A bifurcated, lively study of the year that saw the rise of the two most significant political figures of the early 20th century.
In previous books, historian Pietrusza has taken on momentous years (1948: Harry Truman's Improbable Victory and the Year that Transformed America, 2011, etc.). In this wonderful new history for lay readers, he tackles two rising political geniuses, one good, one evil, at their moments of election: Roosevelt and Hitler. Two unlikely men of destiny at the cusp of seizing power in 1932 and poised to shape historical events in their respective countries, they were able to overcome enormous obstacles—FDR his polio affliction, Hitler his lack of talent and general status of persona non grata—corral the necessary accomplices, and press forward by sheer and startling forces of will. While FDR and Hitler had little in common growing up—one hailed from the aristocracy and enjoyed every kind of family, school, and professional privilege; the other failed at most everything he tried, even spending time in a homeless men’s shelter—both had adoring mothers, leadership abilities, and an ability to stir their followers by marvelous rhetoric. After struggling with his disability since the early 1920s, FDR did not feel ready to run for the governorship of New York in 1928, but his nominating presidential convention speech for Al Smith galvanized the Democratic Party, and Smith begged him to succeed him as governor. While Smith lost abysmally to Herbert Hoover, Roosevelt “squeaked through to a narrow victory” and began his stupendous comeback, convincing the people of his vigorous health as well as the disastrous policies of Hoover. Hitler, having hit rock bottom once his mother died and twice rejected entrance to art school, found his conversion in World War I. As the author astutely notes, war became for Hitler a religion, and he began to cobble together his own lethal, unstoppable political force.
A mesmerizing study in contrast and comparison.