This is a portrait painted in broad strokes and fine details. We see how Roosevelt's restless energy, fierce intellect, personal magnetism, and ability to project effortless grace permitted him to master countless challenges throughout his life. Smith recounts FDR's personal battles and also tackles head-on and in depth the numerous failures and miscues of Roosevelt's political career.
Summing up Roosevelt's legacy, Smith gives us the clearest picture yet of how this quintessential Knickerbocker aristocrat became the common man's president. The result is a powerful account that adds fresh perspectives and draws profound conclusions about a man whose story is widely known but not well understood. Written for the general reader and scholars alike, FDR is a stunning biography in every way worthy of its subject.
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©2007 Jean Edward Smith; (P)2007 Books on Tape
"A magisterial biography...the author's eloquent synthesis of FDR's complex and compelling life is remarkably executed and a joy to read." (Publishers Weekly)
Awesome. You know its a good book when you a) wish it were not over and b) feel like you lost a personal aquaintance at the end of the biography and c) feel like re-reading(listening) again. I thought this was an oustanding biography, rapidly moving and insightful into both the character and facts about FDR. The author does inject his perspective or opinion clearly in some areas, for instance about the Yalta conference, he clearly puts in many references that indicate that he does not believe FDR was impaired at that time.
My only regret is that the biography ends right at his death, with no retrospective summary of what the author thought FDR meant or what he thought his strnegths and weaknesses were, including any thoughts on the downstream consequences of his actions.
In addition, the narration is outstanding, extremely well paced and inflected. As good as any download I have listened to.
Not the best political biography I have ever read but certainly in the excellent category. Just enough facts without getting into the mind-numbing details that a McCulloch or Caro biography can. I always rate the book and the reader/production since there are some readers and some productions that can ruin the book as an audiobook. This reader was fine and there was not a lot of unnecessary music etc.
Mr Smith has written an extremely interesting biography of FDR and, in reading it I have learned things I had not seen in other books. He writes very well and I consider this to be a valuable addition to the other books I have about FDR and the period from 1932 through 1945. I would have liked to have been able to give this book 5 stars but found, to my disappointment, that the book seemed to be missing the objectivity that 60+ years after the events should have imparted. Many events derogatory to FDR were left out and a fair number of statements were made that seem, at best, to be questionable to me.
Franklin Roosevelt was, in my view, a great President and almost alone among leaders in this country understood the danger posed by Nazi Germany to the Western World and civilization as we in the US understand it. He withstood the waves of isolationism and made plans to help Great Britain when she stood completely alone. This alone, in my view, is enough to elevate him to the status of a great President even without his efforts to overcome the great depression. His stature in history is high enough to acknowledge both his faults and his mistakes. This book rarely mentions either.
Left undiscussed in this book -
1) His refusal to help the Hoover administration, in its last days, to ease the suffering of the general public due to the depression. A word from the President elect would have convinced the Democratic majority in Congress to allow passage of relief. This is not even mentioned in the book.
2) His unwillingness to be honest with the public about the likelihood of war with Germany after 1939. Roosevelt understood that war was coming to the US and did everything he could to help Great Britain within the constraints of the law, but did not try to convince the American public that the war was coming to the US whether we wanted it or not. Leading is what leaders are supposed to do. Roosevelt's efforts to "wage war but not declare war" are covered in detail but no mention is made of the basic dishonesty of knowing war is coming and telling the US that we were going to keep out of it. Each statement that US "boys" were not going to be sent into foreign wars was misleading at best.
3) His unwillingness to try to help the Jewish refugees about the St Louis when Germany sent it to the US. The ship, packed with Jews, was sent as a propaganda play to prove that nobody wanted Germany's Jews. Roosevelt probably could not have granted them entry to the US due to US entry restrictions but the US had enough influence with Central and South American countries to have gotten them refugee status somewhere. He did nothing to try to get them sanctuary and, although this episode is mentioned in the book, Roosevelt is not taken to task for his failure. All of these poor people were returned to Europe and, with the exception of those granted asylum in the UK, almost all of them died in concentration camps.
4) There was no discussion about the valid opposition to some of Roosevelt's policies by important politicians in the US. In particular the decision to leave the gold standard and effectively devaluate the dollar and the opposition to the TVA were left completely unmentioned. The people opposing these policies were wrong but they had valid viewpoints and the arguments should have been covered.
