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The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency
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The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  350 Ratings  ·  80 Reviews
With a searching new analysis of primary sources, NBCC award winner James Tobin reveals how FDR’s fight against polio transformed him from a callow aristocrat into the energetic, determined statesman who would rally the nation in the Great Depression and lead it through World War II.

Here, from James Tobin, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in biography, is t
Hardcover, 384 pages
Published November 12th 2013 by Simon & Schuster
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Magdalena aka A Bookaholic Swede
Franklin D. Roosevelt was 39 years old when he was stricken with infantile paralysis (polio). Just one day he couldn’t stand up anymore and the hope for a fast recovery faded fast when he just got worse and the doctor had no clue to what had stricken him and, in the end, misdiagnosed him. Precious time was wasted before another doctor recognized what ailed him and by then it was too late for Roosevelt to be able to walk again properly. He would have to rely on other people to support himself to ...more
Mikey B.
Aug 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing

The FDR Memorial in Washington DC

This is a vivid portrayal of Franklin Roosevelt when he became afflicted by poliomyelitis (infantile paralysis) in 1921 and his life-long adjustment to it. It covers the period of onset until he ran for President in 1932.

The author gives us an excellent perspective of the individuals surrounding Roosevelt, particularly of his secretary/advisor Louis Howe. Louis attached himself to Roosevelt in the 1910’s and never gave up on him. Both always believed that Rooseve
As a disabled individual with a deep interest in politics and a avid fascination in the study of the American Presidency, Franklin D. Roosevelt has occupied a very special place in my heart for many, many years. It fascinates me just to think that less than a century ago this country faced (what seemed like at the time) two insurmountable obstacles one directly following the other: the Great Depression and World War II, respectively.

A favorite quote of mine is: "When this country was on its knee
Jan 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
In depth and specific
Well researched, well told

FDR "defied" polio but wasn't "defined" by it ... yet it definitely shaped the President he became. Polio sharpened his character and remodelled his ethics. The argument presented isn't that FDR became President in spite of his polio, or that FDR became President because of his polio, but, as the title says so clearly, the argument is about the man (and President) he became.

The author stays on task and presents a lot of interesting information and
Oct 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I was lucky enough to win a copy of this book on Goodreads:) Honest review:

Since I have long admired and read about FDR, I was excited to read "The Man He Became."

Focus on this aspect of FDR's life is seldom written in detail. The author is on target in doing so and in recognizing how polio and the effects therein were instrumental in helping to shape FDR as both a man and politician leading our country through one of its' darkest times.

As he had done with his disability, FDR focused on what c
Carrie Kilgore
Dec 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Well-written, thoroughly researched story of FDR's fight with polio and its aftermath. As a polio survivor myself (I was two when I contracted the disease in the last big US epidemic in 1955) I found the descriptions of the illness right on the money, as well as FDR's physical, mental, and emotional struggles to regain some of what he'd lost. But this book should resonate with anyone, not only those who struggle with disability, but who struggle, period. FDR's courage and determination served hi ...more
Oct 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing

Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s dream to follow his cousin’s Theodore to the Presidency seemed to be exactly on course until he was stuck down with polio and appeared to be derailed forever. But as James Tobin recounts in his new book “The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency”, Roosevelt’s illness and his determination to regain his health and the use of his legs enabled him to make his way to the White House in a quiet unexpected way.

Tobin begins his
Bill Rogers
Sep 26, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
On one hand, this book is narrow. It concentrates only on Franklin Roosevelt's polio case, how he responded to it, and how it affected-- Tobin thinks it perhaps made-- his political career. Narrow isn't good, usually. But on the other hand Roosevelt's polio is an aspect of his life which has been downplayed, if not ignored. It is part of his life which is vital to understand if you wish to understand him. It is time to study it in detail, then, and that's exactly what Tobin sets out to do.

Nov 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
At the age of 39, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a rising star in Democratic politics. Handsome, charming, ambitious and liberal, he was able to navigate the tricky waters of the Democratic Party. Then on an outing he went swimming, came home feeling unwell and was never able to walk unassisted again. The story of how he worked to strengthen not only his body, but also the public's perception of what it means to be "crippled" is inspiring. In this period, being "crippled" meant being pitied and s ...more
John Behle
Dec 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Riveting, uplifting, and amazing. What FDR accomplished, the man he became, the life he lived and, most of all, the millions of lives he touched vaults Tobin's book to an easy five star.

