- Hardcover: 1296 pages
- Publisher: PublicAffairs; New edition edition (November 12, 2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1586481843
- ISBN-13: 978-1586481841
- Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.4 x 2.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 84 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #350,067 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom Hardcover – November 12, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
Flying over the Nile near Cairo in October 1943, President Roosevelt looked down and quipped, "Ah, my friend the Sphinx." Sometimes portrayed that way by cartoonists in his time, he is utterly unsphinxlike in Lord Black's new biography. Massive and moving, barbed yet balanced, it is scrupulously objective and coldly unsparing of agenda-ridden earlier biographers and historians. It leaps to the head of the class of Rooseveltian lives and will be difficult to supersede. To Black, the Canadian-born media mogul (he owns the London Daily Telegraph and the Chicago Sun-Times, among other papers worldwide), the second Roosevelt was, apart from Lincoln perhaps as savior of the Union, the greatest American president, and with no exceptions the greatest of its politicians. No FDR-haters have exposed, credibly, more of Roosevelt's "less admirable tendencies," from "naked opportunism," "deformed idealism" and "pious trumpery" to "insatiable vindictiveness." Yet the four-term president emerges in Black's compelling life as personifying vividly the civilization he, more than any other contemporary, rescued from demoralizing economic depression and devastating world war. His larger-than-life Roosevelt possesses consummate sensitivity and tactical skill, radiating power and panache despite a physical vulnerability from the polio that left him without the use of his legs at 39. "His insight into common men," Black writes, "was the more remarkable because he was certainly not one of them, and never pretended for an instant that he was." By comparison, Black claims, most associates and rivals seemed like kindergarten children, yet some exceptions are fleshed out memorably, notably Roosevelt's selfless political intimates Louis McHenry Howe and Harry Hopkins, and his vigorous presidential competitor in 1940, the surprising Wendell Willkie. (Roosevelt's wife, Eleanor, comes off as both harridan and heroine.) Barring occasional lapses into English locutions like "Boxing Day" and "Remembrance Day"(the days after Christmas and Armistice Day), or "drinking his own bathwater," Conrad's style is lucid and engaging, witty and acerbic, with lines that cry out to be quoted or read aloud, as when he scorns an attack on the devotion of Roosevelt's daughter, Anna, with "Filial concern does not make the President a vegetable or his daughter a Lady Macbeth." A few minor historical errors deserve correction in what will assuredly be further printings, and the later sections appear to be composed in undue haste, but the sweeping and persuasive impact of this possibly off-puttingly big book makes it not only the best one-volume life of the 32nd president but the best at any length, bound to be widely read and discussed. 32 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Black is the CEO of newspaper publishing giant Hollinger International, Inc. He has written a massive, comprehensive, but frequently ponderous biography of the great FDR. Unfortunately, Black spends an inordinate amount of time describing Roosevelt's personal life, often in mind-numbing detail. Does the fact that a young Franklin tried to conceal an accidental gash to his forehead really help to understand the man? Yet this work has great value, particularly when it focuses upon Roosevelt as president and indomitable wartime leader. In Black's view, Roosevelt, like Churchill, understood that the war was more than a mere struggle between nation states. He believed passionately, and correctly, that it was a struggle to preserve the ideals of liberty and democracy that had been nurtured and developed over centuries. It was that belief that sustained Roosevelt, and it was his skill and courage as a leader that allowed him to bring his people to that realization. Despite its flaws, Black's chronicle of a man of strength and vision is a worthy tribute to his legacy. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Black has two explicit purposes. First, he wants to show that the New Deal was a good program. Second, and more controversially, he argues that Roosevelt got the best possible deal he could from Stalin. In both cases, Black shows that FDR achieved his ends entirely because of his formidable political skills, because of his knack for getting people to do what needed to be done.
For Black, the New Deal rescued the U.S. from the Depression. Other historians often describe the New Deal as medicine taken by a sick man for lack of anything better, that the New Deal didn't actually do much to improve the economy, which was finally rescued by the war effort. Black argues that this his unfair to FDR and the New Deal was instrumental in restoring life and growth the economy, and that war production was only its last phase. Black leaves us thinking that without the New Deal of the 1930's, the U.S. would not have been in a position to supply the Allied war needs of the 1940's.
