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Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt
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Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt

4.03  ·  Rating Details  ·  4,091 Ratings  ·  226 Reviews
A sweeping, magisterial biography of the man generally considered the greatest president of the twentieth century, admired by Democrats and Republicans alike. Traitor to His Class sheds new light on FDR's formative years, his remarkable willingness to champion the concerns of the poor and disenfranchised, his combination of political genius, firm leadership, and matchless ...more
Hardcover, 896 pages
Published November 4th 2008 by Doubleday (first published January 1st 2008)
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Narrative biography of FDR. The standard facts of his life are well known, and there is little 'new ground' to uncover here, but instead the main focus of the biography is all in the subtitle.

FDR's upbringing was one steeped in the culture of wealth and privilege, where he could have sailed into a life of ease and indolence if he wanted it. Brands describes FDR's upbringing with a careful eye, with a particular focus on his controlling mother and loveless marriage with Eleanor.

The majority of t
Dec 13, 2010 Nathan rated it it was ok
Brands is a character in his biographies as much as his subjects are; he isn't shy about telling you what he thinks of them. The lasting impression I got from T.R.: The Last Romantic was Brand's distaste for the earlier President Roosevelt. He casts a kindlier eye on Teddy's relative. Despite the ominous title, Brands portrays FDR as a true champion for social (especially economic) reforms, explaining in detail the machinations that led to the New Deal, the National Industrial Recovery Act, and ...more
Mar 01, 2016 Steve rated it really liked it

“Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt” is H.W. Brands’s 2008 biography of FDR and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Brands is a professor at the University of Texas and the author of more than two dozen books (including six presidential biographies). His most recent biography “Reagan: The Life” was published in 2015.

This lengthy single-volume biography of FDR is detailed, comprehensive and magis
Aug 09, 2009 Donna rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: history buffs
Recommended to Donna by: I like the author
Shelves: biography-memoir
This is a straight-forward biography of Franklin Roosevelt. I liked it because it stuck mostly to chronological reporting and only occasionally went "out of order" to pick up an important theme. Brands is really good at this kind of writing. I look forward to reading his works on B. Franklin & A. Jackson.

As I was reading this I began to watch "The Waltons" (first season DVD). It was interesting to see the impact of FDR on these people, from his picture in the homes to the "blue eagle" in the
Amy Moritz
Jan 31, 2016 Amy Moritz rated it really liked it
What drew me to this book was the title, "Traitor to His Class." I had just finished reading a book of letters from The Great Depression and was fascinated about class in America in that era and the double-edge sword of pride which kept people from seeking the help they needed until it was too late. With no knowledge other than the fact my dad liked the book, I borrowed it from him, excited to learn about how a man of privilege became a radical voice for poor and labor.

Here's the thing -- I don'
TR Peterson
Jun 01, 2015 TR Peterson rated it really liked it
Brand's Traitor to His Class is a highly fact-filled read on the political life of FDR. While the title suggests a more analytical approach, it is in fact a highly narrative one. Brand focuses a great deal on FDR during the New Deal period and less so on the WW2 period. Clearly this period was the one in which FDR was considered a "traitor" to his upper class roots but as Brand correctly shows, once the war began, FDR turned away from labor and towards big business. While this switch from "Dr. N ...more
Jan 03, 2015 Nancy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I started off reading this book then switched to the listening to the CD version on a trip to Idaho. My husband and I really got hooked on it. Mark Deakins is a skilled reader who did an excellent job of holding our interest on a book that lasts for 37 hours and 11 minutes. Listening to Deakins read is better than simply reading the book. After I'd heard a few hours, I never went back to the physical book.

FDR was a really remarkable man who was a lot more complex than I understood. Where to eve
Jee Koh
Mar 25, 2014 Jee Koh rated it really liked it
Written with a full appreciation of Roosevelt's accomplishments and a frank understanding of his flaws, Traitor to His Class is an engrossing read. The chief burden of the book is to explain how a man of Roosevelt's class and privilege could have become so firm a supporter of ordinary men and women, and so visionary an architect of American internationalism. Part I "Swimming to Health 1882 - 1928" covers the early period, right up to his becoming the Governor of New York. Part II "The Soul of th ...more
John Hively
May 20, 2011 John Hively rated it really liked it
H.W. Brands has done it again. This is a superb book that I would've rated a four and a half if we had that option. Like a lot of great biographies, Traitor to his Class begins in slow methodical way. Then it picks up steam. Unfortunately, the slowness is about the first ninety pages. That's why it's not a five.

