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Publisher's Summary

A sweeping, magisterial biography of the man generally considered the greatest president of the 20th century, admired by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Traitor to His Class sheds new light on FDR's formative years; his remarkable willingness to champion the concerns of the poor and disenfranchised; and his combination of political genius, firm leadership, and matchless diplomacy in saving democracy in America during the Great Depression and the American cause of freedom in World War II.

Drawing on archival materials, public speeches, personal correspondence, and accounts by family and close associates, acclaimed best-selling historian and biographer H. W. Brands offers a compelling and intimate portrait of Roosevelt's life and career.

Brands explores the powerful influence of FDR's dominating mother and the often tense and always unusual partnership between FDR and his wife, Eleanor, and her indispensable contributions to his presidency.

Most of all, the book traces in breathtaking detail FDR's revolutionary efforts with his New Deal legislation to transform the American political economy in order to save it, his forceful and cagey leadership before and during World War II, and his lasting legacy in creating the foundations of the postwar international order.

Traitor to His Class brilliantly captures the qualities that have made FDR a beloved figure to millions of Americans.

©2008 H. W. Brands (P)2008 Books on Tape

What listeners say about Traitor to His Class

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Talented writer and narrator, but too biased/long

I've really enjoyed some of H.W. Brand's books, and ordered this one with trepidation due to the title and the title for Teddy's book. I should have listened to my gut.

If you have the same response to the title, don't order. It's a well-written / narrated story that sounds as if it comes funded by some Roosevelt foundation; nothing critical, nothing deep that would be critical, lots glazing over important motivations and facts that are common knowledge and negative.

It's not hitting you over the head as many of these books / history books do, but the language and takes show clear bias, which we all have, yet Brand just ignores about all conflicts that makes history what it is and people who they are. Roosevelt's flaws caused significant damage to the country and his family and there is plenty there to discuss (admittedly, I listened for 1/3 and skipped around for the rest, but the flowery takes become clear). His covering the bank holiday and theft of gold for example just heaps praise while ignoring all of the damage done or well documented takes that this and many of his other actions caused far more harm, but it goes further. Brand finds Roosevelt's own admission of his ignorance to be praiseworthy,

Everything about the president that ended much of what remained of capitalism and helped finally create the imperial presidency is just ignored, in favor of a fantasy of a near flawless human, who just happened to do everything right, yet somehow we just can ignore the misery and greatest depression in history. This book at best paints in more color what your few paragraphs from your leftist grade school book already covered, it doesn't do more, and sadly I'll be crossing this author off my list after several decent books (which, I now will wonder about).

7 people found this helpful

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Rare Combination,,, Fact AND Feeling!

The study of history is amazing when truth of BOTH a feeling and a factual nature jumps off the pages.

Agree or not with a given policy of FDR, you will know his feeling as well as his thinking. Not since Carl Sandburg or Bruce Catton history books have I experienced both truths in any one book!

Masterful!

8 people found this helpful

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A Magnificent Biography

Writing a one-volume biography of Franklin D. Roosevelt is a daunting task because of the length of his tenure in office and the circumstances he confronted in the United States and the world. This biography is about as close to a perfect one-volume biography as you will find. The author does an excellent job in presenting Roosevelt's decisions within the context of his times while at the same time not excusing their shortcomings- for example, his decision to intern Japanese-Americans during World War II is presented in a balanced and fair way.

If I had a complaint it would be around two-thirds of the way through the book, the author in one short sentence abruptly dismisses the New Deal as a failure so he can move on to discussing the war. I think he owed the readers more of an explanation as to how and why the New Deal was a failure. That oversight in assessing the New Deal and its failure to bring full economic recovery is unfortunate given that so many political leaders since Roosevelt have tried to resurrect or expand parts of the New Deal and reap the same unintended consequences that it has brought to our economy. At the same time, I still admire Roosevelt for doing something to re-instill lost hope to those who suffered during the Depression.

3 people found this helpful

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We need a FDR in the White House now

As I write this in the summer of 2020 President Donald Trump is reving up his campaign for re-election to the White House. The meaness and smallness of Donald Trump is so apparent when listening to this book's account of the generosity and grandness of FDR's vision during world war II in the depression.

2 people found this helpful

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Worth every minute.

