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FDR
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Product Description

One of today¡¯s premier biographers has written a modern, comprehensive, indeed ultimate book on the epic life of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In this superlative volume, Jean Edward Smith combines contemporary scholarship and a broad range of primary source material to provide an engrossing narrative of one of America¡¯s greatest presidents.

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 battles with polio and physical disability, and how these experiences helped forge the resolve that FDR used to surmount the economic turmoil of the Great Depression and the wartime threat of totalitarianism. Here also is FDR¡¯s private life depicted with unprecedented candor and nuance, with close attention paid to the four women who molded his personality and helped to inform his worldview: His mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, formidable yet ever supportive and tender; his wife, Eleanor, whose counsel and affection were instrumental to FDR¡¯s public and individual achievements; Lucy Mercer, the great romantic love of FDR¡¯s life; and Missy LeHand, FDR¡¯s longtime secretary, companion, and confidante, whose adoration of her boss was practically limitless.

Smith also tackles head-on and in-depth the numerous failures and miscues of Roosevelt¡¯s public career, including his disastrous attempt to reconstruct the Judiciary; the shameful internment of Japanese-Americans; and Roosevelt¡¯s occasionally self-defeating Executive overreach. Additionally, Smith offers a sensitive and balanced assessment of Roosevelt¡¯s response to the Holocaust, noting its breakthroughs and shortcomings.

Summing up Roosevelt¡¯s legacy, Jean Smith declares that FDR, more than any other individual, changed the relationship between the American people and their government. It was Roosevelt who revolutionized the art of campaigning and used the burgeoning mass media to garner public support and allay fears. But more important, Smith gives us the clearest picture yet of how this quintessential Knickerbocker aristocrat, a man who never had to depend on a paycheck, 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 far less well understood. Written for the general reader and scholars alike, FDR is a stunning biography in every way worthy of its subject.


From the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews:

  • Excellent
    This is the first biography of FDR I've read, so I don't have others to judge it by. But I was impressed by the writing as well as by the man.

    While almost everyone considers FDR amongst the top contenders for great presidents, the author does a great job of pointing out FDR's failings as well as his successes. This, to me, brought a great deal of balance to the work that I had thought might not be present.

    I am one who believes the New Deal brought us some social programs that are now proving to be abject failures (Social Security, Unemployment Insurance). It was most interesting to see that FDR, by his own words, would have considered these programs as modern-day failures, as well. That is, the funding disasters they have become were not part of his expectation, although he clearly recognized the potential for abuse.

    Still, the first 100 days of FDR's presidency were days of massive accomplishment, by any metric. During this time he managed at least 15 major pieces of legislation and they were mostly what was needed to get the country back on its feet and through the great trials of the day. One wonders whether these accomplishments would have been as meaningful without WWII. Whether the New Deal programs, absent WWII, would have truly ended the Depression seems to be the subject of some speculation (that the spending cuts of the late 30s created a "Roosevelt Recession" seems to suggest the New Deal programs were temporary boosts in the economy that would not, taken alone, have solved the problem).

    While FDR is frequently credited with ending the Great Depression, it is clear that his real achievement was in the masterful handling of WWII. It is difficult to imagine a better wartime president. The author presents great coverage of the relationships among FDR, Churchill, and Stalin, which I enjoyed reading about.

    If I have a complaint it is minor. There is much more attention paid to the sheer politics, particularly in the earlier elections, than I would have preferred. I found these portions of the book to be less interesting, but that may be just a personal preference. I'm not particularly interested in New York politics of the day. Of course, others may be, so I do understand the need for these topics to be covered.

