Steve Sckenda's Reviews > FDR

FDR by Jean Edward Smith
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May 16, 15

bookshelves: history-united-states, great-depression, world-war-ii, presidents, biography, parkman-prize
Read in November, 2009 — I own a copy, read count: 1

It was said of FDR that he lifted himself from his wheelchair to lift this nation from its knees. His serene self-assurance (a gift from his devoted mother) was exactly what the country needed as the United States faced down dual threats of the Great Depression and World War II.

FDR had a "first class temperament," and good cheer spilled from his pores. Every evening, he hosted “the children’s hour” in the Oval office where he mixed martinis for his guests and told jokes and exchanged Hollywood gossip. Talk of politics and unpleasant topics was forbidden. As evening turned to night, the cards came out for poker under a haze of cigarette smoke and the tinkling of ice against glass. Roosevelt enjoyed life to the brim, and his optimism was contagious.

The young FDR was once dismissed by his peers as "a feather duster." Jean Edward Smith, professor of political economics at the University of Toronto and at Marshall University and author of a dozen biographies, says that the riddle for a biographer is to explain how “this Hudson River aristocrat, a son of privilege who never depended on a paycheck, became the champion of the common man.” A social conservative by upbringing, FDR did more to alter the relationship between ordinary citizens and their government than any other American.

A partial explanation is that Roosevelt was educated in suffering and wisdom after he lost the use of his legs to polio. While struggling to rebuild, he sought treatment at Warm Springs, Georgia, where he encountered other victims, mostly poor people who opened his eyes to a larger world. But FDR was too talented to be confined by the circumstances of his birth. Smith also concludes that: “His devotion to his career and his conviction that he was a man of destiny far outweighed any tribal loyalty.”

Roosevelt broke from the laissez faire economic policies of previous presidents. Defending the New Deal, Roosevelt once said:
Governments can err. Presidents do make mistakes. But the immortal Dante tells us that divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted in different scales. Better the occasional faults of a Government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a Government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.
Almost 70 years after his death, the legacy of the New Deal is being revisited in the USA, and the social compact is again being redrawn. Safely removed from the existential threats that the country once faced, a new generation of Americans is reconsidering the relationship of the citizen to the federal government in an atmosphere of fear and division.

I remember and reflect now upon FDR’s words as I think of the new set of challenges that confront the people of the earth:
There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is asked. This generation … has a rendezvous with destiny.
At cocktail hour at my law firm we ignore the no-politics rule, and I find myself having to defend FDR, but, in solidarity with My Captain, I try to show good cheer and keep a confident smile on my face, despite the sadness I feel that this great American icon and his legacy are being rejected by a significant portion of the American people, the grandparents of whom FDR labored to serve and uplift.

June 29, 2013



Here are links to my reviews of other presidential biographies.

Washington
http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

John Adams
http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

Theodore Roosevelt
http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

Franklin Roosevelt
http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

Harry Truman
http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...

John F. Kennedy
http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... (Richard Reeves)

http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... c(Ralph Martin)
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Comments (showing 1-36 of 36) (36 new)

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message 1: by Ted (new)

Ted Great review and great sentiments, Steve.

One of the problems that may be causing many to fear their government today is the control and influence that Corporations now exert over the workings of the Federal government.

It has become a government unlike the government of FDR, and so totally opposed to anything he would have ever accepted. No longer a government of, by and for the people I'm afraid.


Steve Sckenda Ted wrote: "Great review and great sentiments, Steve.

One of the problems that may be causing many to fear their government today is the control and influence that Corporations now exert over the workings of ..."


Ted thank you so much for reading this review and commenting. I'm glad we share an admiration for FDR.


message 3: by Arah-Lynda (new)

Arah-Lynda FDR is just one of those great characters from our past that has always intrigued me. My curiosity has beeen well wetted with your informatve, insightful review. Thank you. It was a pleasure to read.


Steve Sckenda Arah-Lynda wrote: "FDR is just one of those great characters from our past that has always intrigued me. My curiosity has beeen well wetted with your informatve, insightful review. Thank you. It was a pleasure to ..."

