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The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope
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The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope

3.87 of 5 stars 3.87  ·  rating details  ·  2,151 ratings  ·  170 reviews
This is the story of a political miracle - the perfect match of man and moment. Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in March of 1933 as America touched bottom. Banks were closing everywhere. Millions of people lost everything. The Great Depression had caused a national breakdown.
With the craft of a master storyteller, Jonathan Alter brings us closer than ever before to
Published May 5th 2006 by Audio Partners (first published April 15th 2006)
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“We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace—business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in the
I admit to reading this one because Obama was reading it and because so many pundits have been citing similarities between the Depression in the 30ies and Roosevelt’s first 100 days of New Deal legislation and the situation currently faced by our new president. I ended up seeing more differences than similarities between the two presidents and between the two situations—which doesn’t mean the book isn’t not only interesting but timely. By the way, I agree with the author that this time around 10 ...more
Dick Tatro
This book will give you a view of why FDR was able to save Democracy and capitalism by his progressive reforms. This book puts you at the start of the depression and what FDR did to save America. Good reading in this time of Obama. The President has read this book and many of his Idea's are from the first 100 days of FDR. Since the economy appears to be on the right track and health care has passed, I think we are seeing the earlier stages of what will be come known as a mythical Presidency. Oba ...more
(2009 At Least A Book A Week) Week 1

So, I am starting off 2009 trying to at least read a book a week. It isn't a lofty goal, but something I could perhaps pull off.

"The Defining Moment" was week 1. I figure it fits right in there with the whole new Presidency thing going on right now. It was an easy read. And quite interesting. For the one thing... did you FDR basically saved democracy? At the time of his inauguration a good majority of newspapers were telling him that he should become a dictato
This was a very easy and fascinating read recommended to me by both my mother and my aunt. It takes a unique look at FDR by focusing on his rise to the presidency, what life events helped develop his winning personality, and how he handled his first 100 days in office. The writing style is much like a magazine article - probably because that's the author's background. All of the chapters are very short (one is only 1 page long!) - and each is focused on a particular topic. This, unfortunately, m ...more
This is an interesting history of FDR that details his pre-presidential life and career and the 100 Days once he was elected (and significant treatment of Eleanor too). Much of the focus is on his style and personality. He is alternately portrayed as a bit of a flip-flopper, to use a modern term, manipulative, a bit less than fully forthright, not necessarily an intellectual yet wide open to new ideas, a natural politician with the right instincts, a leader, and probably a few more. It's no fawn ...more
When will Jonathan Alter write a second book? The Defining Moment is a great non-comprehensive biography of how FDR became the FDR responsible for his historic first hundred days, the measure to which all presidents are now held.

The majority of the book is a narrative of the essential events and encounters in FDR's life prior to his election. Alter spends so much time leading up to the book's main subject because he rightfully believes that FDR's life was crucial to the decisions he made as pre
The Defining Moment is primarily about the personality of FDR, which is what makes it such an enjoyable book to read. FDR was an ebullient man, as much a salesman as a statesman, who was able to the sell the American people on America during some of its darkest days. First, he saved the country from economic collapse by convincing Americans that the banks were safe, when they weren't, by sheer force of personality. Later he sold "lend-lease" by characterizing it as something it wasn't. In the ye ...more
Feb 05, 2009 Ryan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all Americans
I read this when President Obama let it out that he was reading this book right before taking office.

And it is a fantastic book. The author brings alive FDR as if we were living in the 1930s. From his personal history to his strenghts and weaknesses, and I really feel like I got to know President Roosevelt through Alter's writing.

I basked in the background info there is here about The New Deal, and the history and circumstances of Social Security, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the CCC, etc. T
It's strange to read a book about one of the most well-known figures of the last 100 years and realize you know virtually nothing about them. I really enjoyed this book, which focused much more on who FDR was as a person and how that shaped his life, than on the details of his Presidency.

I was also fascinated to learn about Eleanore Roosevelt, particularly about her intense (and possibly intimate) relationship with female reporter Lorena Hickok. I would love to learn more about Eleanore and Lor
Jeff Scott
This was an excellent book to read during the first weeks of the Obama Presidency. On reading the book, I could tell that Obama was using the same techniques as FDR to manage the banking crisis. Of course, on reading the book, the crisis FDR faced was far more dire than the current one.

