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The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency
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The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency

4.31 of 5 stars 4.31  ·  rating details  ·  173 ratings  ·  51 reviews
Here, from James Tobin, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in biography, is the story of the greatest comeback in American political history, a saga long buried in half-truth, distortion and myth— Franklin Roosevelt’s ten-year climb from paralysis to the White House.

In 1921, at the age of thirty-nine, Roosevelt was the brightest young sta
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published November 12th 2013 by Simon & Schuster
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Mikey B.

The FDR Memorial in Washington DC

This is a vivid portrayal of Franklin Roosevelt when he became afflicted by poliomyelitis (infantile paralysis) in 1921 and his life-long adjustment to it. It covers the period of onset until he ran for President in 1932.

The author gives us an excellent perspective of the individuals surrounding Roosevelt, particularly of his secretary/advisor Louis Howe. Louis attached himself to Roosevelt in the 1910’s and never gave up on him. Both always believed that Rooseve
Franklin D. Roosevelt was 39 years old when he was stricken with infantile paralysis (polio). Just one day he couldn’t stand up anymore and the hope for a fast recovery faded fast when he just got worse and the doctor had no clue to what had stricken him and in the end misdiagnosed him. Precious time was wasted before another doctor recognized what ailed him and by then it was too late for Roosevelt to be ever walk again properly. He would have to rely on other people to support himself to stand ...more
As a disabled individual with a deep interest in politics and a avid fascination in the study of the American Presidency, Franklin D. Roosevelt has occupied a very special place in my heart for many, many years. It fascinates me just to think that less than a century ago this country faced (what seemed like at the time) two insurmountable obstacles one directly following the other: the Great Depression and World War II, respectively.

A favorite quote of mine is: "When this country was on its knee
In depth and specific
Well researched, well told

FDR "defied" polio but wasn't "defined" by it ... yet it definitely shaped the President he became. Polio sharpened his character and remodelled his ethics. The argument presented isn't that FDR became President in spite of his polio, or that FDR became President because of his polio, but, as the title says so clearly, the argument is about the man (and President) he became.

The author stays on task and presents a lot of interesting information and
Carrie Kilgore
Well-written, thoroughly researched story of FDR's fight with polio and its aftermath. As a polio survivor myself (I was two when I contracted the disease in the last big US epidemic in 1955) I found the descriptions of the illness right on the money, as well as FDR's physical, mental, and emotional struggles to regain some of what he'd lost. But this book should resonate with anyone, not only those who struggle with disability, but who struggle, period. FDR's courage and determination served hi ...more
Bill Rogers
On one hand, this book is narrow. It concentrates only on Franklin Roosevelt's polio case, how he responded to it, and how it affected-- Tobin thinks it perhaps made-- his political career. Narrow isn't good, usually. But on the other hand Roosevelt's polio is an aspect of his life which has been downplayed, if not ignored. It is part of his life which is vital to understand if you wish to understand him. It is time to study it in detail, then, and that's exactly what Tobin sets out to do.

John Behle
Riveting, uplifting, and amazing. What FDR accomplished, the man he became, the life he lived and, most of all, the millions of lives he touched vaults Tobin's book to an easy five star.

Tobin writes with verve and you-are-there realism, that for me, turned this story into impulse reading. I tore through this book in four days. I planned extra time so I could have long stretches to better absorb how FDR defied this "fool disease of infantile paralysis" and achieve the mantle of a world leader.

At the age of 39, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a rising star in Democratic politics. Handsome, charming, ambitious and liberal, he was able to navigate the tricky waters of the Democratic Party. Then on an outing he went swimming, came home feeling unwell and was never able to walk unassisted again. The story of how he worked to strengthen not only his body, but also the public's perception of what it means to be "crippled" is inspiring. In this period, being "crippled" meant being pitied and s ...more

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s dream to follow his cousin’s Theodore to the Presidency seemed to be exactly on course until he was stuck down with polio and appeared to be derailed forever. But as James Tobin recounts in his new book “The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency”, Roosevelt’s illness and his determination to regain his health and the use of his legs enabled him to make his way to the White House in a quiet unexpected way.

