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FDR's Funeral Train: A Betrayed Widow, a Soviet Spy, and a Presidency in the Balance Hardcover – March 16, 2010

4.6 out of 5 stars 98 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Klara revives a long-forgotten event with precision and pathos, allowing readers a coveted Pullman berth for a ride through three of this country's darkest yet most formative days.” ―Gay Talese, author of A Writer's Life

“A riveting, sumptuously detailed look inside a luxurious, mysterious private train swaying from one presidency to another--the picture windows in its last car showcasing a bronze coffin to thousands of trackside mourners ignorant of the vivid tensions in the cars ahead.” ―John Stilgoe, Robert and Lois Orchard Professor in the History of Landscape, Harvard University and author of Outside Lies Magic: Discovering History and Inspiration in Ordinary Places

“Robert Klara's FDR's Funeral Train is a well-written and vivid account of America's greatest national mourning since Abraham Lincoln was shot. Every page here is illuminating. At times Klara practically transports the reader back to 1945. A major new contribution to U.S. history.” ―Douglas Brinkley is author of The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America

“No fan of FDR and his presidency can afford to pass up this book. Robert Klara takes you inside FDR's funeral train, and into the minds and hearts of those who made the president's last journey with him. Klara offers a unique, never-before-told perspective on the sudden transfer of power, the players who wanted to grab some of that power and the widow whose grief was tinged with the bitter taste of betrayal. A remarkable story by a true storyteller.” ―Lorraine Diehl, author of The Late, Great Pennsylvania Station

“No one in 1945, friend or enemy, was unmoved by the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, after his dozen critical years in the White House. FDR's Funeral Train vividly recalls the nerve-racking week behind the headlines, when his family and his government rose above a trainload of personal problems to help the nation across the chasm left by his demise. An exciting addition to the Roosevelt bookshelf, Klara's book is overflowing with the stuff that every history reader craves – fresh, original research.” ―Julie Fenster, author of The Case of Abraham Lincoln and FDR's Shadow

“With great skill and riveting detail, Robert Klara uses a three day train journey to provide readers with a fascinating glimpse into the inner-workings of the Washington elite in the days after FDR's death. This fast-paced narrative is filled with vivid portraits and plenty of intrigue. It also manages to shed new light on a critical moment in our nation's history.” ―Steve Gillon, author of 10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America and Resident Historian, The History Channel

“An intriguing account of FDR's last journey and a must read for all those still caught up in the romance and mystery of rail travel” ―David B Woolner, Senior Fellow, Roosevelt Institute and Associate Professor of History, Marist College

FDR's Funeral Train is a fascinating tale well told. Hop aboard with the skilled storyteller Robert Klara. You'll be glad you did.” ―James Bradley, author of Flags of our Fathers and Flyboys

“In the manner of Bob Greene's Once Upon a Town or Jody Rosen's White Christmas, similar, bite-sized slices of World War II–era home-front history, Klara charms as he informs. A little gem.” ―Kirkus (starred review)

“[A] bizarre, one-of-a-kind trip on a funeral train. Klara has put together a thrilling piece of history....Sixty-five years after FDR's death, Klara has managed to provide a fresh look at history as well as the political landscape of the 21st century.” ―The Daily Beast

“Full of fascinating anecdotes....This is popular history at its best: engaging, informative and insightful. It is very well written and . . . a pure pleasure to read . . . sheds welcome light on a fascinating and largely forgotten episode of American political history.” ―Christian Science Monitor

“The author's exhaustive research reveals for the first time the inside story of the 1,000-mile train journey from Georgia to New York.” ―Charlottesville Daily Progress

“A tale that unfolds with all the drama that the subtitle suggests. . . . Klara has recreated the journey in such fascinating, cinematic detail that the luxurious Pullman cars themselves almost seem like characters.” ―Hudson Valley

“This book provides a fascinating look at foreign policy at the tail end of World War II, as well as both foreign and domestic policy after the war ended. . . . A compelling tale of a little-known piece of American history. [For] anyone interested in presidential biographies and World War II literature. [F]ans of conspiracy theories may also enjoy reading this book.” ―Daily Freeman