Thank you, Arah-Lynda. He is a fascinating man, and I hope to develop more of his personal side and family life when I review another great book about him No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt


message 5: by Arah-Lynda (new)

Arah-Lynda Steve aka Sckenda wrote: "Arah-Lynda wrote: "FDR is just one of those great characters from our past that has always intrigued me. My curiosity has beeen well wetted with your informatve, insightful review. Thank you. It..."

Can't wait for the review.


message 6: by matt (new)

matt Fine review, as always...way to keep your cool while standing your ground in the cocktail Kulturkampf!


message 7: by René (last edited Jul 01, 2013 01:26AM) (new) - added it

René Steve, this is wonderful review. I liked the way you tied FDR's legacy to the current political environment. I am intrigued by the idea that his suffering from the loss of his legs greatly influenced his reforms. I believe people that have come through suffering without being bitter have a wisdom and appreciation of life that others don't have.


Steve Sckenda matt wrote: "Fine review, as always...way to keep your cool while standing your ground in the cocktail Kulturkampf!"

Kulturkampf! I LOVE IT! Great word. Bartender, don't let me see the bottom of this glass.


Steve Sckenda René wrote: "Steve, this is wonderful review. I liked the way you tied FDR's legacy to the current political environment. I am intrigued by the idea that his suffering from the loss of his legs greatly influe..."

Thanks Rene'. You too have shown wisdom and courage from adversity. It is remarkable when you think of how he not only learned wisdom from polio, but he also had the courage to continue to keep trying when everybody thought that his professional life was over. Rather than relying on a nursemaid he eventually became Governor of NY and President of US. Amazing Story.


message 10: by Michael (new)

Michael A pleasure to see you honor your heroes and, like Rene noted, relate his advances to current efforts to undermine them. Like you said about George Washington, having great wealth does not prevent someone from wanting a larger fraction of people to have some economic foundation. I look forward to your review of "No Ordinary Time", a great read for me that made me see how much Eleanor inspired him to action on behalf of the lower classes.


message 11: by Sue (new) - added it

Sue I still recall when I worked for an investment firm in the 70s (a very different economic world then) and private hospital corporations were starting. One of my co-workers said at a morning meeting that it was just too bad if some people couldn't afford health care.

FDR is a man whose policies I've always admired. Those programs have helped so many people. I really should know more about him.

(After 8 years, I left the investment world and went into the health care world as a provider--not a money maker.)


Jeffrey Keeten When people in Kansas talk about FDR they spit and grimace and yet not a single one of them hasn't benefited from numerous programs he inspired. They have all been brainwashed by republican talk radio. Sad to see people so easily manipulated.


Steve Sckenda Michael wrote: "A pleasure to see you honor your heroes and, like Rene noted, relate his advances to current efforts to undermine them. Like you said about George Washington, having great wealth does not prevent ..."

Sorry for my failure to see your encouraging note, Michael. I appreciate your comments. No Ordinary Time is phenomenal. Thank you for requesting it as it will surely motivate me.


Steve Sckenda Sue wrote: "I still recall when I worked for an investment firm in the 70s (a very different economic world then) and private hospital corporations were starting. One of my co-workers said at a morning meeting..."

Sorry, I missed your comment earlier, Sue. I appreciate your comments here very much. So nice that you became a healer. Sometimes when I have to argue all day long for a living, I often wonder if I might have been a better fit for medicine. :)


message 15: by Steve (last edited Jul 22, 2013 09:29PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Steve Sckenda Jeffrey wrote: "When people in Kansas talk about FDR they spit and grimace and yet not a single one of them hasn't benefited from numerous programs he inspired. They have all been brainwashed by republican talk ra..."


Just guessing here, but I bet their grandparents voted overwhelmingly for him. Do their progeny now prefer Hoover; Wilkie; or Dewey?


message 16: by Bennet (new) - added it

Bennet Great review and endorsement of a great president. What first occurs to me at the moment is admiration for the way he governed, and nostalgia for a time when the presidency was more about governing and less about campaigning, though FDR was hands down good at both.


message 17: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope I am glad this review came up again because I was away when you published it.

Have you read any other bios on FDR?... If so, which one would you recommend?


