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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

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  2,524 ratings  ·  193 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
Audio CD, Abridged, 0 pages
Published November 4th 2008 by Random House Audio (first published January 1st 2008)
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Hadrian
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
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Cheryl
H.W. Brands has written a sweeping biography of FDR's life that spanned two centuries, two world wars, four elected terms as President, a marriage to his cousin, Eleanor, and six children. The subtitle of TRAITOR TO HIS CLASS is The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who is considered to be the greatest president of the twentieth century.

One of the reasons for this distinction is the unique trust he fostered between the people and their president. He believed in
...more
Nathan
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
Jee Koh
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
Gea
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
Lois
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 Wittig Albert
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
Evan
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
John Hively
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
...more
Irving Koppel

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
...more
Vickie
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
Donna
Aug 09, 2009 Donna rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
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
...more
Deena
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
Tom Johnson
H. W. Brands is no Ron Chernow but nevertheless a fine writer. Read his The Man Who Saved the Union and based on that book's merits chose his FDR bio. Notes to self: Sara b. 1854, my own grandfather b. 1875, I find that fascinating. Pg. 112 during The Great War the .01% had their yachts drafted (pun inadvertent) - post war pandemic killed 50 million souls - WWI ended with an armistice not a surrender, exhaustion in the mud, my mom's dad was a sniper but I never heard his tales, not sure why - po ...more
Chet
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.
Sathya Vijayakumar
I thought this book was entertaining and interesting from end to end. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I gave it 4 stars because in this genre, I think it behooves an author to show more and tell less. Rather than framing situations for the reader to envision how he or she might react in a similar situation, it merely described events in an inexorable flow to a happy ending. However, it was a very good introduction to some of the challenges FDR phased during his long, memorable career and presidency ...more
Michael
Traitor to His Class does an excellent job guiding the reader through the most-discussed events of FDR's presidency, with its analysis and almost-literary flair separating it from a normal historical account. It doesn't uncover anything surprising, or dissect FDR's failures (e.g. Japanese internment occupies 2 1/2 out of its 900 pages), but, as Brands says of FDR "he got the big issues right" (819)-- Brands does too, contextualizing FDR's ascent and his New Deal policies, and expertly narrating ...more
Robert
Traitor to His Class doesn't exactly tread new ground or reveal startling new information, but it does offer a comprehensive narrative biography of the man who is widely regarded as one of the greatest Presidents of all time. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the only President to ever be elected to office four times, and in doing so he rose above his cousin Ted, Theodore Roosevelt in terms of Presidential legends. Roosevelt offers an interesting case for a multitude of reasons, including the life h ...more
Linda
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
Jeremy
This is the first full length biography of FDR I've read, and it was a great adventure. I was originally a bit disappointed--from the title, I'd assumed this book was more explicitly about the reactions of American's ruling class to the depression, the New Deal, and the war, but I'll have to look to another book for that.

Brands's project is a readable one-volume work covering enough of FDR's early years and family history, and enough of his battle with polio to prepare the reader to meet the her
...more
Tom
A really fine and thorough account of FDR. I incorrectly always thought he was something of a technocrat when, really, he was just a really, really good delegator. And he'd have people working on competing approaches to problems without them knowing about each other. More a master executive really. At 800+ pages it does take quite a while to work through it though really, not sure what I'd keep out. If anything, at times Brands seems like he's going too quickly through some rather key events (Ma ...more
Nancy
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
...more
judy
You have to try really hard to make a biography of FDR boring but this distinguished professor has done just that. As the owner of at least 25 books on FDR including the memoirs of some of his close associates and as devoted reader of anything Roosevelt, I am qualified to speak. I thought, perhaps, the author might go with the "traitor to his class" angle but he rarely went there. I kept trying to think, given his outstanding credentials, why he did write this book. What contribution was he maki ...more
Sylvia Tedesco
Just fascinating. This review (see below) helps explain why another biography of Roosevelt is worth reading. It pulled together a lot of half-understood events in my lifetime into a cohesive whole and also helps me to puzzle out the current situation in this country.






From Christian Science Monitor Review:

"The books that examine the life and presidency of Franklin Roosevelt could easily fill a small library and it’s hard to imagine that another biography of this iconic figure would add much to ou
...more
Bap


Roosevelt is endlessly fascinating. A pivotal figure who taught a nation to overcome fear and experimented with all manner of policies to overcome the depression. He was a pragmatist but he also had no patience with the captains of industry. Roosevelt believed that the forgotten man needed government intervention to soften the blow of capitalism. Before Roosevelt, there was no social security, no recognition that stimulus spending was needed to prime the pump of the economy and very little regu
...more
Paula
There were two chapters that held me enthralled. One was about the reasons behind the New Deal, which helped me to finally understand the causes of the Great Depression, the major elements of the New Deal, and what Roosevelt hoped to accomplish by it. To my mind that was reason enough to buy the book. The second interesting chapter was the one that covered the attack on Pearl Harbor and America's entry into the war.

Since these subjects were intrensically interesting, I can't particulary credit
...more
Doug
I have been listening to this as an audio book daily as my morning wake up/get my brain working material just after sunup in the park. It is undoubtedly the most thorough informative study of the life of one the most important Americans of the 20th century. At a time when we struggle every day to understand the role of the national government, it is revealing to comprehend what he and his administration did for everyday middle and lower income Americans. His legacy formed the basis for almost a ...more
J.
This is one of the best biographies I have ever read. It is superbly researched and Brands' prose is vivid and elegant. Brands writes about FDR's failings and faults as well as his virtues and successes. One good point he makes is that FDR owed his success partly to his own hard work and intelligence but also in large part to luck. Had it not been for his foresight in anticipating another war in Europe, FDR likely would not have run for a 3rd term. And if he had not served a 3rd term, his succes ...more
Chris Henn
Franklin Roosevelt is a paradoxical study of a man who was born to wealth and privilege, yet was able to relate to a suffering population during the greatest economic turmoil in the history of our Republic. While the impact of his New Deal policies are debated, even today, there is no doubt that the majority of Americans who lived under his three plus terms as President developed an almost blind loyalty to the man they looked at as the one who was fighting for them. The Roosevelt presidency was ...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
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4645
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
More about H.W. Brands...
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