The book provides wonderful details of the last great American president (except for Truman). It focuses on how he betrayed his social class to defend and promote the interests of workin
Irving Koppel
Feb 19, 2009 Irving Koppel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

A thoroughly researched and annotated work by a very literate author,H.W.Brands'"Traitor to His Class" will join the pantheon of other
great works written about our thirty-second president.Brands traces the
growth of a wealthy,pampered,aristocratic only son,almost suffocated by
his overprotective mother,from a rather insouciant youth to a suffering
adult who could identify with others who were needy. A natural politician,a socially adept person, he was the ideal person to be our
president during suc
Jun 05, 2014 Gea rated it it was amazing
Although long and tedious it was worth the read. We spent a day in Warm Springs, GA and toured FDR's summer home and thus began the journey to know the man. The author H.W. Brands makes following the life of FDR difficult because he flips back and forth in his writing so you have trouble keeping dates straight along with the many conversations (I wonder if they were really as he wrote them). However, after being the only President to sit for four consecutive terms I came away with a greater appr ...more
Apr 05, 2013 Chet rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent biography of a great and complex man. Much of this book reads like a novel. If you are looking for a balanced overview, this is a great choice.
Jan 26, 2009 Lois rated it it was amazing
An excellent book - I remember the years of FDR's presidency and now have a much better understanding of them. So well written and hard to put down.
Susan Albert
Oct 02, 2014 Susan Albert rated it it was amazing
If you're looking for a book that sets FDR as a patrician born and bred in the context of his efforts to deal with the devastation of the Depression on the lower and middle class, this is the book to read. Often charged with being a socialist, "[FDR] believed in democracy--in the capacity of ordinary Americans, exercising their collective judgment, to address the ills that afflicted their society. He refused to rely on the invisible hand of the marketplace, for the compelling reason that during ...more
Greg Bailey
This book is an adequate history of the FDR administration. As a biography, it is less so. I came away from it without a sense that I know FDR significantly better than I already did. The chapters covering his early life are helpful, but as FDR ascends to the presidency, Brands seems to allow the rush of events--the Depression, the Second World War--to become his focus. We're told what FDR did, but as a general rule, not why he did it. Brands rarely steps back to analyze what inner convictions d ...more
Wow, this was a good one. I'd say, like, 4.6 or 4.7 stars. Don't judge it by how long it took me to get through it -- I had a very strange month and multiple weekends of travel and didn't read a page for days at a time three different times. When I did read, I was fascinated by FDR's life, impressed by his leadership, alarmed by his (for lack of a better word) manipulation, and so intrigued by how it all went down. I learned new things about Eleanor, about Stalin, about the war effort, about the ...more
Jul 26, 2012 Nancy rated it it was amazing
Love him or hate him, Franklin Roosevelt changed America forever.
Coming into office during the Great Depression, he was responsible for public works programs which put thousands of poor young men to work. Many of them would not have made it without a little boost from such programs as the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Public Works Administration.
The CCC planted trees all over the country and Public Works employees built the roads, bridges and buildings that can still be seen on the Skyl
Jun 23, 2013 Evan rated it really liked it
Other reviewers have commented on the "epic" scale ("epic" being the parlance of the day) of this book. Actually, that particular slang works well to describe the sheer breadth of FDR's story. It took me about a month of reading, on and off, to finish the book, and it felt like the decades of FDR's career passed in the meantime. By that, I mean, that when Brands mentioned people from the sections on FDR's New York career, I had to stop and try to remember who they were. The protagonist outshone ...more
Dave Gaston
If you couldn’t already tell by the mere heft of this grand book, Brand’s 800 page biography contains a complete (and full) historical account of FDR. Brand’s particular twist of Roosevelt is his assertion that FDR repeatedly pushed social and international agenda’s above the needs of big business and the financial elite. Most of the compressed action centers around FDR’s presidential years, but his legacy is of course epic in scope. FDR altered the American way of life like no other president o ...more
Mar 26, 2013 Louise rated it it was amazing
The title implies that the book is going to be about FDR defying the social and financial elite from which he sprang. Fortunately, I didn't let this narrow and negative title deter me because this turned out to be a comprehensive biography encompassing far more than the New Deal and devoting very little text to the "traitor of his class" concept.