In a bio of Thomas Mann's family taht I read recently it came out how shocked he was with the notitio that FDR had died before Hitler. And this TM broadcasted through the radio, from California, to the German people with the idea that Hitler himself would also hear the message.


Steve Sckenda Kalliope wrote: "I am glad this review came up again because I was away when you published it.

Have you read any other bios on FDR?... If so, which one would you recommend?


In a bio of Thomas Mann's family taht ..."


My favorite is
No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt
It is wonderful but concentrates on Franklin and his wife during WWII.

I believe the other great recent FDR bio is one that I have not read. I plan on reading this one when I want to spend some more time with my hero
Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom

I did read the following older books, which are probably not the most up to date in research.

Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox, 1882-1940

Roosevelt: The Soldier of Freedom, 1940-1945

Fdr

Thank you, Kalliope. Interesting nugget about TM, whom I know you have been studying.


Steve Sckenda Bennet wrote: "Great review and endorsement of a great president. What first occurs to me at the moment is admiration for the way he governed, and nostalgia for a time when the presidency was more about governing..."

Bennet. I totally agree with your assessment about FDR being great at both governing and politicking. The second talent was used in service of the first. I feel a strong nostalgia for that time and I can be quite emotional about it. My grandfather was a loyal FDR man until Pappy died at age 99. He blamed Hoover and the Republicans for the $600 in savings he lost from a bank during the crash as well as every other misfortune in US history. :) and let everybody know it.


message 20: by Kalliope (new)

Kalliope Steve aka Sckenda wrote: "Kalliope wrote: "I am glad this review came up again because I was away when you published it.

Have you read any other bios on FDR?... If so, which one would you recommend?

In a bio of Thomas Ma..."


Thank you Steve. I will mark the one you plan to read next and keep the others for reference. After all we have a couple of anecdotes in our family pertaining to FDR and Eleanor...


message 21: by Dolors (new)

Dolors Perfectly fitting review for a day like today with the still fresh poll results of the gubernatorial elections in Virginia to pay tribute to FDR's persistent optimism and his faithful plight to renew the American national spirit.
Keep that torch burning at cocktail hour Steve, sometimes miracles happen and people might eventually see the light! :)


Steve Sckenda Dolors wrote: "Keep that torch burning at cocktail hour Steve, sometimes miracles happen..."

Do you take your scotch neat or on the rocks? Please join us, Dolors. Your intelligence, optimism and passion would be most welcome. :) Thanks, my friend.


Jeffrey Keeten What no Grover Cleveland, Warren Harding or Calvin Coolidge? You're only interesting in those sexy presidents aren't you? haha I was so glad to see Mcauliffe hold on in Virginia. It shores up 2016 for the Dems.


Steve Sckenda Jeffrey wrote: "What no Grover Cleveland, Warren Harding or Calvin Coolidge? You're only interesting in those sexy presidents aren't you? haha I was so glad to see Mcauliffe hold on in Virginia. It shores up 2016 ..."

My dear friend, as you know--I have been now reincarnated as nonpartisan. I don't suppose your favored presidential subjects will cause me the least bit of controversy today--so, with your expert guidance, I shall be taking very firm and passionate stands on Cleveland, Harding and Coolidge.


message 25: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth Steve- I just checked your shelves to see if you had read No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and see that you have. I think that book is in my top 10 for non-fiction books. I will be adding this one to my TBR!


Steve Sckenda Elizabeth wrote: "Steve- I just checked your shelves to see if you had read No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and see that you have. I think that book is in my top 10 for non-fiction book..."

Elizabeth. My gosh, yes. that was a phenomenal and personal book. I will review that as well some day. Thanks for checking with me on that.


message 27: by Margitte (new)

Margitte I probably sound like a broken record, but really, Steve, your choice of books and your reviews are just a highlight of every single Goodreads-crawl I do. This one is, once again, no exception.


Steve Sckenda Margitte wrote: "I probably sound like a broken record, but really, Steve, your choice of books and your reviews are just a highlight of every single Goodreads-crawl I do. This one is, once again, no exception."