    Overall, I found the book compelling. While it satisfied my interest in learning more about FDR and those years in our nation's history, I would say it has also encouraged me to read more about FDR, particularly during the third terms when I believe his greatness was truly established. ...more info
  • FDR as FDR
    Well written bio of a man who was both understood and misunderstood throughout his presidency. Lots of fascinating details....more info
  • The best single-volume on FDR's life now available
    Smith's volume on U.S. Grant was one of the finest biographies I have ever read, a truly masterful work, which led me enthusiastically to his new book on FDR. While the FDR biography contains few new revelations for true Roosevelt devotees, it is a superb work and a "must read" for anyone with an interest in the man or his times. Finely researched, beautifully written and nicely balanced, it is the best single-volume modern biography of Roosevelt now available....more info
  • Excellent insight into the life of one of the great presidents
    Franklin D. Roosevelt was unquestionably one of the great American presidents. In a time when America is again suffering bank failures and other economic problems it is useful to read a good analysis of FDR, and how he dealt with the problems of the Great Depression. Here, the author provides a succinct and valuable look at the New Deal. This constitutes the main contribution of this piece.

    The author concludes that FDR was not a deep thinker, but he was a man of action who learned how to operate the levers of government and achieve most of the goals that he wanted to. Regardless of one's opinion of the actual programs comprising "The Hundred Days" legislation at the beginning of Roosevelt's first term, it was a masterpiece of political maneuvering and most of it was managed directly by Roosevelt himself, showcasing his formidable political skills. The author (as do most historians) concludes that most of the "New Deal" legislation was experimental--FDR tried one solution, then another, to combat the Depression. To this day historians and economists differ as to their evaluation of it. Here, I thought that the author was pretty evenhanded, as he concludes that some of the New Deal actions were essential (unemployment insurance, various work relief programs such as the CCC, electrification of America's rural areas) while others were frank failures (NIRA, some of FDR's agricultural programs). The reader can develop his or her own opinions on this. One thing that does come out of this work that I had not realized until the author pointed it out, is that the "New Deal" had pretty much run its course by the end of Roosevelt's second term, and most of Roosevelt's advisers as well as the President himself believed that it was mostly time for the US economy to make it without large government programs such as NIRA propping it up. Of course, the Second World War intervened before this argument was ever fully decided.

    The author makes a persuasive case that Roosevelt's enormous re-election landslide caused him to overreach, and overestimate executive power. The "court packing" plan was very unpopular, and this legislation was defeated. But even here, Roosevelt came out a winner, as the Supreme Court, clearly reacting to the threat to its own power, reversed decades of precedent and allowed the Federal Government, through New Deal programs, to regulate parts of the US economy the regulation of which prior to these Court reversals the Court had held to be unconstitutional. The impact of this persists to the present day, with the Federal Government regulating all aspects of interstate commerce up to and including what kind of toilets Americans are allowed to buy or use.

    One of the things that this piece really reveals to the reader is the extent to which the American upper class dominated presidential politics during the early 20th Century. I had not realized how much Theodore Roosevelt had conferred political legitimacy upon FDR. The prestige of the Roosevelt name, combined with FDR's social connections and family wealth, caused him to understand from an early age that high political office was within his grasp. FDR was a member of this "club" and was sought after as a candidate for numerous offices. A small circle of upper-class Eastern patricians dominated many aspects of American politics then to an extent even greater than today. The book does an outstanding job of illustrating and explaining this.

    Overall, although this book is not a short read, it is an engaging and insightful one. The events of the present (December 2008) make it particularly relevant at this time. Highly recommended....more info
  • Excellent
    This is the first biography of FDR I've read, so I don't have others to judge it by. But I was impressed by the writing as well as by the man.

    While almost everyone considers FDR amongst the top contenders for great presidents, the author does a great job of pointing out FDR's failings as well as his successes. This, to me, brought a great deal of balance to the work that I had thought might not be present.

    I am one who believes the New Deal brought us some social programs that are now proving to be abject failures (Social Security, Unemployment Insurance). It was most interesting to see that FDR, by his own words, would have considered these programs as modern-day failures, as well. That is, the funding disasters they have become were not part of his expectation, although he clearly recognized the potential for abuse.

    Still, the first 100 days of FDR's presidency were days of massive accomplishment, by any metric. During this time he managed at least 15 major pieces of legislation and they were mostly what was needed to get the country back on its feet and through the great trials of the day. One wonders whether these accomplishments would have been as meaningful without WWII. Whether the New Deal programs, absent WWII, would have truly ended the Depression seems to be the subject of some speculation (that the spending cuts of the late 30s created a "Roosevelt Recession" seems to suggest the New Deal programs were temporary boosts in the economy that would not, taken alone, have solved the problem).