Black's second more controversial purpose is to debunk the view that the dying Roosevelt gave too much to the U.S.S.R. during the negotiations towards the end of the war. Black argues that FDR acted brilliantly to the very end of his life and got the West the best arrangements that could be obtained from the Soviets. He first skillfully guided American public opinion away from isolationism and led them to support the European war and eventually to participate in it to rescue the Old World. Realizing that France and the U.K. would not matter as much in the post WWII world, there was very little he could do to stop Stalin from taking eastern Europe. The USSR, having losing millions more men than the other Allies combined, would have its way. Without FDR, things would have been worse.
Throughout the book Black stresses FDR's political skills and paints a picture of an amoral (not immoral) president, showing him a much less admirable man than we are used to seeing. And while FDR the man was moral and principled, FDR the politician knew that he needed to give way on many things in order to get many others. As a politician, he seldom held any single cause so dearly that he would not give it up to further what he saw as the more important ends.
For example, FDR was a true liberal, largely thanks to his wife Eleanor's influence. He nevertheless failed to integrate the army. Reasoning that despite being a good thing, racial integration would interfere with war preparations. He listened to African-American (then called "Blacks" or "Colored" of course) leaders and their complaints and requests. He did too little, but did something by promoting a black officer to general. He prepared the way for later leaders.
But Black paints a true portrait of Roosevelt, warts and all. A quick count between pages 350 and 450 yielded no less than 12 rather unpleasant stories, anecdotes, or traits about FDR, including a shocking tale of ordering IRS investigation and prosecution of his political enemies with a viciousness unmatched even by Richard Nixon.
In spite of these failings, FDR's skills enabled him to build the New Deal and to successfully lead America into the war, to free America from the Depression, to free the world from Nazi oppression, and to keep the Soviet Union from attempting indiscriminate conquests. Black's book is one long justification of the subtitle: Champion of Freedom.
Black doesn't grovel before such greatness--you'll learn appalling things about FDR that make Nixon look like a backstreet punk--but he remains convinced of FDR's greatness, in an age when no one can be great anymore, because we now eat our presidents for breakfast.
Conrad Black?s FDR: Champion of Freedom is a comprehensive and incisive one-volume political biography. FDR had so many achievements that his biographers tend either towards hagiography or towards elucidating facets of his leadership, such as the New Deal or WWII. The author strikes an admirable balance in unfolding FDR?s remarkable life and accomplishments.
From rescuing America from the Depression, to shepherding America out of its prewar isolationism, to winning WWII, to setting up the modern world, one begins to appreciate the hard choices and hard work needed to turn each of these into reality. In retrospect, it all seems so straightforward and unambiguous. The author has the gift of transporting the reader back to times BEFORE things were so clear, when intelligent, informed men of integrity argued strongly against each of these accomplishments. Again and again, one is impressed with FDR?s clarity of vision, determination, and agility in turning his vision into reality. No one of these is a small accomplishment; together they almost defy imagination.
FDR was a master of accepting tactical defeats in order to gain strategic success. He was maddeningly careful not to anger groups he would or might need to support aims broader than the controversies in which he was currently embroiled. This, naturally, led to (justified) accusations of not doing enough to support the right people in the right struggles. FDR was the ultimate utilitarian and opportunist, but he was keeping his options open in order to seize what he perceived (correctly) to be historic opportunities to advance his nation and the civilized world. It is in the juxtaposition of varied and at times scurrilous tactics with lofty and audacious goals where much of FDR?s fascination lies.
In this political biography, the focus is always on the political aspects of this most political leader?s efforts. There is no shrinking from the seamier aspects of FDR?s manipulations. They are identified, explored, and fit into the bigger picture of this leader?s accomplishments.
The author?s own life at the intersection of business and politics gives him profound insight into the real workings of representative governments. This book can be compared to Churchill?s biography of his ancestor, Marlborough, for its incisive commentary on their protagonists? skills in navigating domestic and international political waters. For this reason alone, FDR: Champion of Freedom deserves to be read.
The book is paced extremely well, with enough digressions and personal observations to give the reader breathing space between the enormous, Byzantine wranglings which generated FDR?s major accomplishments. Also mentioned is Lillian Cross, a Miami housewife who, at a rally in 1932, bumped the arm of an assassin trying to kill President-Elect Roosevelt , almost certainly saving his life. From such tenuous threads are the destinies of men and nations woven.
The subtitle, taken from Churchill?s eulogy in Parliament, is characteristically apt. A reader finishing this book will understand just how justified is this characterization.
The pivotal leader of the twentieth century has long deserved a readable, comprehensive, and insightful one-volume biography. Conrad Black has done a magnificent job. You really should read this one.
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