacGregor Burns gives the reader an introduction into the ancestry and early life of FDR.

FDR's education was received in the rarified air of Groton, where he under the tutelage of Rector Endicott Peabody, and Harvard, where he was a "C" student. His mother, Sara, moved to Boston to be near him during his time at Harvard, much like Douglas MacArthur's mother during his time at West Point. Formal education was completed at Columbia Law School, preparatory to his brief legal practice.

Roosevelt's life in the Democratic Party began with a call to run for the state senate in 1910. His position as a reformer made him an opponent of Tammany Hall. Over time he learned to retain his reform image while learning to work with the machine. His rise was not uninterrupted, as his 1914 attempts to run first for governor and then the US Senate were unsuccessful. His service as Undersecretary of the Navy in the Wilson Administration advanced his renown so that he was nominated for vice-president in 1920.

FDR's promising career was nearly brought to an end in 1921 by polio during a visit to the family cottage on Campobello Island. Burns tells the story of his convalescence and rehabilitation, culminating in his appearance at the 1924 National Convention to nominate Al Smith "The Happy Warrior".

Although 1924 brought crushing defeat to the Democrats, it was the start back for Roosevelt. Smith's presidential nomination in 1928 opened the governor's office for FDR who, in another Republican year, won a narrow victory, followed by a landslide in 1930. As governor he initially had to deal with a Republican legislature over issues involving the budget, electrical power and the balance between reform and Tammany. The advent of the depression brought with it new challenges of state solvency amidst rising needs.

1932 found Roosevelt as the leading Democrat in the nation, although his road to the nomination was rocky and by no means certain, with challenges from John Nance Garner, who would be placated with the vice-presidential nomination, and William McAdoo.

With election election, Roosevelt started to assume responsibility for the affairs of the nation. One of his most questionable periods was during the pre-inauguration time. As Hoover attempted to respond to the worsening economic crisis, his calls for joint action were rebuffed by the president-elect. Burns skillfully addresses the issue both from the perspectives of Roosevelt's willingness to let conditions worsen and the need to retain his own ability to act.

The main part of the story begins with FDR's first presidential inauguration in 1933 which started the fabled "First 100 Days", during which the Roosevelt magic was unchallenged. His proposals were passed with little or no opposition. With blurring speed, Congress passed the CCC, agricultural aid, states grants for unemployment relief, federal supervision of securities and railroads, the TVA, relief of mortgage debts and the start of the National Industrial Recovery Act.

Later in the year some opposition arose. One defeated measure was the St. Lawrence Seaway, which had to await the Eisenhower administration. The diplomatic recognition of the USSR and the economic downturn weakened FDR's position. Through 1934 conservative opposition held back administration measures, which led FDR to interfere in the congressional elections, not always in support of Democrats. 1935 saw a series of Supreme Court rulings which struck down New Deal measures, setting up the 1936 elections as a referendum on the New Deal. As hard as it is to believe now, the race against Gov. Alf Landon was expected to be very close. Although not officially campaigning, Roosevelt made the most of inspection tours.

The landside win in 1936 emboldened FDR to undertake his boldest initiative, the packing of the Supreme Court in order to obtain a majority which would let New Deal measures stand. Roosevelt approached the issue in total secrecy. The unveiling of his plan set off a firestorm of opposition, including much from traditional administration allies. In this he suffered his greatest defeat, mitigated only by a change which made packing unnecessary.

After the defeat of the Court packing bill, the second term was a period of mixed successes and failures, which did little to change the overall trend of events. In 1938 Roosevelt attempted, with little success, a purge of Congressional opponents. Through this term, he was hampered by the active opposition of his vice-president, John Nance Garner, a situation unlikely to exist today.

As the second term progressed, the focus shifted from domestic depression to the worsening foreign situation. This book does a good job in showing the reader how Roosevelt gradually turned the ship of state into the rising foreign headwinds.

The final drama of the second term was Roosevelt as Sphinx, leaving everyone guessing whether he would run for a third term or not. Ultimately, conceding that he could not turn down the call of the people, his nomination was assured and his transition to a war time leader continued.

Focusing on the political career of FDR, little attention is directed to his personal life, so one must look elsewhere for his relationship with Eleanor and his family. Burns skillfully presents a balanced approach of Roosevelt's career, explaining both the successes and the failures. He helps the reader understand the distinction between FDR's personal successes and the success of the Democratic Party. Neither an uncritical paean nor a hatched job, the book provides the reader with the facts of FDR's actions from his time in the New York Senate through his first eight years in the White House, with an epilogue so as not to leave the reading hanging pending the reading of the second volume. The FDR saga justifies the book and the book justifies the reading.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unequalled In Its Appraisal of FDR, June 2, 2011
James MacGregor Burns's Roosevelt: The Lion And The Fox, although published in 1956, is still, in this reader's estimation the indispensable book about FDR. I first read it soon after publication and I have, in 2011, reread it. It is not a standard, narrative biography. Rather it is an analytical, multidimensional sociopolitical biography--a study in political leadership in the American democracy. Nor is it uncritical: along with kudos it awards FDR brickbats as well.

FDR was a complex man--an American aristocrat who left the nineteenth century behind, adapted to the rush of the twentieth century when many of his contemporaries, particularly those of his class, did not. His boundless interest in people, his demotic ways, his unyielding belief that government has an active responsibility for ensuring the general welfare, and, perhaps most important, his boundlessly buoyant personality, made him the lodestar of American political life through an unprecedented four elections.

Burns raises the question whether FDR should be numbered among the "great" presidents. He examines this question thoroughly, giving appropriate weight to FDR's strengths and limitations (e.g. his inability to commit wholly to any discipline or mode of operation) before concluding that such a question, possibly irrelevant anyway, can be answered only by evaluating Roosevelt in the context of his time--at which point Burns frames the "lineaments" of greatness that FDR embodied.

Withal, Burns provides a framework for evaluating presidential leadership, differentiating between those presidents who played with only the hand they were dealt and those few who helped themselves to new cards and, thereby, moved the national conversation forward. Employing this framework provides continuing, contemporary illumination.

Roosevelt is both absorbing and moving. Burns's description of election night 1940, when FDR would either be retired by the electorate or win an unprecedented third term in the face of the gathering worldwide storm brought me to tears.

There are many good biographies of FDR. Happily conceding that, to this reader, Roosevelt: The Lion And The Fox, 55 years after its publication, seems both the sine qua non and the ne plus ultra.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars HIGHLY RECOMMENDED, July 10, 2013
By 
Alan L (Flower Mound, Texas, United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox (1882-1940) (Kindle Edition)
This is the best biography of Roosevelt (Vol 1 and Vol 2)--remarkable writing and remarkable insights. If you like historical biographies, you will love this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read. Looking forward to volume 2., December 19, 2012
By 
Barrie Lax "Bar." (Ottawa, On. Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox (1882-1940) (Kindle Edition)
Enjoyed the book ... a solidly researched great read.
Looking forward to reading the concluding volume..
I know I am going to be sorry when I finish the last chapter.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Biography of a Complex Man and Statesman, September 1, 2011
By 
Whetstone Guy (Montgomery Village, MD) - See all my reviews
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Tht title says it all. It is a quick read and should be the first book to read on FDR.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Still Unsurpassed in FDR Field, March 18, 2014
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Burns' in-depth study of FDR & his presidency remains a definitive classic among the millions of words written by others. A must for those interested in this complex political giant.
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