    While FDR is frequently credited with ending the Great Depression, it is clear that his real achievement was in the masterful handling of WWII. It is difficult to imagine a better wartime president. The author presents great coverage of the relationships among FDR, Churchill, and Stalin, which I enjoyed reading about.

    If I have a complaint it is minor. There is much more attention paid to the sheer politics, particularly in the earlier elections, than I would have preferred. I found these portions of the book to be less interesting, but that may be just a personal preference. I'm not particularly interested in New York politics of the day. Of course, others may be, so I do understand the need for these topics to be covered.

    Overall, I found the book compelling. While it satisfied my interest in learning more about FDR and those years in our nation's history, I would say it has also encouraged me to read more about FDR, particularly during the third terms when I believe his greatness was truly established. ...more info
  • Great One Volume History of FDR
    This is a great history of FDR in one complete volume. There would be some argument that a one volume history of over 600 pages is not sufficient, but I think it is, particularly for the general reader not interested in a specific event. For example, if you want a book about FDR and World War 2, there are other books on that. The author is generally sympathetic to FDR (it is hard not to, whatever your political persuasion) but doesn't avoid his mistakes or faults. Although it is appropriate for general readers, more nitpicky individuals will find over 200 pages of footnotes. I really can't recommend this book more highly for anyone with an interest in twentieth century history....more info
  • EO 9066 info is shallow and flawed.
    Having 18 years experience researching/studying Japanese language, history and culture - including the history of the 1942 evacuation of ethnic Japanese from the West Coast Military Zones - I was disapointed with Smith's very limited summary of the history of Executive Order 9066, his condemnation of FDR's decision and embrace of the same old arguments that have been fed to the American people since the Commission on Wartime Internment and Relocation of Civilians submitted its much flawed report in the early 1980s.

    J. Edgar Hoover waffled on the issue, but his west coast field offices were entirely in support of evacuation.

    No mention of MAGIC intercepts that proved a Japanese fifth column existed amongst the west coast Japanese community, including nisei.

    Smith relies on various quotes taken out of historical context from Dewitt, Clark and others that should be better explained to reveal what these men were actually saying and why.

    In fact, much of Smith's book related the EO 9066 lacks footnotes or source material.

    The exception being Smith's use of the state of California's decision to exclude ethnic Japanese children from public schools (San Francisco, specifically) - the tortured logic being an intrinsic racist element in the state led to the evacuation of ethnic Japanese.

    Smith completely ignores the numerous Japanese patriotic organizations in the United States at the time, the zealous fanaticism that existed in the Japanese community from the Russo-Japanese War up to and including the Sino-Japanese and the Pacific War, not to mention military and other intelligece that revealed fifth-column activities.

    Smith also ignores Germans and Italian Americans who suffered.

    I was very disapointed in Smith's limited take on the evacuation, his reinforcement of myths that will be digested by the American people.

    History used to be about documenting the 100% truth, not supporting political/activist agendas.

    In this regard, Smith's book fails....more info
  • Useful FDR biography
    Franklin Delano Roosevelt was such a remarkable man who served as President during such a remarkable time, that it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between biography and hagiography. Jean Edward Smith's "FDR" comes perilously close to being hagiography. But it is also a superior one-volume biography of one of the greatest men in American history.

    There is nothing new in this biography. Everything here has been written about previously by other authors. What Smith, much to his credit, does is to bring it all together in an eminently readable volume. This would be a near ideal place for anyone wanting to improve their understanding of 20th Century American history to begin, for Roosevelt's Presidency covered the most important years and events of the century.

    Political partisans will find much to criticize since Smith avoids some - but certainly not all - of the aspects of Roosevelt's political life that are arguable. On the whole though, Smith is to be commended for producing a comprehensive biography.

    It's a solid effort easily on a par with Conrad Black's effort of a few years back. Like Lincoln, Roosevelt is the subject of thousands of books. While Smith's biography won't stop anyone from writing yet another, this is an excellent overall biography of the man.

