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FDR Hardcover – May 15, 2007

4.5 out of 5 stars 233 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Independent biographer Smith (1996's John Marshall: Definer of a Nation and 2001's Grant) crafts a magisterial biography of our most important modern president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Scores of books have been written about Roosevelt, exploring every nook and cranny of his experience, so Smith breaks no "news" and offers no previously undisclosed revelations concerning the man from Hyde Park. But the author's eloquent synthesis of FDR's complex and compelling life is remarkably executed and a joy to read. Drawing on the papers of the Franklin Roosevelt Presidential Library as well as Columbia University's oral history collection and other repositories, Smith minutely explores the arc of FDR's intertwined political and private lives. With regard to the political, the biographer seamlessly traces Roosevelt's evolution from gawky, aristocratic, political newcomer nibbling at the edges of the rough-and-tumble Dutchess County, N.Y., Democratic machine to the consummate though physically crippled political insider—a man without pretensions who acquired and performed the jobs of New York governor and then United States president with shrewd, and always joyous, efficiency. As is appropriate, more than half of Smith's narrative deals with FDR as president: the four terms (from 1933 until his death in 1945) during which he waged war, in turn, on the Depression and the Axis powers. As for the private Roosevelt, Smith reveals him as a devoted son; an unhappy husband who eventually settled into an uneasy peace and working partnership with his wife and cousin Eleanor; an emotionally absent father; and a man who for years devotedly loved two women other than his wife—Lucy Mercer Rutherford and Missy LeHand, the latter his secretary. This erudite but graceful volume illuminates FDR's life for scholars, history buffs and casual readers alike. Photos not seen by PW. (May)
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From The New Yorker

As Franklin Roosevelt approached the stage at the 1936 Democratic Convention, the steel braces on his useless legs and the support of his son’s arm allowing him, in great pain, to simulate walking, he was jostled, and he crashed to the ground, scattering the pages of his speech. "Clean me up," he said, "and keep your feet off those damned sheets." Minutes later, utterly poised, he told an audience and a nation ravaged by the Depression that they had "a rendezvous with destiny." Smith, in this remarkable, sympathetic biography, doesn’t flinch at Roosevelt’s mistakes; the sections on the court-packing scheme and the internment of Japanese-Americans are painful to read. Smith also does a fine job with a complex marriage, avoiding the F.D.R. biographer’s trap of being either annoyed or enraptured by Eleanor. The Roosevelt who emerges here—neither a stranger nor a painted icon—is flawed and magnificent.
Copyright © 2007 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 880 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (May 15, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400061210
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400061211
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 2.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (233 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #307,577 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
FDR, by Jean Edward Smith, proves that no highly significant historical figure or event is beyond a great writer's ability to improve a particular body of literature. Indeed FDR is a towering work of both writing and scholarship. Smith again proves he is one of our foremost biographers and captures, in a very evenhanded way, the very essence of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Indeed, this writing is up there with David Herbert Donald's Lincoln. Both took on truly larger than life topics and did so with energy and vigor.

The footnoting in FDR is highly extensive and the curious reader will look at many of them and make notes to read on additional topics as Smith piques the interest of any with any significant interest in Roosevelt. He, like Lincoln, was the President in a time where it is difficult to imagine, even for his critics, another person assuming the role. Smith explains and documents almost all of FDR's life and gives very plausible reasons for his rather radical views at the time, especially for one with his Hudson River pedigree. He tackles his many physical challenges, his relationship with his peripatetic wife Eleanor (see Doris Kearns Goodwin's No Ordinary Time) , his affair with Lucy Mercer Rutherford, his intimate relationship with Churchill (see Jon Meacham's Franklin and Winston) and his reliance on a cast of eclectic personal and political operatives over the years. All of his public years are well covered, perhaps even more so his early years in New York politics.

There is very little, if nothing to criticize about this book. One could make an argument that Smith tried too hard to keep it a readable 636 pages with and additional 221 pages of notes and an exhaustive bibliography. Maybe two volumes would have improved this work, but that is sheer conjecture. This book must be read by all with more than a passing interest in 20th Century American history. Simply sublime.
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Format: Hardcover
Jean Edward Smith's FDR will likely become the standard reference biography on the former president given the rare combination of easy accessibility and comprehensive research about one of the most complicated figures in American history. While the one volume format may limit the depth of some topics like Yalta, the overall effect is to create a rare hybrid: something that is both very readable and very deeply referenced. Five stars.

As Smith notes in the foreword, there is a ridiculous volume of literature on FDR, his policies, his lieutenants, and his wife. Smith's gift is that he absorbs the massive amount of scholarship, does an impressive amount of primary source research - some of which even after all the preceding authors is still quite original - and then unlike most academics translates it into concepts even neophytes can understand. While shelves are filled with volumes detailing programs of the New Deal, Smith both explains the programs thoroughly and then adds on all the behind the scenes deal-making and politics, yet does so in a masterly crafted 55 pages.

This isn't to say that Smith hasn't done his homework. In some places he adds significantly to the existing literature. For instance, Roosevelt's stint as Assistant Secretary of the Navy is probably better explored than any other of his biographers.
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Format: Hardcover
The debate will rage on forever - who is America's greatest president. One saved the union, the other saved it again, and also saved the world. This is the most readable, enjoyable and knowledgeable book on our thirty-second president. You will learn new things (not an easy thing to do in a FDR biography), come to know and appreciate the life and times of this great American and will not be able to put the book down. The book reads like no other biography - in some ways it feels like you are reading the mythical "great American novel". FDR was bigger than life and gave a better life to all Americans. Anyone who reads this book will come away with a better understanding of who he was and how he accomplished all that he did. My life is better for reading it,
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Format: Paperback
I have a large shelf of books on FDR, both biographies and studies of particular aspects of his administration. Because I have read so many books on FDR in the past, I'm not sure that I learned all that much in this biography by Jean Edward Smith. In part this is because he engaged in very little original research. In part this is because most of the books that I have read go into far greater detail on particular aspects of his life or career. But I'm not sure there has ever been a book better at striking a proper balance in presenting all the aspects of his life. He both appreciates the staggering achievements as president -- he unquestionably did more to transform American life than any other president, always for the better -- and his shortcomings, like the Roosevelt recession, caused when he dramatically cut federal expenditures in his second term, his disastrous attempt to expand the supreme court, and the horrific injustice done to Japanese Americans in forcing them to relocate in WW II. Yet Smith also acknowledges the role FDR played not only in transforming the United States, but also in perhaps saving Europe from a Nazi victory. Has any single individual -- excluding founders of major religions -- done so much unqualified good for the world? Both Churchill and Stalin credited FDR as the crucial person in WW II. And what he achieved in his first term wrought changes in American life that has benefited hundreds of millions of Americans.

If you have read many other books on Roosevelt, there are sections of this book that will seem lacking in detail. There is, for instance, no way that Smith can match Doris Kearns Goodwin's marvelous account of the White House in the war years in NO ORDINARY TIME. And Smith can't in a hundred or so pages match what Arthur M.
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