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Bookmarks Issue: 
30-Sept-Oct-2007
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A-FDRIn FDR, Jean Edward Smith reminds readers of the 32nd American president’s sweeping social reforms and his extraordinary leadership in World War II (Winston Churchill called Roosevelt the greatest man he had ever known). In the process of exploring the man behind the legend, Smith also reveals some of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s human flaws, including his efforts to keep his New Deal intact by loading the Supreme Court, his vendetta against members of his own party whom he viewed as political obstacles, and his longtime clandestine affair with Lucy Mercer. Still, Smith points out, no president did more for his country in a time of need. Why one more book on the president about whom more has been written than any other, save perhaps Lincoln? "The national sacrifice," Smith writes of that volatile period, "is forgotten."
Random House. 880 pages. $35. ISBN: 1400061210

Denver Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Smith’s richly researched—nearly 200 pages of notes and bibliography—look at the president is one of those monumental works that at the same time does not lose sight of the individual at its heart. … One reason it can take 60 years to get a biography this satisfying is that in the interim, researchers gain access to letters, interviews, archives and a host of biographies about the players on the world stage of the 1930s and ‘40s." Edward P. Smith

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"That [Smith] has managed to compress the whole sweep of Roosevelt’s life into a bit more than 600 pages may seem in and of itself miraculous, but his achievement is far larger than that. … [The author] is openly sympathetic yet ready to criticize when that is warranted, and to do so in sharp terms; he conveys the full flavor and import of Roosevelt’s career without ever bogging down in detail." Jonathan Yardley

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"Mr. Smith, taking full advantage of the many FDR sources from earlier biographies to the papers of the era’s principals, has written a marvelous book, though it surely helps to have so engaging a subject. Little is factually new, but he provides superb perspective and captures the upbeat persona of the man whose leadership saved the nation from economic collapse, defeated Nazi tyranny and created the prosperous powerhouse that is the modern United States." Carl P. Leubsdorf

Providence Journal 4 of 5 Stars
"Smith does a remarkably fine job of revealing FDR’s complex political history while also showing the sometimes flawed, yet always brilliant, private man. … [The author] has created a compelling, insightful and eloquent biography fully worthy of the giant being portrayed." Edward J. Renehan, Jr.

Baltimore Sun 3 of 5 Stars
"In FDR, an engaging one-volume biography, Jean Edward Smith, a professor of political science at Marshall University, does not challenge the conventional wisdom. … Smith discusses Roosevelt’s flaws, but FDR is a valentine, almost, though never quite, Churchillian in tone." Glenn C. Altschuler

Critical Summary

The legacy of FDR is safe in the hands of Jean Edward Smith, a renowned academic and author of a dozen books, including the acclaimed biographies Grant (a 2002 Pulitzer Prize finalist), John Marshall: Defender of a Nation (1996), and Lucius D. Clay: An American Life (1990). FDR, which captures the energy, courage, and contradictions of a full life well lived, is considered by many here as the best one-volume biography of that president to date. Several critics comment that in making exhaustive use of existing research, Smith has uncovered little new. Instead, the strength of this book lies in the author’s pacing and his ability to capture the triumphs and disappointments of his subject. Jonathan Yardley, comparing Smith’s effort to other one-volume accounts—James McGregor Burns’s Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox (1956), Nathan Miller’s FDR: An Intimate History (1983), and Ted Morgan’s FDR: A Biography (1985)—concludes: "Each has its merits, but none matches the commanding authority of this one."