    Jerry...more info
  • Highly recommend--complete and acurate portrayal of Franklin, the man, and the president.
    Very, very well researched. Took a class from Smith--surprised to find that there was not anything he did not know about FDR! Very impressed by his work. Good read, superb writing. He truly brings FDR's character to life in this biography. I read other biographies for his class on FDR, but I preferred this one. The other books seemed to just cover portions of Smith's complete biography. I would highly recommend it!...more info
  • FDR
    Jean Edward Smith is one of the very best biographers of all time. FDR was an interesting read, hard to put down, like a novel. A must read for the expansive content but especially during this time of economic upheavel, a lot of parallels and gives one a lot of fodder for reflection on our times....more info
  • Riveting!
    Jean Edward Smith has done a wonderful job of showing us maybe the most impacting figure of the 20th century. Smith handles the account of Roosevelt's life deftly. From his privileged childhood to the White House, this book gives us the accounts of those things we are most familiar with: Hyde Park, courting and marrying Eleanor, his relationship to the political powerhouse Tammany Hall, the Presidency, Pearl Harbor..it's all there. However, the part I liked about this work was the insight into things like the early stages of FDR's polio, his distant relationship with Eleanor, the impact of his Mother and, especially his friendship with Churchill.
    This is not a book you want to rush through. Instead savor every page as he, tough dead, comes alive!...more info
  • Perpetuates myths - breaks no new ground
    FDR/Jean Edward Smith
    Random House Audio; Abridged edition (May 15, 2007)


    Few dispute the value of fresh perspective on historical personages. However, this work is just a repackaging of the same old worn out myths about F.D.R.

    Factually correct, where this book is found wanting is in what it doesn't explain to the reader - especially facts relating to outcomes of F.D.R.'s policies, and different ways of interpreting events in terms of the light those events shed on F.D.R.'s character and motives.

    Take outcomes: F.D.R. ran against Hoover for his F.D.R.'s first term as President but left intact Hoover's regressive taxation scheme that relied primarily on excise taxes to fund New Deal programs. One of those taxes was the F.D.R.-introduced (and unconstitutional) food processing tax that paid for farmers to not raise crops, and allowed the government to buy up and destroy farm surpluses. The outcome - The "forgotten man" got stuck with higher food prices passed on by highly taxed processors, so that government could limit food production and surpluses, resulting in even higher food prices and food scarcity at a time when many Americans were standing in bread lines. So which came first, the bread lines or F.D.R.'s disastrous excise taxes and farm polices?

    Another outcome: In the Introduction, this author maintains that one key to Roosevelt's supposed compassion was the experience F.D.R. had of the rural poor during the years he spent around Warm Springs, Georgia. The real outcome was that in truth, Roosevelt personally directed Works Progress Administration (WPA) funds to regions of the country primarily for political gain, and not where the need was the greatest. Since the Solid South was politically secure for Roosevelt's multiple re-election bids, even though it's poverty was great, in got less WPA funds per capita than less depressed northern states. So much for "compassion".

    Interpreting events: The author does a good job of exposing the little-known reality that despite being elected by a landslide to a second term as President, F.D.R. - through a series of serious missteps - was a lame duck by the end of the second year of his second term in office. Facing the formidable Wendell Lewis Willkie in a bid for a third term as President, plus the enormous barrier posed by the two-term tradition established by George Washington, F.D.R. might have gone done in lopsided defeat. The author devotes no time to exploring the possibility that F.D.R.'s then shift to emphasis on foreign policy - leading to American entry in WWII - may have been largely politically motivated. Since the nation was largely opposed to involvement in any foreign war by the latter half of F.D.R.'s second term, it is certainly worth exploring why this consummate politician set himself on a course that seemed charted to make him only more unpopular. Is it possible F.D.R. knew that he could manage events such that a surge of patriotism would propel him into a third term?