There are other statements in the book that I, personally, found to be questionable. The implication that Roosevelt had a mastery over the communications networks in the country that no other politician since has been able to match left out both John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan each of whom, arguably, was the equal or better of Roosevelt in that regard. The statement that the US Army was "enthusiastic" about running the CCC camps flies in the face of what George Marshall, who had command over part of that effort, had to say about it later. And the statement that Roosevelt would have won the 1932 election even if there had been no depression has no basis in fact that I am aware of.
None of these issues are serious enough to discredit or even harm this book in any way. The book is first class and is a valuable read but would have been considerably improved, at least in my opinion, by the inclusion of some criticism of FDR beyond his attempts to "pack" the Supreme Count (which is covered in considerable detail). Any book that spends time discussing the flowers at Eleanor Roosevelt's mother's wedding could have included information on these and some other subjects.
Marc Cashman does a very good job of narration and adds considerably to the book. I recommend this book to anyone interested in FDR's life in spite of the fact that I am only giving it 4 stars.
Jean Edward Smith (Eisenhower in War and Peace, FDR and Chief Justice Hughes, Traitor to His class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt) also published an outstanding biography titled FDR in 2008. I must disclose that I am a fan of Smith’s biographies and have completed almost all of them. This biography is longer than some will tolerate, but well worth the effort. It fully details the split between FDR and ER, the President’s relationship with his children, his handling of the War, his approach to the Depression, and the holding of Japanese US citizens. The most interesting passage for me covered his friendship with Churchill and Lend Lease. Anyone who didn’t live through this American era or in the shadow of FDR, will be more than rewarded for learning about this time in our history. Wade into the book, swim through some pages, and see if you don’t agree. Certainly, Jean Edward Smith has a knack for bringing history in general to the general reader through biography. The narration of Marc Cashman is excellent
I bought this book specifically to listen to after hearing Teddy Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life. The TR book really set the bar high and I honestly did not expect this one to be as good, but this one is every bit as good or better. It is very well written and is detailed, but only focuses on the issues and events that significantly impacted FDR and his presidency, so it is not overly detailed. It is very well read and I really enjoyed this book.
The author definitely did a remarkable research on this biography, but the result is too heavy to digest. Except for a few parts of the book (mostly after the start of WWII), I did not feel engaged with FDR. I felt like I was reading a boring bureaucratic memo.
I can't help constrasting this biography with "Truman", by David Macullough, whose historical research is just as good as Jean Edward Smith's - and it's far better to listen/read.
The narrator did a good job, though.
Bostonian at heart
Jean Edward Smith did a really nice job with his biography of one of the most interesting men in American history. The book was well organized and covered all the important moments in detail. It's loaded with information, but it remains an easy read.
I have a couple of issues with the book that, in my mind, keep it from being a 5-star gem. First of all, it's hard to determine Eleanor's role in this book. Smith describes ER's upbringing in great detail, and a quarter of the way through the book, I wondered if it was going to be essentially a co-biography. Then, ER kind of goes away, and she's barely mentioned in the presidency period at all. That's OK, but why was so much time spent on her in the beginning?
Second, I felt Smith's handling of the war was questionable. He spent way too much time describing Japan-U.S. relations and the friction between them prior to Pearl Harbor. Some of it was necessary; most was not. Then he strangely glossed over D-Day, giving no particulars of the actual operation beyond the planning stages. I would have preferred a few more FDR anecdotes to all the Japan stuff because it was, after all, an FDR book.
Finally, I don't like when these long biographies just end with the subject's death. A recap of his significance, details of the country's reaction to his death, info about the funeral -- something to tie a bow around the story you've just told, especially when the death is so sudden like it was with FDR.
I know I focused on the negative; most other reviews touched on the positives, and there were many. Smith is a skilled researcher and writer, and this is a book anyone could enjoy. I thought his Grant biography was better, but this one was good as well
The narrative was great, the history lovely, and it really focused on FDR and not on the characters surrounding him.
His early years before the polio are fantastic. You never hear about these years. He was truly amazing.
It did not finish well. It seemed as though the author was rushing the ending, and then there was no epilogue. FDR dies and the book ends. There is so much aftermath, it deserved a chapter. Other than that, it was well written, well recorded, and I loved listening to it.
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