About the Author

Robert Klara is an editor and writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the New York Daily News, American Heritage, New Jersey Monthly, and The Christian Science Monitor. Klara has been a staff editor for numerous magazines, including Town & Country and Architecture, and has also worked as a researcher for legendary author Gay Talese. He lives in New York City.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; First edition (March 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230619142
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230619142
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (98 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #921,126 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Robert Klara has written an excellent book about the railroad train that carried FDR's body from Warm Springs to Washington, D.C. He also gives detailed logistical information about the two trains that carried the body, family, Cabinet, Court, old cronies and friends, and of course the Truman's from Washington, D.C., and on to Hyde Park. This is a must-read for anyone who is a devotee of the FDR era. All the drama is here: his death in the Little White House at Warm Springs, Georgia (in the presence of a Russian artist and her friend, FDR's old flame, Lucy Mercer). Other events at the White House are not overlooked, including Eleanor's little known visit to FDR's body in the East Room (witnessed by J.B. West, Chief Usher); the details involved in who would accompany the funeral train for the burial in Hyde Park; all are included. In short, it is a page-turner. And the author raises some good points about the safety, in wartime, of the two trains which would convey almost the entire U.S. government up to Hyde Park...something that would never be considered today, especially since only the body and the Roosevelt family was in the bullet-proofed Pullman, leaving Truman in one that was not. The author has done an excellent job in detailing the thoughts and actions of the principal players while entrained, including a soviet spy and another man who later became a public embarrassment to Truman. The end of the book is especially satisfying, with details of Truman's address to the Joint Session of Congress. Not wanting to give away any "spoilers" of the book's content, suffice to say, it is a story that has been thoroughly researched and documented. There is a surprise on almost every page; a little nugget of information, that, before now, has never been in print. My highest recommendation.
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Format: Hardcover
Of late, there have been a lot of books written about FDR including a memoir written by his grandson. I have read all of the recent ones and have enjoyed them to varying degrees. However, by far this is the one that is the standout. Intensively researched, it reconstructs the events leading to FDR's last trip to Warm Springs, GA ('the little White House'), his death, and the two legs of the funeral train that returned his body to his beloved Springwood at Hyde Park, NY.
Reading more like a novel than a history, the premise of transporting the fallen president's body for a public funeral and burial was a gargantuan task and one that was mind boggling, dangerous, and probably never should have been undertaken.
Even in a pre-9/11 America there was no shortage of security concerns. The country was at war on two fronts and national security was imperative. The game plan was essentially to include all the key players in the government in the massive funeral procession to Hyde Park by train.
The security aspects of this undertaking and the logistics involved might well have been enough for one book. However, interwoven within this undertaking is the stuff that elevates this book into a totally different category. The president's widow finds out that FDR died in the company of a former mistress named Lucy Rutherfurd. Harry Truman becomes president after 3 months as vice president. Completely unprepared for the job, FDR has not shared information with him regarding Stalin or the A-bomb or anything else for that matter. There is the typical political jockeying which occurs when a new president assumes office as another president is buried.
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Format: Hardcover
So much has been written about Franklin Roosevelt that you would think there was little left to mined; you could fill a small library with the number of books written on him and this era of history. Yet the final chapter in FDR's life has not really been covered to quite this degree of detail. And Klara certainly serves up the details, many of which were quite astonishing and astounding. FDR's sudden death unleashed all sorts of drama, both on the global scale and on a more micro level amongst those closest to him. There was no way to cover-up that at the time of his death he had resumed his affair with his longtime paramour Lucy Mercer; a fact that devastated his widow Eleanor. Klara plays out all the various unfolding dramas with a tension that is gripping for the reader, even if you've read these details before. And Klara comes up with new details such as Eleanor's private viewing of her late husband's body in the East Room. But that isn't all. Klara points out the stunning breech in security as virtually every member of the government is loaded onto the two trains to carry them and FDR's body to Hyde Park for burial. More surprising, FDR's body and family were carried in the sole bullet-proof Pullman car; President Truman and virtually every other government official traveled in unarmored Pullman cars, creating the potential to wipe out the entire government in the event of sabotage or an accident. Such were the exigencies of wartime and the sudden and profoundly sad demise of FDR. Truman's moving eulogy of FDR and his pronouncement to the world that we would continue to fight on to victory is a wonderfully fitting coda to the book. The result is a lively page-turner that is a template for how to write history well. Klara also includes a dramatis personae to help readers keep track of all the characters; something I wish EVERY monograph did. Well worth the read!
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