    Another interpretation - Without citing one scrap of evidence, Smith attributes the "Roosevelt Depression" of 1937 - in which industrial production plummeted at the most rapid rate in U.S. history and unemployment soared to levels exceeding those F.D.R inherited from Hoover - to "premature cut-backs in government deficit spending". This is a strange interpretation since F.D.R. took credit for improvement in the economy during his first term as something his administration had "planned". It is far more likely that stridently anti-wealthy and anti-business rhetoric and taxation policies leading up to and following F.D.R.'s second term re-election campaign had something - probably much - to do with the Roosevelt Depression.

    For persons interested in having old myths reconfirmed by yet another fawning tribute to the life of F.D.R., this is the book for you. For those aiming to get at the truth, one would be better off looking elsewhere....more info
  • A good solid, fact based, biography.
    This is a well-written, solid biography, focusing on facts over hyperbole. It eschews any particular theme, such as FDR's impact on the fabric of American society or on his interactions with Churchill and Stalin, for a general and well-balanced approach. The book covers FDR's whole life, including both its personal and professional aspects. Professor Smith does not avoid the marital and extramarital aspect of FDR and ER's lives, as was the case in the biographies written in the 1950's. These aspects are not dwelled on, but neither are they omitted. The early NY politics, the campaigns and the presidencies are all covered, as is FDR's childhood. The book is well researched and generally tries to be factual and informative, rather than being overly laudatory or critical. It covers both FDR at his best (campaigning, instilling the confidence necessary to defeat the depression and win WWII and developing the facets of American life, such as Social Security and the FDIC, that we tend to take for granted) and at his worst (for instance, allowing the internment of Japanese Americans at the start of WWII, in spite of clear evidence that this was illegal, immoral and done more in the name of racial bigotry than American security). While written for the general reader, the book has a lot for the more serious student of history. The book contains over 150 pages of end-notes and has footnotes on most pages. (I liked this combination as the most important notes are provided on the page that you are reading, with others at the end, so as not to clutter then flow of the book.) There are also about 1000 bibliographic references for further study.

    Not being an FDR expert I cannot determine how much new material has been unearthed, but to a large extent this is unimportant. This is not a specialized work, where new findings are to be expected. Rather, it is a work written for a general audience, one who desires an overview of FDR's life and on this basis the book delivers handsomely. Professor Smith has done a great job of filtering the material from about 1000 sources and making it into a coherent and readable whole. My only criticism (and this was not enough to prevent the 5 star rating that I think that the book disserves) is that the book contains only 636 pages of text. I am sure that the size was an editorial decision, based on a desire to keep the book within the size range desired by readers who only want an overview. Keeping the book to this size meant that most of the events covered could only be given a cursory examination. Given the impact of FDR's life and the fact that he served as president for a little more than 12 years, I would have liked a little more, perhaps an additional 3-400 pages.

    I recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about FDR. As stated, my only reservation is that I would have liked it to be somewhat longer, but, then again, any good book should leave you wanting more.
    ...more info
  • A New Deal Saved A Nation
    An intricate look inside the life, family and administration of FDR. What courage it took to be the president of the United States during the late crises of the "Hoovervills", Great Depression, and the beginning of World War II.
    Smith covers the whole life of Roosevelt from a young lad till his tragic death while serving president. The New Deal put hundreds of thousands of jobless people to work, conserved forestry, and created Social Security. This book is well written, and very informative inside the personal and public lives of FDR and FR....more info
  • An excellent, fact based, biography.
    This is a well-written, solid biography, focusing on facts over hyperbole. It eschews any particular theme, such as FDR's impact on the fabric of American society or on his interactions with Churchill and Stalin, for a general and well-balanced approach. The book covers FDR's whole life, including both its personal and professional aspects. Professor Smith does not avoid the marital and extramarital aspect of FDR and ER's lives, as was the case in the biographies written in the 1950's. These aspects are not dwelled on, but neither are they omitted. The early NY politics, the campaigns and the presidencies are all covered, as is FDR's childhood. The book is well researched and generally tries to be factual and informative, rather than being overly laudatory or critical. It covers both FDR at his best (campaigning, instilling the confidence necessary to defeat the depression and win WWII and developing the facets of American life, such as Social Security and the FDIC, that we tend to take for granted) and at his worst (for instance, allowing the internment of Japanese Americans at the start of WWII, in spite of clear evidence that this was illegal, immoral and done more in the name of racial bigotry than American security). While written for the general reader, the book has a lot for the more serious student of history. The book contains over 150 pages of end-notes and has footnotes on most pages. (I liked this combination as the most important notes are provided on the page that you are reading, with others at the end, so as not to clutter the flow of the book.) There are also about 1000 bibliographic references for further study.

