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The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency Hardcover – November 12, 2013


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First edition (November 12, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743265157
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743265157
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.6 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #140,591 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

The basic premise of this book—that Roosevelt’s struggle to overcome polio was a transformative episode in his life—seems undeniable. After all, Roosevelt, a previously vigorous man, never walked unassisted as a result of the disease. But Tobin, an associate professor of journalism at Miami University of Ohio, goes much further than recounting the obvious physical limitation imposed upon Roosevelt. Rather, Tobin convincingly asserts that the struggle to overcome the disease and to resume an active life transformed Roosevelt’s character. It added steel to his personality, led to his appreciation for human suffering, and even added additional fire to his already burning political ambition. Tobin offers very useful context by describing the nature of the polio virus, especially for those too young to recall what a terrifying and devastating malady it was before a vaccine was developed. Roosevelt’s grueling efforts at rehabilitation are described in detail. This is a well-done and informative study of a critical component in the life of a giant in American history. --Jay Freeman

Review

“James Tobin describes, with a crisp narrative sweep, the difficult physical battle that culminated in FDR’s election to the presidency in 1932…the story merits retelling. Mr. Tobin presents it skillfully and with admirable empathy.” (The Wall Street Journal)

“[An] eloquent new history. . . . At a time when every celebrity cough or sniffle is duly blogged, it's fascinating to learn how FDR first suffered and then stage-managed the disability brought on by polio, emerging not as an object of pity but as an exemplar of courage and capability. . . . Tobin tells this story unsentimentally, with a forensic tilt that doesn't dwell on the stereotypical Roosevelt persona. If anything, Tobin suggests that FDR's populist magnetism was largely generated by his disability.” (USA Today)

"Historian James Tobin offers a stirring examination of Franklin D. Roosevelt's strugglewith polio, arguing that Roosevelt 'became president because of polio,' rather than despite it." (Christian Science Monitor, Best 10 Books of December)

“Tobin shows his gifts as a veteran reporter, PhD historian, and biographer in this moving page-turner. … Tobin has a real knack for capturing the essence of the historical figures he’s discussing. Much more than a mere rehashing of this aspect of FDR’s life, the book shows how his response to polio gives us insights into his character and how he would go on to battle the Great Depression and World War II enemies. … Highly recommended.” (Library Journal, Starred Review)

“When FDR said in his first inaugural address that the only thing the American people had to fear was fear itself, he was drawing on his own experience in overcoming the effects of polio. Having pulled himself up from the reality and even more the fear of paralysis, he was prepared for the challenge of leading America’s effort to overcome the paralysis of the Depression. This powerful book offers a vivid account of how Roosevelt’s fight for personal recovery lit his path to the White House. I could hardly put it down.” (James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom)

“Tobin’s balanced and detailed approach offers a well-rounded look at a slice of F.D.R.’s life generally obscured from popular accounts, and it makes for fascinating reading.” (Publishers Weekly, Starred Review)

“In Tobin’s elegant and moving book, the story of FDR’s rise from polio victim to president feels remarkably intimate. The Man He Became reveals the extraordinary inner strength and determination that allowed Roosevelt not just to triumph over a personal tragedy but to inspire an entire nation when it needed it most.” (Candice Millard, author of The River of Doubt)

“Tobin convincingly asserts that the struggle to overcome the disease and to resume an active life transformed Roosevelt’s character. It added steel to his personality, led to his appreciation for human suffering, and even added additional fire to his already burning political ambition…This is a well-done and informative study of a critical component in the life of a giant in American history.” (Booklist)

“It's impossible even to begin to unravel the mystery of FDR without understanding how polio deepened and strengthened him, and brought out the character that was there all along. Tobin's compelling narrative pulls us into the greatest drama of his astonishing life.” (Jonathan Alter, author of The Defining Moment)

“Medical history, physical and psychological stress, and human ambition are the prominent strands in this rich narrative carpet.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“James Tobin is a gifted storyteller. His tale of how FDR overcame polio is human, inspiring, riveting.” (Evan Thomas, author of Ike’s Bluff)

“Over a few terrifying days in the summer of 1921 Franklin Roosevelt lost the use of his legs. As James Tobin shows us in this thoughtful, powerful book, he found something as well: a depth of character, a boundless courage, an indomitable spirit that, in time, would transform the nation. The Man He Became is an extraordinarily important story, brilliantly told.” (Kevin Boyle, author of Arc of Justice)