Overall, the book showed FDR as more human and politically driven than any type of savior. He did things to make himself look good and manipulated the press for his own interest. His burdens were heavier, dealing
Great introduction to FDR's efforts at responding to the Great Depression upon his entrance into the presidency. Sometimes a bit too much psychoanalyzing, but there should be no doubt that FDR was the great president of the 20th century, not necessarily for finding a domestic economic cure for the Great Depression, but for helping millions of suffering people and giving them hope. His leadership of WWII would take care of the rest, but that's for another book. Great description of FDR's pre-pres ...more
Ken Elser
An interesting look at FDR's rise and his personality, as it pertained to his performance during his first 100 days. Certainly not comprehensive in its scope of policy, but enlightening in terms of the mood of the country in at the start of FDR's term and the ways in which his mere presence and attitude helped lay the groundwork for a recovery from the Depression. Parallels abound with present politics and economics and, although they shouldn't be taken to an illogical extreme, it's interesting ...more
Jan 01, 2010 R.Joseph rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
This book is a very easy read and serves the purpose of reintroducing people to one of our greatest presidents! During FDR’s terms as commander in chief he saved capitalism by introducing a socialism balance! FDR gave us the trickle up economic approach that puts cash in the hands of those who needed it most, which in turn assures the money will flow through the economy and not be stashed away in an offshore money market account. Alter is a great report and did a great job in making a book about ...more
Michael VanZandt
Alter does an exceptional job of capturing FDR's temperament and character. He spends sufficient on Roosevelt as the snob and the invalid, that we gain a greater appreciation for him as the man who raised America out of its depression, if not the Great Depression. It took a couple of decades, but at last there is an adequate historical account of FDR assuming the presidency amidst the economic crisis. The perfect read for our contemporary political-economic situation.
Glenn Robinson
Ever be held hostage to a speaker that repeatedly says "To make a long story short" and makes the story longer? Or the one that takes about a half hour to set up a situation rather than getting right to the point and the moment? So goes it with this bio. To get to the "first 100 days," one must get thru the 'first 200 pages' of set up. This part is pretty good. FDR's early life, college life, life as Deputy Secretary of the Navy and as a polio victim. The part related to his run for governor and ...more
I've read so much about World War II, about Churchill, and bits and snippets about FDR. But I didn't know much about FDR's first hundred days and what he accomplished then. I have mixed feelings about the man. I'm inclined to admire him for what he managed to accomplish through sheer will. He was a canny politician and diplomat. As a Deaf person, I admire him for doing so much in spite of his disability. I still don't approve of his handling of his wife, or his extramarital affairs. I know my Da ...more
It was curious to note that Jonathan Alter's interest in FDR, like mine, began we he was in elementary school and did a report on our nation's longest-serving president. (I also had to dress up as the subject of my biographical report.) The focus of this book is the first Hundred Days, though the author does a fine job connecting events prior to as well as the impact following the brisk and sweeping legislation of 1933. The book paints a portrait of a man whose charisma and wit pulled America aw ...more
an unexpected view of this president. fdr is one of my favorites. the hindsight of history tends to gild over peoples imperfections and mistakes so that theyre seen more for the good and appear more perfect than they were. at times i really didnt like him. alot of his personality and decisions do not make him very likable and its surprising to me that he won the election against hoover. despite his unlikeable character at times, fdr was a great president overall and its his character and decisio ...more
Paulo O'Brien
A fascinating biography of a pivotal leader, who tackled the Great Depression in his own upbeat, slightly scattered and creative way. I love these psychological portrayals of great leaders, and this one has the ring of truth about it. The book is not very well written, but the subject matter -- for anyone who wonders about government and how ours has survived its worst times -- is compelling.