    Not being an FDR expert I cannot determine how much new material has been unearthed, but to a large extent this is unimportant. This is not a specialized work, where new findings are to be expected. Rather, it is a work written for a general audience, one who desires an overview of FDR's life and on this basis the book delivers handsomely. Professor Smith has done a great job of filtering the material from about 1000 sources and making it into a coherent and readable whole. My only criticism (and this was not enough to prevent the 5 star rating that I think that the book disserves) is that the book contains only 636 pages of text. I am sure that the size was an editorial decision, based on a desire to keep the book within the size range desired by readers who only want an overview. Keeping the book to this size meant that most of the events covered could only be given a cursory examination. Given the impact of FDR's life and the fact that he served as president for a little more than 12 years, I would have liked a little more, perhaps an additional 3-400 pages.

    I recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about FDR. As stated, my only reservation is that I would have liked it to be somewhat longer, but, then again, any good book should leave you wanting more.
    ...more info
  • SUPER!
    I love this book! It is very informative. Tells a great and accurate tail of a great human being, This book is truly wonderful! ...more info
  • The Best FDR Biography out there
    This is without a doubt the greatest biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt that has ever been composed. The book has a tremendous attention to detail, and Smith is able to record even the driest bits of history with the liveliness of a village storyteller.

    Now, this book is not without faults. At some times the story shifts from incident to incident with every paragraph, and he doesn't give some events the attention that they deserve. On the other hand, he may have perhaps given too much attention to insignificant events, and could have used that space elaborating on other points. However, I still feel that this is the best possible biography, and it is not so long as to make it impossible to read (although it is still rather long).
    ...more info
  • still don't know the man
    The best part of the book is about his youth and young manhood, when we learn the most about FDR the man. Once Smith gets into the presidency, the book becomes a laundry list of meetings held and legislation achieved. Clearly this is partially due to the fact that so much occurred during the FDR presidency. Still, if I wanted a history of WWII or the depression, I'd look elsewhere. I read this book because I wanted to understand who FDR was, in addition to what he achieved. In this regard, the book was disappointing after the first few hundred pages. ...more info
  • An excellent condensed version for the audiobook
    The condensed audiobook version of Smith's book on FDR is first rate. The reading is first rate, too. It would have been nice to actually hear FDR's own voice when his speeches are quoted, but that's a minor point. The ten hours of CDs, covered on eight discs went by very fast, without any boring periods, as Smith has a knack for picking out the most poignant quotes and primary source facts. So, although there are many, many periods of FDR's life and times which would make great topics for large books--getting out of the Great Depression, WW II, FDR's early life, FDR's medical conditions, his relationship with Eleanor, etc--this condensed version provided a spot-on, easily digested run down of FDR's entire life. I couldn't have asked for anything better....more info
  • Brief Historical Note
    Concerning FDR's problem with immigration laws (cf. congress bill of 1924, etc.): in 1944 he did arrange that 982 European refugees from concentration camps and persecution be admitted as his "guests" to the U.S. See www.oswegohaven.org for the amazing story and the memorial museum in Oswego, NY. For more info contact the current president of the Safe Haven organization (Elizabeth Kahl) at eakahl@syr.edu....more info
  • F.D.R. -- What a Person!
    This biography is absolutely outstanding! Dr. Smith has provided incredible scholarship and depth on "who the man was" and done the same for many of the ancillary characters around F.D.R.. The book creates a stage for each of the phases of F.D.R.'s life, that presents the strengths and the flaws in a way that makes the man believable -- and lovable even 60 years after his death. Each chapter presents a unit of F.D.R.'s life, and each chapter is inspiring in its own right.
    It's a long book, but I wish that every school could make it available to inspire students, not only for the courage that the man exhibited, but the wonderful humanity with which F.D.R. went out of his way to meet all kinds of Americans and touch their personhood. A rare man -- who should be an exemplar for this day and age....more info
  • New Deal for New Age?
    Smith lucidly conveys a masterful account of the greatest American President of the last century. Seventy-five years before `values' became a political buzzword, and we focused on cultural issues such as abortion, gay rights and gun control, FDR rightly saw values in terms of economic issues that impact people's lives. In light of the enormous changes occurring in the U.S. economy, he called for a `reappraisal of values' as the foundation for his economic declaration of rights.