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Customer Reviews

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This book describe the effects of polio on President Roosevelt as well as his family and friends.
Amazon Customer
Tobin makes a strong case for the idea that FDR's confrontation with polio did much to prepare him to face the challenges of his presidency.
Thomas G. Matowitz Jr.
At 311 pages of text, Tobin for the vast majority of the book is both detailed and efficient in his writing.
Matthew Ries

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Stephen B. Selbst on November 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Jim Tobin's book about how Roosevelt recovered from and transcended polio, and how the disease changed him, is a fascinating and brilliant look at this important chapter of his life. This book has many virtues, starting with its highly readable style; this is history with the pacing of a page-turner, and I mean that in the best possible way. But beyond that, I was impressed both by the depth and the breadth of the work. Tobin does a great job on explaining the transmission and mechanics of poliovirus in language that non-scientists can clearly understand, which is never easy. For that alone, praise is due. But Tobin's book covers so much more ground: Democratic politics in New York and the nation in the 20s and 30s, the beginnings of physiotherapy, and society's responses to crippling disease. Finally, Tobin sketched vivid portraits of Roosevelt's response to the disease, and the people close to him: family, staff and friends, and illuminated the constant tensions among them. A great book.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Ries on November 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Franklin Delano Roosevelt's dream to follow his cousin Theodore to the Presidency seemed to be exactly on course until he was stuck down with polio and appeared to be derailed forever. But as James Tobin recounts in his new book "The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency", Roosevelt's illness and his determination to regain his health and the use of his legs enabled him to make his way to the White House in a quiet unexpected way.

Tobin begins his account at his time period's end with Inauguration Day 1933 following Roosevelt through the ceremonies of the day and how he proceeded to stand up, walk the new way he had learned, and sit down. Then we are taken back to summer 1921 to an athletic and healthy Roosevelt just before he contracted the poliovirus. The contrast is stark and makes the reader want to see how Roosevelt went from the latter to the former, a task that Tobin skillfully chronicles.

Within the recounting of Roosevelt's contraction, illness, recovering, and physical rehabilitation from polio Tobin enlightens readers on a number of issues. The first is the mechanics of the poliovirus and how it became major epidemic disease in the early 20th-century. The second is the societal attitudes towards the disabled in the 1920s and early 1930s that many faced and were amplified when Roosevelt returned to politics. The third was political dynamics that the nation and the Democratic party was facing throughout the mid-1920s especially when it came to New York Governor Al Smith and Roosevelt's relationship towards him. The fourth is Roosevelt's dealings with the press about his physical condition and how much he actually used a wheelchair.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Chicago on December 14, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Perhaps just as much attention—spoken if not written—has been given to FDR's disability as to any of his policies; it appears to be impossible to talk about one without citing the other's effect. However, in my lifetime the latter-day wisdom has been that his paralysis from an attack of polio at age 39 was a secret, or at least an open one: that he took great pains to hide the fact that he could not walk and even had film confiscated that would show him as the cripple (to use the word of the times) that he was.

James Tobin dispels this completely and irrefutably in THE MAN HE BECAME—easily the most in-depth look at FDR's health since Lomazow and Fettmann's FDR'S DEADLY SECRET, which focused primarily on everything BUT the polio's effects, and an addition to the canon of FDR's pre-presidency political life. There are more hair-raising accounts of the disease's progression, but Tobin's strength is in his research into how FDR and everyone around him dealt with it. He tells it all beautifully, making it clear that FDR's paralysis was by no means a secret but an asset—that his known disability made him appealing to people who would otherwise not be able to relate to the aristocratic New Yorker (or vice versa)—and even a weapon when placed in the mouths of his enemies. Tobin details the documented concerns of the future president's family, staff, enemies, allies, friends and self—and, without a doubt, all of them at some point felt his career, if not life, would soon be ending. Also, while FDR loved female companionship, I was fascinated by the account of the women who were instrumental in FDR's rehabilitation (I had no idea that the majority of physical therapists in the 1920s were female). And that lack of footage depicting FDR in a wheelchair or exiting cars?
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Format: Hardcover
An extraordinary work of original scholarship accessible for the general reader. As Tobin writes regarding one episode in the book: "Reporters look for good stories to tell--stories comprising verifiable facts that endow their subject with clear and value-laden meanings."

As a reporter covering Roosevelt's infection and recovery from infantile paralysis, Tobin has found a good story to tell, and he definitely succeeds in telling a good story well, one rich with previously unknown but verifiable facts, and clear and value-laden meanings.

This is a book not only for history buffs or Roosevelt fans, but for anyone interested in how our society can benefit from the inclusion of those who might be considered "disabled" or otherwise limited.
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