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Showing 1-10 of 73 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 129 reviews
on June 13, 2014
I liked this book, partly because I remember his election & the "gown ups" talking about it. My aunt worked in some of the WPA projects. They mended books in the city & school libraries, cleaned grain seed & made mattresses. My uncle also worked on a project for a while but not sure what it was. I think maybe replacing railroad ties. They all thought FDR was great but some other relatives who were consierably better off had no use for him at all. There is so much detail in the book you should try to read it slower than I did, more like you would read a text book. I will have to have some grandchildren show me how to check things you want to read over. I will be 87 in August & not the brightest bulb on the tree. The town I live in is about 1400 & every little town around here has a "city hall" put up by his administration. Also, numerous dams.
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on June 20, 2014
I've read so much about World War II, about Churchill, and bits and snippets about FDR. But I didn't know much about FDR's first hundred days and what he accomplished then. I have mixed feelings about the man. I'm inclined to admire him for what he managed to accomplish through sheer will. He was a canny politician and diplomat. As a Deaf person, I admire him for doing so much in spite of his disability. I still don't approve of his handling of his wife, or his extramarital affairs. I know my Dad who grew up during his Presidency, didn't like FDR, but he really never gave me any good reasons for it.

The more I read about the history of the Depression, and the aftermath of WWI...and what was happening with the economy, the more I am convinced that we absolutely needed someone like FDR to come along to manage things as he did. This isn't to say he didn't make mistakes. He definitely did. Both during the Hundred Days, and during the War (that cost the lives of both Americans and others). But...given the horrible recession we just went through and how bad things are with the economy now, it would have been nice if we had someone of FDR's caliber to bring the enthusiasm and 'hope' that FDR brought to the U.S. at that time. He could have been a dictator as the author brings up time and again. But he avoided that like the plague. But he got things done. Which is more than any other president within the last 20 years has been able to do.

This book was excellent, well researched, and very enjoyable to read. I wish Alter had written some other history books, but he has only written political books about Obama, about whom I have absolutely no desire to read...no one will consider him to be the political or economic 'genius' that FDR was
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on April 5, 2014
This is a balanced account of the period during the Great Depression when FDR first assumed office, and of the almost miraculous "hundred days" that followed. It is neither worshipful nor derogatory, but shows FDR in action, and shows how his personal history, unusual personality and very special managerial style enabled him to accomplish so much is so little time. It does not shy away from controversial topics: Did any of the programs that FDR enacted in his First One Hundred Days actually do much to hasten the end of the Depression? How could a person with a "second class intellect" so thoroughly revamp the social contracts of American society? What parts of the early New Deal were actually built on programs that were derived from measures the Hoover administration had already either invented or actually put in place? How did Eleanor contribute so uniquely to FDR's presidency even though she really wanted no part of it? My major quarrel with this book is that it is too short. I would love to see how Alter tackles the later 1930's, during and after the Court Packing scandal and when the bloom faded from the New Deal rose, and I suspect that his treatment of FDR during the WWII period---ground that has already been well picked over by others---would very much be worth reading.
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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. The best one-volume biography that was not a condensation of a multi-volume work is Jean Edward Smith's FDR, a recent book that I strongly recommend. Finally, I have not read H. W. Brands's new biography A TRAITOR TO HIS CLASS, but am quite curious to do so.

I would definitely put Alter's book well behind all of these. Even after reading all of these, I found many new insights in Alter's book and I learned a great many things that I didn't already know. Nonetheless, the book has to be used with caution. Alter is a serial exaggerator and is sometimes oddly selective in sifting through the evidence concerning various aspects of Roosevelt and those around him. To take just one example, he states that Lorena Hickok was the great love of Eleanor's life. No doubt she was an important person for a rather brief period, but the Roosevelt children were hardly prudish in discussing their parents' respective love lives and most denied that there was anything romantic between Hick and Eleanor (with the addendum that they were in fact sceptical that she was capable of a physical relationship with anyone, that she was someone who looked upon sex as an exceptionally unpleasant undertaking). Jean Edward Nathan barely mentions Hickok in his biography and other biographers feel that Hickok's role in Eleanor's life has been exaggerated. On the other hand, some of her children felt that Eleanor did have an affair with Earl Miller, the New York state trooper that Alter barely mentions. Yet it is quite certain that Miller and Eleanor were almost inseparable companions for the last thirty-five years of her life, even when he married. After she left the White House and relocated in New York, for instance, Miller took an apartment in the same building. Just as Missy Lehand was FDR's constant companion, so Earl Miller was Eleanor's. This is what I mean when I say that Alter is selective. He has to know that there is a mountain of evidence detailing just how close Eleanor and Earl Miller were, but to mention this would undercut the case for how crucial Hick was to Eleanor. At most one could argue that Hick was to Eleanor as Lucy Mercer was to Franklin, while Earl Miller was Eleanor's equivalent to Missy Lehand.

Another example of Alter's tendency to exaggerate is the portrait he paints of Roosevelt going into the election and his first term. He works overtime to quote every possible individual who saw FDR as a frivolous dilettante incapable of leading the nation, intentionally ignoring the equally large number of individuals who saw FDR as the logical person to be president and lead the country in a time of crisis. Anyone doubting that FDR had many passionate and well-informed supporters need only read the first volume in Schlesinger's trilogy, THE CRISIS OF THE OLD ORDER. Yes, many, like Walter Lippmann, thought FDR a lightweight, but there was anything but unanimity on him. Besides, FDR won in a landslide. It wasn't just a case of people voting against Hoover, but a substantial number of people voting for someone they felt was eminently qualified to be president.