    So now, changes in the global economy call for another reappraisal of values to ensure an updated social contract whereby "every man has a right to life and this means that he also has a right to make a comfortable living. He may by sloth or crime decline to exercise that right but it may not be denied him."

    The passage of time may lay waste to the outmoded means of economic activity, but not to the end goals which ensure that people have a comfortable living and economic security. FDR's leadership transcends time because the values he represented are eternal. After reading Smith's FDR, I wonder where all the leaders have gone, and if there could be another FDR on the horizon?...more info
  • Fantasic, brilliant, couldn't put it down
    Until Jean Edward Smith's biography of FDR came along (his other being the immaculate one on Chief Justice John Marshall), there was nothing interesting that I read in a long time (last good presidential work I read was Doris Goodwin's Lincoln bio, A Team of Rivals). Then a week ago, I picked up a copy at my trust local Costco book section, after which there was nary a waking moment when I didn't find myself turning each page to see how the story would "unfold"; I just managed to put it down earlier today. Another brilliant, insightful work, balanced introspective about the man, and the same time deftly crafts a story of the times that makes FDR so larger than life, not of decades ago, but someone who is so immediate, intimate, and continues to impact contemporary events and times. ...more info
  • Very readable one-volume biography
    Smith gives us a gentle warts-and-all biography. FDR's antipathy towards Jews and Catholics are briefly examined and then labeled just the typical "prejudices of that time and class." His affair with his secretary is detailed, and other foibles. FDR was occasionally prone to exaggerate or stretch the truth, and those instances are fully noted. Most interesting for me are Smith's recounting of all the tricks and diversions that went into keeping people from knowing how badly polio had hit him. Most people knew FDR had had it, but they thought its only lasting affect was that he now used a cane. Not that this biography is overly-critical. (This is no DARK SIDE OF CAMELOT). It's just well-balanced.

    The book fleshes out some of the myths (Oliver Wendell Holmes did NOT say "second class intellect, first-class temperament"; FDR did not "allow" Pearl Harbor to happen), and you get a real sense of the speed with which the main elements of the New Deal were put through during FDR's first 100 days in office. Smith also explains the importance of each part. I also like that Smith usually translates 1920-40's dollar amounts to 21st century values in order to give you a sense of the purchasing power.

    Eleanor gets her due as well, and we see how even though they were apart most of the time, they still worked together to keep America running. Did she have a girlfriend? Things that can be verified are detailed, and things that can not be proven are labeled as such.

    The book is extensively end-noted (100 citations per chapter average - Smith makes wide use of correspondence gleaned from the FDR library), and every few pages there is a historical note at the bottom of the page as well. These are always worth reading (the Vice Presidency isn't worth a "pitcher of warm ___" What? "Nothing to fear.." dates back to the 1600s. The text of WWII cable to Eisenhower in which he expresses doubt at a French collaborator being put in charge of North Africa . . .)

    Even if you aren't interested in FRD, you live in the world he made. It's worth checking out how we got here. And you'll enjoy the book in the process.




    ...more info
  • Good Read; A Few Problems However
    After slogging through Conrad Black's 1200 page FDR bio, it's good to see a readable single volume bio of FDR. It does have value but there were a few things that struck me as curious. For example Smith completely whitewashes FDR's contempt for and insubordination to Josephus Danials. This is legendary. But there is no hint of it here. Also Smith's admiration, bordering on worship, of FDR is at times problematic. Such as when he attempts to minimize FDR's culpability in the internment of the Japanese Americans during WWII. I am a great admirer of FDR's as well but I don't feel a need to make him 10 feet tall and bullet proof.

