This is an epic biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It is truly gripping from the start as it details his heritage and that of his future wife, Eleanor.His steady rise to politics against the wishes of an overbearing mother.
His early battles against Tammany Hall in New York showcase the qualities he would later develop during his time as a national and later, international leader. Concentration, diplomacy, an eye for detail and above all a stubbornness that would not be shaken, despite the ability to make other people think they had achieved just that. These were essential characteristics during the forging of the New Deal. And the refusal to make anything negative of his disability; paraplegia owing to contracting polio.
For anyone thinking that the Americans as a nation were caught unawares three years in to a global war hear this: Roosevelt started fighting the war, at least by proxy and against the isolationist legislature as early as 1937. Were it not for US supplies the war in Europe would have been lost to fascism very early since The Soviets also didn’t enter the war until part way through. The shock of Pearl Harbour is beautifully detailed and the ensuing counter-attack of the combined allied “big three”. The book loses some scope of domestic policy here, but the President spent day and night concentrating on the war effort, so some slippage of local policy is probably fair.
The most intriguing character in all of this is his wife Eleanor. A fascinating woman who was very timid at first, growing in to a globe trotting political beast. She knew nothing of politics and wanted to know nothing. That is until Louis Howe, Roosevelt’s number one ally from his early career began coaching her on the ways of the political world. She became hooked and threw herself into politics at the behest of her new friends in the feminist movement for various worthy left-wing causes. Occasionally a source of embarrassment for her husband but more frequently a loyal friend they complemented each other beautifully. Roosevelt’s affair early on put paid to any real romance in the marriage but she was an indispensable member of their team.
I was hooked all the way through. Roosevelt’s life is one of compassion and morality. Born rich and never poor he always fought for the worst off in society, knowing that this was where true humanity lay. The book ends with a quote from his wartime ally and friend, Churchill from 1943 after the Cairo conference. “If anything happened to that man I couldn’t stand it. He is the greatest man I have ever known”.