“FDR” by Jean Edward Smith

I listened to this book on CD (20+ CDs!) while driving to and from work for the past two months.

FDR most definitely lived through interesting times, and indeed was often the key player in the very events that made those times interesting.  The fact that he deftly led the country through the Great Depression and then to victory in World War II while effectively unable to walk makes his story all the more compelling.

I can’t help but compare this book to the biography of Truman I read last year.  I don’t know if it was the writing style of the authors or nature of the subjects, but I feel like I know Truman better than FDR.  Truman was scrupulously honest throughout his life and was virtually obsessed with making morally correct decisions, even if they were poor political ones.  FDR seemed more the politician – not that he was dishonest, but he held his cards closer to his chest.

FDR had a kind of strange, sad married life.  It seems like he and Eleanor quickly grew tired of each other.  FDR had an affair in the 1920s that, once exposed, permanently altered his relationship with ER.  They remained married and  eventually still respected one another, but more or less lived their separate lives.   (The author presents FDR filling the companionship void with his secretary Missy Lehand, but he doesn’t speculate much on how his relationships affected him emotionally, which would be interesting to know.  Did FDR regret his personal-life decisions which led to estrangement with ER?  Or did he just regret marrying the wrong woman in the first place?)

Interesting thing learned about the times:  Reporters in FDR’s day and age drew a strict line between the public news of political figures and private issues in those public figures lives.  This included no stories or even photographs of FDR in a wheelchair; also no scandals about affairs, etc.  With all the mudslinging in the news today, it seems like reporters thrive on digging up the personal dirt about public figures … one wonders if the old way wasn’t much better.

Historical things learned: court packing scheme, Roosevelt recession

Favorite quotes:

“Father always wanted to be the bride at every wedding, and the corpse at every funeral.” – Alice Roosevelt about TR (in section about FDR and Eleanor’s (TR’s niece) wedding)

“If you can’t use your legs, and they bring you milk when you wanted orange juice, you learn to say, ‘That’s all right!’ and drink it.” – FDR

One response

  1. Some I’ve enjoyed include:

    Walter Isaacson–Benjamin Franklin
    Joseph Ellis–Founding Brothers
    David McCullough–John Adams
    Jean Edward Smith–FDR
    Robert Remini–Henry Clay; Daniel Webster
    Robert Aspery–Frederick the Great
    Robert Massie–Peter the Great
    Frank McLynn–Villa and Zapata
    John Sudgen–Tecumseh; Nelson
    Carl Sandburg–Abraham Lincoln
    Irving Brant–James Madison
    Antonia Fraser–Mary, Queen of Scots; Cromwell
    Alison Weir–Queen Elizabeth; Henry VIII; Eleanor of Aquitaine
    Deidre Bair–Simone de Beauvoir; Carl Jung
    H.W. Brands–Andrew Jackson
    Jasper Ridley–Garibaldi

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