There are more pages on FDR's relationship with Louis Howe, alone, than there is for his "betrayal" of his "class". The observations of FDR's relationsh
Jan 31, 2009 Vickie rated it liked it
I found this book to have much repeated information from the biographies of the Roosevelts that I previously read. Much relies on letters of Eleanor to define what he is thinking and I have to believe that because so much of the earliest letters were burned that they knew those letters would be public and not always a true reflection. Plus the implication that she knew his opinions and reflected them back is an amazing assumption. That is not acknowledged. I do believe from his actions that he w ...more
Dec 03, 2009 Deena rated it liked it
Incredibly, I have never actually read a biography of FDR. I'm not sure how this one differs from other bios except I guess they go into more detail about his early life. I'm not sure the title really applies to this book. It very rarely mentions the dichotomy between his privileged upbringing and his presidential policies, except for briefly when talking about the New Deal. I did find it a very interesting book though, especially when it got to the part about WWII and the politics that went int ...more
Nov 07, 2015 Terry rated it really liked it
A tough time to be president. Great history review.
Paul O'Leary
Jan 12, 2016 Paul O'Leary rated it really liked it
This is yet another offering in Brand's unofficial history of the United States. Brands has stated that he tried to get a publisher interested in a multi-volume history, but had trouble locating a home for the "project". Then an epiphany captured Brand's clever imagination: why not surreptitiously write this colossus in the guise of a series of biographies dealing with a "great man" of the period examined? A "great woman" has yet to make her appearance in Brand's collection that now stretches fr ...more
Apr 08, 2016 Helen rated it really liked it
HW Brands is going to be the featured author for our Lake Travis Reads program and I wanted to have read at least one of his books. So, I did. And I was not disappointed even though it took some time.

Much is well known about his life, family, and presidency, but the background information was what I really enjoyed. I now know about going off the gold standard, something my father talked about. Also, now realize why my uncle had to slaughter some of his cattle when there was an excess of farm pro
Brian Eshleman
Apr 28, 2016 Brian Eshleman rated it really liked it
For figure like Roosevelt and the demanding times in which he lived, to use a word like magisterial to describe him or this book would be almost cliché. But, true to form, H.W. Brands gives tangibility to both his subject and his subject's times. In a work of this length, not a word is wasted. He has to lecturer's feel for delving into anecdote and offering connecting explanation.
Jul 18, 2015 Kate rated it it was amazing
A truly exceptional book. Eleanor and Franklin were two people who history placed at the right time and place. It is very sad that their marriage which started out based on love ended in sadness of both misunderstanding and acrimony. Despite the people who think theirs was a marriage of convenience for political reasons it was not. I think it failed because a/ FDR's mother interfered constantly b/Eleanor had a very unhappy and loveless childhood which FDR could not or would not deal with and try ...more
May 12, 2009 Jack rated it really liked it
Great book. Incredibly readable. I think Jean Edward Smith's is a little better, but this one reads more smoothly. Brands offers, not surprisingly, a more pro-FDR approach to many controversies about FDR's presidency, but Brands offers strong - if not lock-tight - argumentation for his interpretations. Definitely worth the read.
Collins Roth
Oct 09, 2015 Collins Roth rated it really liked it
FDR is undoubtably one of a handful of great presidents. But generally what I have learned of him does not make him a likable or sympathetic figure beyond his disability. This book is a balanced look at FDR's life and political legacy. Easy to read, and informative, it moves at a good pace through a fascinating piece of history.

There can be no question he changed America through the power of his will and determination. And there can be no question much of what he achieved was for the good of Am
Apr 18, 2016 Cory rated it really liked it
This book was a very heavy read filled with tons of information. Painting a picture what what the time period was like as well as describing the character of FDR and the people around him.

I learned a lot about the structure of the Democratic Party between the 1912 and 1944 elections. Also described the spread of Progressivism.

The author does a good job at neutrally explains all the policies in which FDR favored and put in place. So that your own beliefs and policies with shape your opinion of
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Henry William Brands was born in Portland, Oregon, where he lived until he went to California for college. He attended Stanford University and studied history and mathematics. After graduating he became a traveling salesman, with a territory that spanned the West from the Pacific to Colorado. His wanderlust diminished after several trips across the Great Basin, and he turned to sales of a differen ...more
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