Tobin begins his
Lisa McAllister
This book did an excellent job focusing on the topic, which was how FDR's disability affected his life and his political life. The author really hit some key elements of the disabled experience, admirably for an able-bodied person. I especially appreciated his organization, and his citation of other works he read as he researched. This gives me more to read on the topic. It also made me think about my life in terms of my disability, which I don't often consider. While I try my best to just ignor ...more
A Smith
In no way comparing a back injury to Polio but bits of the agony and trying to fight back and stand up is difficult.

I've never read such detailed and awe inspiring deeper realty. My love of FDR on this reason alone is accentuated. Our nation was different but also the same.
Stephen Murley
Oh no, not ANOTHER book on FDR!

That was my thought as I saw this on the New Arrivals shelf of my local library not withstanding the stellar reputation of author James Tobin. In addition to the many FDR books I had read in the past, I knew that I would be drawn into watching Ken Burn's upcoming TV documentary series on the Roosevelt family slated for this fall. Was there such a thing as Roosevelt overload? That morning in the library I said yes and passed it up. And kept passing it up for the nex
Nancy Moffett
I knew very little about FDR except that he had four terms in office. This book chronicles his years-long struggle to overcome the damage done to him by polio. Tobin paints a vivid portrait of how a man who was considered a lightweight in politics was transformed into the strong leader he became by his struggle with polio. It ends just as he has won the White House for his first term. A quote: "Through exercise, practice and compromise with his own highest hopes, he had recovered some of the str ...more
I won this book from Goodreads through their First Reads program.

This is a nice, shortish biography on the roughly 10 years between the time Roosevelt contracted polio to his election as president. It goes into great detail on how FDR probably first encountered the disease and the painstaking road to recovery. It gives some great insight into the personal toughness FDR displayed.

The author boldly claimed that FDR won the presidency not in spite of polio, but because of polio. I would have liked
I expected this book to be good, and it ended up exceeding my expectations. The author does an outstanding job showing how FDR literally defied polio. This book blends Roosevelt family history, the history and treatment of polio, and state and national politics in a captivating narrative.

FDR was a strong man, and his unexpected contraction of polio at age thirty-nine presented him with a huge challenge to undertake. He refused to let polio force him out of public life. His recovery was long and
I was lucky enough to win a copy of this book on Goodreads:) Honest review:

Since I have long admired and read about FDR, I was excited to read "The Man He Became."

Focus on this aspect of FDR's life is seldom written in detail. The author is on target in doing so and in recognizing how polio and the effects therein were instrumental in helping to shape FDR as both a man and politician leading our country through one of its' darkest times.

As he had done with his disability, FDR focused on what c
Michael Kelleher
This is the first biography of a president that I have ever read. If not for the title I would have expected this book to be largely about campaign strategies, signing bills, the Great Depression and World War II. Instead I was treated to a glimpse behind the curtain of [one of] the most influential president[s] of the 20th century.

This books starts following the life of FDR in 1921 and finishes up in 1932. It isn't just about Roosevelt winning the presidency. It tells the story of a driven and
Marianne Meyers
I found this book fascinating and thought the author did an excellent job keeping on task (there is so much to FDR and so many other places to go). What I found so interesting was how FDR decided to deal with his polio, what options he had, the minutiae of planning how many steps to take to the podium at his first public speech at Madison Square Garden, his choreography to get around everywhere he went. He did it with flair and zeal and with style, such a unique man of his time. I also found his ...more
"I suppose of all those [candidates] mentioned he will be the easiest one to beat." — Herbert Hoover, 31st US President
"I do a lot of things I can't do." — Franklin Delano Roosevelt