Tobin writes with verve and you-are-there realism, that for me, turned this story into impulse reading. I tore through this book in four days. I planned extra time so I could have long stretches to better absorb how FDR defied this "fool disease of infantile paralysis" and achieve the mantle of a world leader.

Lisa McAllister
Dec 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This book did an excellent job focusing on the topic, which was how FDR's disability affected his life and his political life. The author really hit some key elements of the disabled experience, admirably for an able-bodied person. I especially appreciated his organization, and his citation of other works he read as he researched. This gives me more to read on the topic. It also made me think about my life in terms of my disability, which I don't often consider. While I try my best to just ignor ...more
Adam Christian Smith
In no way comparing a back injury to Polio but bits of the agony and trying to fight back and stand up is difficult.

I've never read such detailed and awe inspiring deeper realty. My love of FDR on this reason alone is accentuated. Our nation was different but also the same.
Mark J Greene
Nov 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
It's a good read for someone who is trying to come to terms with their own disability!
Tory Ferrera
Sep 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Tory by: Kevin
If you find FDR fascinating, as I do, you won't want to miss this book, which focuses on the period during which he contracted polio and then recovered, both physically and mentally, and ultimately decided to run for president in 1932. Tobin's argument is that FDR became president not in spite of his polio, but because of it.

Some quotes I found particularly interesting:

"The anthropologist Robert Murphy, struck by a congenital disorder of the spine when he was forty eight, wrote: 'The price for n
Ann Hein
Sep 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Much more interesting book than I expected! It covers his life from having polio up to his winning of the 1932 presidential election. Gives interesting facts about his marriage and relationship with his wife, describes his disease and the early diagnosis and treatment, and then describes how hard he worked for years to become well enough to run for president. Many people think FDR deceived the American Public because he rarely had pictures of him in a wheel chair. The author thinks it was not re ...more
Nov 22, 2015 rated it really liked it
"The guy never knows when he is licked." ~ Harry Hopkins on FDR

"Because he had beaten his illness, Roosevelt thought that he could beat anything." ~ John Gunther

James Tobin's new book The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency covers Franklin D. Roosevelt's life between 1921 when he contracted infantile paralysis and 1932 when the Democratic party nominated him as their candidate for Governor of New York State. Tobin shows how polio brought out amazing strengths of character
"I suppose of all those [candidates] mentioned he will be the easiest one to beat." — Herbert Hoover, 31st US President
"I do a lot of things I can't do." — Franklin Delano Roosevelt

We live in a world that is vastly different than it was a hundred years ago. The crippling diseases people feared back then aren't even a second thought to most of us now – if we even know what they are or what they do. True, we have new diseases to fear, but how scared are you really of contracting Ebola? Contrast t
Mark Taylor
Apr 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
James Tobin’s 2013 book The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency, looks at our 32nd President through the lens of his disability. Tobin writes in depth about Franklin Roosevelt’s struggle with polio, and how it affected his day to day life. FDR was diagnosed with polio in 1921 at the age of 39, and the best part of the book is Tobin’s examination of how Roosevelt might have contracted polio, and the days and weeks following the onset of his symptoms, as doctors struggled to ...more
Oct 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Perhaps just as much attention—spoken if not written—has been given to FDR's disability as to any of his policies; it appears to be impossible to talk about one without citing the other's effect. However, in my lifetime the latter-day wisdom has been that his paralysis from an attack of polio at age 39 was a secret, or at least an open one: that he took great pains to hide the fact that he could not walk and even had film confiscated that would show him as the cripple (to use the word of the tim ...more
Stephen Murley
Sep 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Oh no, not ANOTHER book on FDR!

That was my thought as I saw this on the New Arrivals shelf of my local library not withstanding the stellar reputation of author James Tobin. In addition to the many FDR books I had read in the past, I knew that I would be drawn into watching Ken Burn's upcoming TV documentary series on the Roosevelt family slated for this fall. Was there such a thing as Roosevelt overload? That morning in the library I said yes and passed it up. And kept passing it up for the nex
Michael Kelleher
Sep 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
This is the first biography of a president that I have ever read. If not for the title I would have expected this book to be largely about campaign strategies, signing bills, the Great Depression and World War II. Instead I was treated to a glimpse behind the curtain of [one of] the most influential president[s] of the 20th century.