I felt as if I was listening to FDR's own voice through the author's pen and the narrator's performance. The scenes were painted with such two tail and the narrator made them come alive. It was a treat to learn so much more about FDR then I ever could have imagined. I recommend the unabridged version - it may seem daunting to listen to, but I found myself hanging on every word.

2 people found this helpful

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Too much time spent describing economics

An econ class in high school is the extent of my knowledge of the subject. I zoned out through most of the complicated descriptions and explanations. I know that the Great Depression and the New Deal had all to do with the banks, the private sector, government and so on and so forth, but I wanted a biography, not Economics 401. I wish the book discussed Eleanor a little more. I know this is FDR's biography, but she was such a big part of his life and was often involved in policy matters and was someone he discussed major issues with.

4 people found this helpful

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Heavy Dose of History

If you could sum up Traitor to His Class in three words, what would they be?

Not Brands' best.

What other book might you compare Traitor to His Class to and why?

Any of many history books. This is not my favorite HW Brands biography; I read his works on Andrew Jackson and Ben Franklin and found both much more compelling. This could be my affinity for older America, or the difference between reading and listening to a heavily detailed piece of history, but nevertheless I was never as excited for the next page of FDR as I was for the other two. It seems to me more of the predjudices and judgements of the modern man figure into Brands' analysis of the New Deal president, and figure in more favorably than they might another hundred years down the line.

Have you listened to any of Mark Deakins’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

No, but this was good narration.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No, I'd say this should be free to anyone that could.

Any additional comments?

Listening to mammoth recordings of detailed history is not for the faint if heart, or ear. How much did I retain?

7 people found this helpful

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Overall very good!

Good listen, book was interesting and informative. I learned a couple of new things about the time period as well. The narrator was very good and made the direct quotes sound different than the regular narrative. The only issue I had was that the reader mispronounced several key person's names repeatedly, which was somewhat annoying. It would have been wise to listen to period newscasts to hear the correct way to say their names. Otherwise, great book!

2 people found this helpful

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Starts great, ends poorly.

My biggest complaint about the book is how, about 2/3rds of the way through, it almost stops being about FDR entirely.

I quite enjoyed the first 2/3rds, which were very informative, though noticeably biased. I liked learning more about the political motivations of the New Deal and how it came to be. Brands does a great job describing the political and economic climate that allowed FDR to be so bold in experimenting. I also like that he continually stressed that the New Deal wasn't a coherent plan or ideology, rather just a willingness to experiment with progressive policies. I do wish he touched more on the life of Eleanor, but maybe that's an unfair complaint as the book is supposed to be about FDR himself and the two were quite distant for most of his presidency.

Anyway, what dropped my opinion of this book from likely being 4 star to 2 star is that right when the book arrives at 1940, the domestic political situation of America is completely ignored. FDRs actual life and thoughts get completely ignored. The entire story shifts to being a high school level overview of WWII. Yes, it is often told from FDR's perspective. But just as often the narrative focus is on Winston Churchill, who gets a ton of 'screen time'. I found that this whole last third (and it really is a solid third) of the book to be completely useless. Maybe for someone with no base understanding of WWII it would be informative. But I myself cranked up the speed to 1.5 and just powered through. It felt like entire chapters focused on the war Japan and Germany, without ever even beginning to tie that back into how it related to America or FDR.

I genuinely feel like Brands decided he wanted to tell a totally separate but related story about the partnership of Churchill and Roosevelt, but tried to condense it and cram it into the wrong book, with the result being too shallow to be interesting, yet long enough to be annoying.

One last complaint would be the tendency to place a lot of focus on events that would only be important with historical hindsight, while completely ignoring events that felt significant at the time but didn't end up playing into the 'grand narrative' of FDR. Like a lot of time is spent describing FDR's visit to Pearl Harbor in 1933, despite that having been just a mundane and routine trip at the time. Nothing that happened was significant in 1933, nor does it really impact later events. It was just an opportunity for the author to say "hey, you all know how important this place is going to be 9 years later!" which I felt added nothing of substance to the story.

TL;DR - The first 2/3rds of the book are great for someone who wants to learn more about the rise and true personality of FDR. The last 1/3rd is useless for anybody who has taken 11th grade American History.

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Mark Deakins is the best, this book is ok

I found myself wanting more. This biography feels incomplete. There are big gaps and much is superficial. Mark Deakins is my favorite narrator and he does a great job with the material he’s given.