Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected President four times, led the country through the Great Depression and World War II, and died after constructing the framework for a postwar world. Despite facing challenges and much criticism, Roosevelt was immensely successful. Presidential historian Robert Dallek makes a strong case for how he found success in his splendid Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life. Roosevelt “was an instinctively brilliant politician;” virtually everything he said and did was to serve political ends. Beyond his personal complexity and ability to keep his own counsel, he had an intuitive sense of timing and used his charm and guile effectively. Although he had firm convictions about public policy, he was careful not to get too far ahead of public opinion.
Dallek covers Roosevelt’s entire personal and political life, including the influence of Roosevelt’s mother, his often awkward marriage to Eleanor, his struggle with polio, his close friendship with his cousin Daisy Suckley and other confidantes, such as Missy LeHand, his long-serving and devoted secretary.
Dallek is the author of the Bancroft Prize-winning Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 1932-1945, and his sections on the subject of foreign policy are outstanding. Roosevelt’s approach to strong isolationism in the 1930s and his complicated relations with Churchill and Stalin are covered in significant detail. Roosevelt’s most controversial decisions, such as his response (or failure to respond adequately) to the Holocaust and the internment of Japanese Americans in camps were made for political reasons, Dallek argues.
This book is authoritative, insightful and consistently interesting.