I found it especially interesting how many prominent Americans at the time, impressed by the efficiency
Craig Dube
I think if I could give this 3.5 stars I would. I liked it and found it interesting. FDR is definitely a fascinating individual and perhaps our most influential president (although it is difficult to argue FDR over Lincoln in this regard). This book is really meant to focus in on the first 100 days of his presidency as he took the nation from the grip of the Great Depression and into the start of economic recovery. An amazing amount of new legislation, programs and initiatives were put into moti ...more
David Fox
Apr 29, 2012 David Fox rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Political junkies
The Smile That Saved America

Okay. Let's get it out of the way. I'm an unabashed liberal; in today's politics, a progressive. Fact of the matter is that without FDR, who knows what my political ideology would be today. Socialist? Communist? Fascist? Some other "ism?" I've got no clue. All that I do know is that some ultra rich guy, Teddy Roosevelt's fifth cousin, changed the course of American history. He created the modern concept of liberalism. And he gave birth to the social & political
Alter, Jonathan. THE DEFINING MOMENT: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope. (2006). ****1/2. In spite of the dependent title, only about one-third of this fine book is really devoted to the Hundred Days itself. The first third of the book concerns itself with the early history of FDR and his family, where the author tries to relate his later achievements to moments of formative events during his growing-up days. The second third tells of FDR’s days leading up to his nomination and election ...more
This book couldn't be more timely, focusing on Roosevelt's election and his first one hundred days where he identified fear as the biggest foe and gave Americans hope that the government cared and would act to address the crisis. The similarities are striking. The banking system was on the verge of collapse and Americans had lost confidence that banks could be relied upon. Also, the power of words, of inspiring oratory was used to restore self confidence and a common purpose. Roosevelt's inauger ...more
I would have given this a better rating but the title was very misleading so I finished the book slightly disappointed. The majority of the book was focused on President Roosevelt's back-story. It focused on his childhood and how it shaped his personality, his rise to political power, etc. His actual Hundred Days is not even focused on until Part 4 of the book (about a couple hundred pages into the book) and even then it almost seems like a summary.

The background on FDR was interesting, but I th
Kathleen Hagen
The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope, by Jonathan Alter, narrated by Grover Gardner, produced by Audio Partners Publishing Corporation, downloaded from

Alter explains that he is interested in finding “defining moments” that made a permanent impression on, or reversed a trend, for the country. Such a defining moment, he says, was the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was elected in 1933 when the banks were closing, when the depression was at its w
If ever a president seemed to come to the office at the perfect moment, it was Franklin Delano Roosevelt. When Roosevelt was inaugurated on March 4, 1933, the country was in the depths of the depression with the banking system at the point of collapse all across the country. While this is suppose to be the story of the First Hundred Days of Roosevelt's first term, the discussion of that period is only about a third of the book. Alter profiles the life of Roosevelt before his election in 1932 and ...more
The Defining Moment is a micro-biography of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, focusing on how his first hundred days in office were shaped by his character and world view far more than by events then taking place in America. Mr. Alter's abbreviated story of FDR and the people and events that shaped his life is far from exhaustive, but the author does a good job showing how Roosevelt--undoubtedly one of the greatest world leaders in the 20th century--used his personality to make vast and sweep ...more
Clif Hostetler
Those of us alive now have a difficult time understanding the degree of fear and uncertainty felt by people in 1933 when the banks were closing and they had no idea what the future held. One had to live through the time to know how it felt. Even then, some people soon forgot and started complaining about FDR’s efforts to fight the depression. They forgot that before FDR's inauguration may leading thinkers (including the respected columnist Walter Lippman) were encouraging him to assume dictatori ...more
What makes a great man great? This was a question that lingered in my mind long after reading The Defining Moment, a biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt by noted Newsweek journalist Jonathan Alter. Rather than approaching such a broad question in general terms, Alter tackles the issue of human greatness through the very specific example of Roosevelt. There is a tone of wonder in Alter’s writing, as he recounts the sequence of forbidding events that Roosevelt faced and, time and again, conquer ...more
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FDR and Obama: Interview with Jonathan Alter 1 23 Jun 23, 2009 12:19PM  
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  • Woodrow Wilson: A Biography
  • The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman & the Destruction of Hitler's Germany 1941-45
Jonathan Alter is an American columnist and senior editor for Newsweek magazine, where he has worked since 1983. Alter is a Chicago, Illinois native and resident of Montclair, New Jersey. He is a contributing correspondent to NBC News, where since 1996 he has appeared on NBC, MSNBC, and CNBC. When the shows were on the air, he could often be heard on Imus in the Morning and The Al Franken Show on ...more
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