Monday, May 28, 2007

Reviewed: Jean Edward Smith, FDR

FDR by Jean Edward Smith (Random House) was reviewed on Sunday in the Washington Post by Jonathan Yardley. Yardley begins with a story about Winston Churchill dropping Franklin Roosevelt off at the Casablanca airport in 1943.
'Let's go,' he told an aide. 'I don't like to see them take off. It makes me far too nervous. If anything happened to that man, I couldn't stand it. He is the truest friend; he has the farthest vision; he is the greatest man I have ever known.' "
Hyperbole? Perhaps. There are many who will argue that the greatest man Churchill had ever known was Churchill himself. Yet of Roosevelt's greatness there can be no question....He led the nation out of the Depression that could well have destroyed it, and then he led it to total victory in the most terrible war the world has known. He gave hope to millions who had lost it, and he changed forever the relationship between the citizens of the United States and their government.
For a quarter-century or more, that new relationship has come under challenge, primarily because of the conservative revolution engendered by Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, and in the process Roosevelt has retreated somewhat into the shadows. Though the fruits of his legacy certainly warrant reconsideration, the relative neglect into which he has fallen is an injustice. So it is good indeed to have Smith's new biography of him. That he has managed to compress the whole sweep of Roosevelt's life into a bit more than 600 pages may seem in and of itself miraculous, but his achievement is far larger than that. His FDR is at once a careful, intelligent synopsis of the existing Roosevelt scholarship (the sheer bulk of which is huge) and a meticulous re-interpretation of the man and his record. Smith pays more attention to Roosevelt's personal life than have most previous biographers. He is openly sympathetic yet ready to criticize when that is warranted, and to do so in sharp terms; he conveys the full flavor and import of Roosevelt's career without ever bogging down in detail.
In sum, Smith's FDR is a model presidential biography.

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