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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 126 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.

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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 (126 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #902,868 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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: Paperback Verified Purchase
I want to give a highly qualified recommendation for this book. If you love FDR and intend to read a good many books on him, I suggest adding this to your list. If you intend, however, to read only a few books on FDR, I suggest reading other books instead. I've read nearly 20 books on FDR at this point and would put this very far down the list of the most essential books. As a supplement to those other books, this book serves just fine. But it does present a somewhat quirky and sometimes inaccurate portrait of FDR.

Before continuing, which books would I recommend instead? For the 100 days and the New Deal, I would recommend Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.'s three-volume work on the New Deal and William E. Leuchtenburg's FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT AND THE NEW DEAL 1932-1940. These provide both more detail and more insight into the major legislation going into the New Deal. Schlesinger's work is very long, but definitely worth the time. Although it deals with the war years, Doris Kearns Goodwin's NO ORDINARY TIME -- FRANKLIN AND ELEANOR ROOSEVELT: THE HOME FRONT IN WORLD WAR II makes splendid reading and provides some of the best and sanest analysis of the various individuals making up the extended Roosevelt family. Frank Freidel's books are wonderful, whether the original unabridged multi-volume biography or his one-volume condensation. Kenneth Davis and Geoffrey Ward both have written splendid multi-volume biographies as well, and both can be highly recommended. If I could recommend only one author on Roosevelt, it would probably be John MacGregor Burns, whose two works on Roosevelt -- ROOSEVELT: THE LION AND THE FOX and ROOSEVELT: THE SOLDIER OF FREEDOM -- stand at the pinnacle of FDR studies. He also wrote the classic LEADERSHIP, in which Roosevelt features prominently.
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