Margitte. Thank you so much for your ever faithful words of support and good cheer. I love your description of the Goodread-crawl. :)
In many ways this place really is a lively pub with mostly good cheer and bonhomie (with an occasional fistfight). :) Thanks so much,


message 29: by Mona (new) - added it

Mona Temchin Great review, as usual Steve.

I'm also saddened that our current politicians seem to want to role back the clock to the times before FDR and to undo and denigrate every good thing he did for working people and the common man.

We need a man of his stature in office now, but alas, I don't see that happening in the current political climate of backbiting and petty finger pointing.


Steve Sckenda Mona wrote: "Great review, as usual Steve.

I'm also saddened that our current politicians seem to want to role back the clock to the times before FDR and to undo and denigrate every good thing he did for worki..."


Mona, it makes my heart glad to hear that we think alike. Thank you so much for your encouraging comment.


message 31: by Graham (new)

Graham Stull Thanks for yet another fascinating review. Given the dazzlingly high tower that is my current to-read list, I hestitate before adding this one to it..yet I am tempted.

My only question is the role of First Lady Eleanor. My father once told me in casual conversation that she played an immense part in FDR's Administration. Does shoe get much of a showing in this book?


message 32: by Vipassana (last edited May 13, 2015 08:22AM) (new) - added it

Vipassana Fabulous review, Steve! I've always been curious as to why FDR tops the popularity polls with Americans, and naively assumed the WW2 played the primary part. Clearly, there is a lot more to him. From the comments I gather another interesting book, No Ordinary Time. Of the two, which one would you recommend given that I may not read both.


Steve Sckenda Graham wrote: "Thanks for yet another fascinating review. Given the dazzlingly high tower that is my current to-read list, I hestitate before adding this one to it..yet I am tempted.

My only question is the role..."


Hi Graham. This book that I have reviewed here is designed to be a one-volume condensation of Roosevelt's life to a manageable read. His accomplishment alone could make for a multi-volume epic. Eleanor is certainly addressed, but I don't know that she gets much more attention than you would find in common resources. FDR's long-term affair and the marital discord is discussed. Eleanor was certainly influential, but she pursued her own agenda rather than that of her husband's administration. Sometimes their views clashed directly. I think a much more intimate portrayal of the marriage and in Eleanor's humanitarian work and personal life can be found in the very readable book by Doris Kearns Goodwin. No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt - The Home Front in World War II. However, the scope of that book is WWII only. Thank you for your comment Graham.


message 34: by Graham (new)

Graham Stull Thanks Steve! I must say, I find the relationship aspect of FDR and Eleanor somehow intriguing.


Steve Sckenda Vipassana wrote: "Fabulous review, Steve! I've always been curious as to why the FDR of tops the popularity polls with Americans, and naively assumed the WW2 played the primary part. Clearly, there is a lot more to ..."

Vipassana. Thank you so much for your kind encouragement and your interest in FDR's life. I think he was a very refreshing President who changed the relationship between the USA federal government and the American citizen. Though the depression did not end until WWII, his contribution to the prevention of total economic collapse in the 1930's helped achieve the stability necessary for US participation in WWII. Vipassana, if you are interested in the entire picture of FDR presidency in a manageable format FDR would be an excellent choice, but No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin is a more readable and intimate book. It concentrates more on the marriage and the friendships and what happened after-hours at the White House during poker games, etc. The general history is of course mentioned, but Goodwin explores less well-known areas of the personal life of FDR, his wife, and their closest friends. Moreover the scope of No Ordinary Time is limited to WWII, and thus narrower, but it also includes a lot of information about the domestic life of average citizen (as opposed to battlefield exploits). So I guess what book you might prefer best would be related to whether your interest is that of broad historical context or whether you would love some juicy insider tidbits about what goes on inside the Oval Office. Thank you again for your kind comment, Vipassana.


message 36: by Vipassana (new) - added it

Vipassana Steve wrote: "Vipassana wrote: "Fabulous review, Steve! I've always been curious as to why the FDR of tops the popularity polls with Americans, and naively assumed the WW2 played the primary part. Clearly, there..." -- Now, I have to read both! Thanks for the comprehensive response, Steve.


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