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The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope Hardcover – May 2, 2006

4.3 out of 5 stars 125 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Newsweek senior editor Alter attempts to explore FDR's famous first "hundred days" in office, when the president laid the foundation for national recovery from the Great Depression. Eventually, Alter succeeds in providing a brief consideration of those key months. But exposition dominates: the early chapters recite Roosevelt's biography up until his White House candidacy (the well-known tale of privilege, marriage, adultery and polio). Then Alter chronicles the 1932 election and explores the postelection transition. Only about 130 pages deal with the 100 days commencing March [4], 1933, that the title calls FDR's "defining moment." Alter attaches much weight to a few throwaway phrases in a thrown-away draft of an early presidential speech—one that could, through a particular set of glasses, appear to show FDR giving serious consideration to adopting martial law in response to the monetary crisis. Despite this, Alter goes on to document FDR's early programs, pronouncements and maneuvers with succinct accuracy. The book, however, contains misstatements of historical detail (Alter suggests, for instance, that it was Theodore Roosevelt, rather than Ted Jr., who served as a founder of the American Legion). (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

The Chicago Tribune admires Newsweek senior editor Jonathan Alter's "chutzpah" in taking up the well-worn subject of FDR's presidency. Critics claim that Alter supports his major "breakthrough"—that FDR toyed with martial law—with the flimsiest of evidence: an early draft of his inaugural address. Alter is not a historian, as evidenced by some factual errors and elision, but what some critics describe as his sloppy research is overshadowed by a compelling portrait of the backroom Roosevelt, the one making deals and restoring the ideals of American democracy.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (May 2, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743246004
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743246002
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.3 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (125 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #432,615 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Jonathan Alter (b. 1957, Chicago, Illinois) is an author, journalist,and television commentator. Since 1983, he has been a correspondent and columnist for Newsweek. He is also an analyst for NBC News and MSNBC, where he appears three or four times a week.

Alter is the author of "The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope" (2006), a national bestseller, and "The Promise: President Obama, Year One" (2010), which went to number 4 on the New York Times Bestseller List and was named one of the 100 "Notable Books of the Year" by the Times. He is also the author of "Between the Lines: A View Inside American Politics, Media and Culture" (2008), a collection of his Newsweek columns. He currently serves as the co-executive producer, with Garry Trudeau, of the Amazon original program Alpha House, starring John Goodman, Mark Consuelos. He lives in Montclair, New Jersey with his wife, Emily Lazar, a producer for "The Colbert Report," and their three children, Charlotte, Tommy and Molly.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The picture Alter paints of the United States on March 5,1933 as FDR is about to make his First Inaugural is truly frightening. It is a country in which banks are closing in which there is rampant and growing unemployment, a country which has lost confidence in itself, in the institutions of democracy and its leaders. And therefore there are many including the most influential columnist of the time Walter Lippman who are contemplating the need for dictatorship.

Alter arrestingly describes how at this moment FDR prepared himself to take power. He had rejected a Hoover offer to undertake 'joint emergency' measures in the interim between his election and his taking office. He understood that drastic reform measures must be taken. In the course of his Inaugural the famous " The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" Roosevelt begins the dramatic action which will rescue American democracy.

Alter carefuly describes the the seven and a half months between Franklin D. Roosevelt's election as president and the end of the special session of Congress that quickly became known as the "Hundred Days.He describes the background of Roosevelt and how he was groomed for political greatness. And he too provides a dramatic and moving understanding of how Roosevelt won the hearts of the American people.

This is a riveting read, and most highly recommended.

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Format: Hardcover
Pros of this book - Contrary to some other reviews, this book is not particularly about politics and more about FDR's personality and leadership, and how he got (or sometimes did not) get things done. The author does the best old journalistic try to try not to directly appeal to blue or red staters, kudos to him (the frequent references to Reagan I'm sure do not hurt). I also learned quite a bit about the 1932 -1933 banking crisis, this book is quite informational with those pages.

Cons - The pre-1932 chronology is sometimes interesting but does not contribute substantially to the "Hundred Days" story. It is a bit misleading to have a book about the hundred days but have less than half the book deal with the particular subject. The author also puts a lot of emphasis on a discarded draft of the inauguration speech that had the US shift into more of an authoritarian mode. Nobody knows how seriously the FDR administration took that draft. As mentioned in a couple of other reviews, there are a few minor factual errors (matching names of politicians to states) that are not fatal but annoying.

I still think this book is worth reading, but it is only a contributing text to the FDR legacy, not a definining text. A better book would focus more on policies, less on personality, and consistently use more sophisticated language (in parts I felt like I was reading a long Newsweek article).
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Format: Hardcover
There are countless books on the most influential president of the 20th century : Franklin D. Roosevelt who guided America through the Great Depression and World War II. Geoffrey Ward's two volume study (1985 & 1989) of the pre-presidential Roosevelt focus upon the man while Conrad Black's "FDR : Champion of Freedom" (2003) is a 1000+ page political biography. Now Mr. Alter does a more focus study of the famous first 100 Days of his presidency in 1933 (and from which all future presidents are measured).

Mr. Alter assumes that the reader has no prior knowledge of FDR and the first half of the book re-visits familiar biographical territory of FDR's first 50 years. This is a prologue to his discussion of the 100 Days when FDR and his staff improvised legislation proposals on failing banks, failing farms, unemployment (hovering at 25%), etc. for passage by the Congress. The author is a skilled storyteller who will hold the reader's interest for a drama that unfolded over 70 years ago. "The Defining Moment" is an excellent introduction to the historical moment that FDR turned into legend.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As I first started to read this book, my initial emotion was frustration - frustration that I had selected a book that I thought was about the first Hundred Days of FDR's administration but instead was a biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

As I continued through the book, I became more & more upset - I wasn't really learning anything about the Hundred Days. My frustration reached its climax when I finished reading the first 200 pages and FDR hadn't even been inaugurated into office as the 32nd President yet.

Yet my frustration quelled over the last 150 pages of the book. I enjoyed the way Alter described FDR's Presidency, and how those hundred days (and the next 4000+ days) really were a triumph of hope for people. Franklin Roosevelt, the man, took (as Alter put it) the "dying ember" of hope and transmutated it into a brilliant, glowing fire showcasing the American spirit and the desire to rebound from the depths of the Great Depression.

Alter explains how the formulation of such important "alphabet soup" agencies as the CCC, the TVA, and the NRA were critical to FDR leading the people of America back to their belief that America would survive, America could do it, and America will prosper despite the economic turbulence.

"The Defining Moment" is not an accurate title - Roosevelt's life was brief, but this book encompasses about 80% of his life (in as much detail as can be given in an almost 350 page narrative). There was no "defining moment" spelled out in this book - Alter needed to spend more time explaining the true significance of the first hundred days and less time delving into the biographical details of his subjects' early years.
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