    Also, I think it is a GLARING ERROR to state that Al Gore claimed to have "invented the internet". Although this is a common misconception, any cursory attempt at research would make it quickly and abundantly clear that Gore never said any such thing. It makes one question Smith's research....more info
  • Disappointed with end notes
    This book fails to include running page references in the section of footnotes, making it awkward and annoying to jump to the note you want to look up.

    I don't understand why experienced publishers are still failing to do that, particularly in books like "FDR" where the notes are extensive. And I don't know if the author is clueless about this as well, or whether he signs a contract that prevents any influence on the book design....more info
  • Excellent presidential biography!
    The book "FDR" by Jean Edward Smith was an excellent biography. At first glance, the book looks intimidating. However, once the reader dives in, it is an excellent read. Mr. Smith's detail to FDR's early and mid life was exceptional. The nature and extent of his relationships to his family and friends provided a roadmap as to his leadership skills and abilities. This explained his presidency to a great extent. The author provides enough details to cover the terms of FDR and the WWII. The only thing that precluded this reviewer from giving this book the fifth star was the lack of depth towards the end of his life. For instance, the story was told through Pearl Harbor to D-Day and Yalta without any coverage between his last inaugural address and his death. Perhaps I expected more than what is available in terms of facts. In sum, FDR by Jean Edward Smith is an excellent read even to the non-historian....more info
  • An introduction to FDR
    This is a well-written and engaging introduction to the life of Franklin Roosevelt, for the reader who knows little or nothing about him. That is the strength of this one-volume biography. The weakness is what Smith had to leave out to keep it to one volume (as he admitted himself recently during a question-answer session on Book TV).

    For instance, before reading this book, I had not known about the role FDR's mother played in his youth and adulthood, or his relationship with Teddy Roosevelt, or how and when he contracted polio, or about his early government service. Smith introduced me to all of those subjects. I did know something about the last years of FDR's life, because I had read Doris Kearns Goodwin's No Ordinary Time. So, when I read through the last part of Smith's biography, I was shocked by how much he omitted as he skimmed over the surface of the World War II years. I suspect that someone with more knowledge of FDR would have the same reaction to the earlier chapters.

    For someone new to the subject, this book provides introductory context for further reading on Franklin Roosevelt. Smith footnotes copiously (to an irritating extent, in fact), and provides a good bibliography. If you've read a good bit about FDR, though, this volume will only tell you what you already know....more info
  • Solid popular biography of FDR
    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. ...more info
  • Excellent one volume biography
    This is an excellent one volume biography of a larger than life President. This book successfully covers FDR's family and personal relationships, his political career,New Deal leadership and finally his role as Commander in Chief during WWII. All is done well and generally is well balanced-exposing the good along with the bad. The warts are here such as his relationship with his wife and children, the "other women" etc. Also up for appropriate criticism is the court packing plan. His tremendous political skills are fairly highlighted as is his great leadership during the Depression. One can criticize the New Deal and question it's ultimate success but FDR was a great leader of the American Public. I think the book falls short in analysing Yalta and the failure to disclose FDR's health issues in the 1944 campaign but these are small quibbles. This is first rate reading and first rate biography. Highly recommended.
    ...more info
  • FDR
    Jean Edward Smith is one of the very best biographers of all time. FDR was an interesting read, hard to put down, like a novel. A must read for the expansive content but especially during this time of economic upheavel, a lot of parallels and gives one a lot of fodder for reflection on our times....more info
  • Enjoyable and educational
    I had read NO ORDINARY TIMES prior to reading FDR. Put together, the two books give you a good feel for the life of FDR and ER..two very interesting people in a very important time for the life of the US. I was able to bring all of this together with a visit to Hyde Park, Val-Kill and the FDR Presidential Library in June. Read this book and you will get a sense of the times and the decisions made that still effect every citizen today....more info