This books starts following the life of FDR in 1921 and finishes up in 1932. It isn't just about Roosevelt winning the presidency. It tells the story of a driven and
Joanne  Clarke Gunter
Every book I read about FDR makes me admire him more, but this book the most of all because so many other books concentrate primarily on the political/presidential challenges he faced rather than the physical and personal ones. His dogged determination and continual struggle to overcome the handicaps of polio as much as humanly possible made him into a much stronger and more empathetic man and president. He may have become president if he had not had polio, but he would have been a different pre ...more
I expected this book to be good, and it ended up exceeding my expectations. The author does an outstanding job showing how FDR literally defied polio. This book blends Roosevelt family history, the history and treatment of polio, and state and national politics in a captivating narrative.

FDR was a strong man, and his unexpected contraction of polio at age thirty-nine presented him with a huge challenge to undertake. He refused to let polio force him out of public life. His recovery was long and
Oct 12, 2015 rated it liked it
This book was picked by the book group that I belong to. I actually found it very interesting as it just picks a small part of FDR's life and really explores it. It starts just before Roosevelt is stricken with polio and goes up until Roosevelt runs for President. The author reminds us that in those days the "crippled" were looked upon as less than able in every way. If one couldn't walk, they couldn't think either. The brain was also considered diminished. Roosevelt, his family and his associat ...more
I won this book from Goodreads through their First Reads program.

This is a nice, shortish biography on the roughly 10 years between the time Roosevelt contracted polio to his election as president. It goes into great detail on how FDR probably first encountered the disease and the painstaking road to recovery. It gives some great insight into the personal toughness FDR displayed.

The author boldly claimed that FDR won the presidency not in spite of polio, but because of polio. I would have liked
Jul 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
An excellent historical presentation of FDR from just before his attack of polio to just as he gets elected president. Without question, my biggest complaint is that the author stops way too soon. The narrative never lags. The author presents facts with an open mind to differing opinions. And he is quite convincing when he offers an opinion of his own. And perhaps more to the point of the book's subtitle, he presents information on acquiring and dealing with polio in a most comprehensive but nev ...more
Gilda Felt
Apr 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A clear, concise retelling of FDR’s battle with polio, and how it affected his career in politics. It puts to rest the myth that he hid his disability; rather, you get the very real sense that the general public knew that he had contracted polio, and that it had affected his ability to walk. But though he could not walk without the aid of canes and braces, he was more than capable of taking on the duties of president. Though his fight against the disease, his unrelenting effort to rebuild his li ...more
Nancy Moffett
Oct 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I knew very little about FDR except that he had four terms in office. This book chronicles his years-long struggle to overcome the damage done to him by polio. Tobin paints a vivid portrait of how a man who was considered a lightweight in politics was transformed into the strong leader he became by his struggle with polio. It ends just as he has won the White House for his first term. A quote: "Through exercise, practice and compromise with his own highest hopes, he had recovered some of the str ...more
Nov 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
It's hard to believe that yet another book on FDR has been published but I found this one fascinating and it adds to what there is to know and admire about him. This book focuses on the years 1921-1932, when FDR contracted polio and spent years fighting its effects and coming to terms with his disability. The author posits successfully the idea that dealing with polio brought FDR's best qualities to the surface and actually played a part in his victories in the NY gubernatorial election of 1928 ...more
Christian Allen
May 30, 2016 rated it it was ok
Interesting slice of FDRs life between his contraction of polio and winning the presidency. The book focuses a bit too heavily on the polio virus, how it spreads, its effects on the body, etc., seemed sometimes the book was more a biography of the virus than the man. The closer the book got to the 1932 election the faster it went: his achievements as Governor of New York were covered in just a few pages.

There was very little record of FDR speaking about or writing about his illness so the a
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illegitimate not only yes and we know you a security 1 1 Dec 20, 2015 10:10PM  
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“Eleanor Roosevelt and others said polio changed Roosevelt, that it made him more compassionate. That may be so. But the first impact of the disease was to call forth elements of his nature that no one had seen before - elements that even he may not have known he possessed. His decision to defy polio was a critical moment in his life - perhaps the critical moment.” 0 likes
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