We live in a world that is vastly different than it was a hundred years ago. The crippling diseases people feared back then aren't even a second thought to most of us now – if we even know what they are or what they do. True, we have new diseases to fear, but how scared are you really of contracting Ebola? Contrast t
Suzanne Skelly
This story deals with the brief history of FDR's youth and initial interest in politics, including his great admiration for his distant cousin Teddy Roosevelt. However, the bulk of the story is about Franklin D. Roosevelt's 10 year climb from paralysis to the White House. Well researched with painstaking re-examination of original documents, James Tobin uncovers the twisted chain if accidents that left FDR paralyzed; he reveals how polio recast Roosevelt's fateful partnership with wife Eleanor, ...more
Mark J Greene
It's a good read for someone who is trying to come to terms with their own disability!
Joanne  Clarke Gunter
Every book I read about FDR makes me admire him more, but this book the most of all because so many other books concentrate primarily on the political/presidential challenges he faced rather than the physical and personal ones. His dogged determination and continual struggle to overcome the handicaps of polio as much as humanly possible made him into a much stronger and more empathetic man and president. He may have become president if he had not had polio, but he would have been a different pre ...more
Perhaps just as much attention—spoken if not written—has been given to FDR's disability as to any of his policies; it appears to be impossible to talk about one without citing the other's effect. However, in my lifetime the latter-day wisdom has been that his paralysis from an attack of polio at age 39 was a secret, or at least an open one: that he took great pains to hide the fact that he could not walk and even had film confiscated that would show him as the cripple (to use the word of the tim ...more
Was FDR born great or did he become one of our greatest Presidents because of the crippling results of polio? Tobin’s book focuses on Roosevelt’s life in the light of his affliction, of the efforts it took to recover, the extent to which he recovered, how he was changed by the experience, and ultimately how the nation & the world was changed by what his doctor called this “complex tapestry” of a man. The Man He Became is a fascinating and inspirational look at an extraordinary human being.

Eddie Whitlock
Overall, this is an excellent book.

Tobin has done a fantastic job of going behind the scenes and finding documentation about Roosevelt's physical and mental struggles. The work is impressive.

I have two very minor complaints:
1) Mr. Tobin seems to have written this in answer to A SPLENDID DECEPTION, another book about FDR and his paralysis. I really see them as two different angles of the same issue. There was no need for Mr. Tobin to attack the other book.
2) There was some unnecessary padding e
Jane Gardner
I'm not a Roosevelt fan, and I'm definitely not a democrat, but I found this book fascinating. I, like many others, always thought that the American public was unaware of Roosevelt's handicap. This, however, is very untrue. They were very much aware of it, which caused him to work even harder to appear "normal." The book goes into great detail about his first symptoms, his rehab, his struggles, and his ultimate victory in winning the presidency.
This is a narrow slice of FDR's very complex life. It was inspiring to hear how hard he worked to overcome polio; how he was able to remain positive in the face of great adversity. It also gave an interesting and detailed history of polio. Somehow I wanted just a little bit more about his actual campaigns on his road to the White House. The book ended after he was elected Governor of New York and I felt there was more of the story to tell.
It's hard to believe that yet another book on FDR has been published but I found this one fascinating and it adds to what there is to know and admire about him. This book focuses on the years 1921-1932, when FDR contracted polio and spent years fighting its effects and coming to terms with his disability. The author posits successfully the idea that dealing with polio brought FDR's best qualities to the surface and actually played a part in his victories in the NY gubernatorial election of 1928 ...more
This book was interesting because it is history told from the perspective of FDR as a man who had so much to overcome. His paralysis shaped him as an individual and then, his presidency and then, in turn, our nations history. I loved reading about Eleanor and their family life also.
Irving Koppel

This is an excellent account of the rise of young FDR as well as the rise of Physical Therapy.Fortu-
nately the development of this therapy was coincidental with the time Mr.Roosevelt needed it. Whatever
one may think of FDR,anyone has to admire his courage and steadfastness in the pursuit of becoming
the president of the United States.
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