Alter is correct that FDR was not doctrinaire or an ideologue about the content of the New Deal, but this overlooks the fact that he brought into the White House a radically new conception of the role of government in dealing with the problems facing the American people. Unlike Hoover, Coolidge, and Harding (three of the weakest presidents in American history), FDR believed that government had a crucial and direct role to play in all of the major problems confronting American life. FDR understood that there is no Invisible Hand that would intervene to coordinate the efforts of individual in a market economy (actually, Adam Smith didn't believe that either - in the passage where he introduces the idea of the Invisible Hand Smith expresses astonishment that uncoordinated actions did not ALWAYS lead to unwelcome results - this is very far from the idea foisted on Smith that the Invisible Hand always produces happy results) but that government had to intervene to minimize the harm caused by unregulated greed. In speech after speech and conversation after conversation leading up to his election and inauguration FDR iterated and reiterated this vision. So, while he was intentionally somewhat loose on the details, he was crystal clear that the only entity that could solve the crisis was government, not the private sector or the market. Alter acknowledges this even while underplaying it.

No doubt many of Alter's exaggerations are due to dramatic license. He shapes FDR's story in order to create a more dynamic story. He also seems to enjoy debunking widely shared myths. He wants to portray FDR as not as qualified to be president as most accounts. Yet to do this he has to downplay such things as his work in the New York legislature and his many, many years as Assistant Secretary of the Navy, which at the time was one of the largest entities of the federal government.

So, I return to my original point. There are many interesting moments in Alter's book, but it is not a balanced, nuanced portrait of FDR. He leaves out details that would challenge the picture he is trying to paint and persistently ignores contrary evidence. I definitely recommend the book, but only if one has read a substantial number of the many other very good books on FDR. The only thing that elevates this somewhat in popular interest would be that on 60 MINUTES Barack Obama cited this as one of the two books that he was reading as he was preparing to enter the Office of President. But I would recommend the other book - Jean Edward Smith's biography - far more strongly than I would this.
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on September 24, 2014
A pleasant read--Mr. Alter's approach reminded me of "Only Yesterday." Sufficient documentation exists to establish this as a serious work; however, it is not so exhaustive that one must be a serious historian to attempt it. Mr. Alter also provides excellent portraits of various key individuals in President Roosevelt's administrations. He clearly establishes the wisdom, authority, and skill of Ms. Frances Perkins in his administrations efforts to reverse the Depression and then, more importantly, in the design and then passage of the Social Security Program. One might assume that this is a paean for what many see as the inception of American liberalism. While Mr. Alter's treatment is respectful, he also provides adequate information for the reader to see that different perspectives existed during President Roosevelt's first term of office and that different perspectives exist regarding the impact--both long and short--of that first term.
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on December 11, 2013
This book is well written with a good bit of irony, which is apparently a watchword for FDR's whole term of office. There is plenty of intrigue and humor. I was captivated by the behind the scenes information and commentary about what different persons who interfaced with FDR thought about him, or especially how and why they changed their minds about him. The takeaway for me is that there was no standout characteristic that made him as successful as he was other than his willingness to take risks and try new things, some of which worked great and are still with us, and others of which didn't pan out and are part of history. Reading it makes me wish we had more leaders willing to engage themselves and others in changing our rather stagnant society rather than rubber stamping the status quo.
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on April 4, 2014
Jonathon Alters' book reads like a novel. He describes a time in history when our veritable way of life was threatened by a great economic catastrophe and how and why FDR averted the disaster. The comparison between "then and now" jumps out especially when parallels are drawn with unemployment issues, irregularities and regulation efforts in the financial industry and especially the adoption of universal health care. This is especially cogent when comparisons are made between the introduction of Social Security and the opposition to it at that time and the very similar efforts now to thwart the establishment of the Affordable Care Act.
Of particular interest is FDR's answers to his unfortunate bout with Polio and how he dealt with its' debilitating effects and his eventual rise to the Presidency of the United States.
This is a "must read" for any person at all interested in the development of America's social agenda.
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on November 30, 2014
Such a scary time for America and the world. It was a time for new thinking, complete and rigorous discussion, flexibility of response. It was also a time when confidence in the very future of the US, and the whole world was waning rapidly. Yet the power structure was strongly in favor of the standard approach, even in light of the obvious, catastrophic failure of that approach. FDR brought the creativity, willingness to step outside the conventional, and the ability to invoke confidence at a time when confidence was absolutely vital. This book opens up vast vistas of insight into that time in which the American way of life was dramatically changed. There are huge lessons here to be re-learned and applied to the America of the 21st century.
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on January 11, 2017
An honest, inspiring account of the single President who started off a pampered rich boy and yet managed, by fate and observation, to understand the plight of the working person and yet not feel the need to ruin American enterprise or the American Republic. Well-documented and accessibly written by a true historian, a fine account of an amazing person at a frightening time.
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on April 12, 2014
This book was a very nice surprise! It was a VERY balanced view of FDR. The author did not shy away from discussing the great Presidents faults and failures. He also pointed out Roosevelt's success and triumphs. The book focuses on Roosevelt's famed 100 days. But also included is a nice portion about his early days and especially his fight with Polio. This resulted in forming Roosevelt's future as well as altering his outlook on life and his empathy towards others. Another significant amount of detail is devoted to his wife and the effect she had. Good, crisp conscise prose made this a very good read. Overall a very balanced informative book.

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