SLY AND ABLE by David Robertson

SLY AND ABLE

A Political Biography of James F. Byrnes
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 This biography of South Carolina politician Byrnes offers historical insight but ultimately descends into hagiography. Robertson traces James Byrnes's rise from poverty in his native Charleston, S.C., to the House of Representatives, the Senate, the Supreme Court, a tenure as so-called ``assistant president'' to FDR during WW II, his stint as secretary of state under Truman, and, finally, his governorship of South Carolina. Robertson (who has taught creative writing at Clemson Univ.) recounts Byrnes's special relationship with FDR and his great disappointment when Roosevelt, after leading Byrnes to believe that he would be his vice presidential running mate in 1944, excluded him from the ticket. He was deemed too antilabor, and his reputation as a racist was seen as a threat to the black vote for FDR in the North. Furthermore, Byrnes who had been born a Catholic, had converted to Protestantism, and this alienated both Catholics and Protestants. Thus Byrnes ``almost'' became president, but because of his political drawbacks, it was Harry Truman who garnered that prize. Byrnes topped off his career by successfully running for governor of his home state. He is remembered as a racist who did his best to fight the Supreme Court's landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. In his latter years, Byrnes was in the vanguard of Democrats backing Republican candidates before the GOP was acceptable in Dixie. Robertson's romanticizing of Byrnes borders on hero worship. He makes the hyperbolic statement that Byrnes had better political skills than FDR, who is considered by most historians to have been the country's master politician. Robertson's writing is also riddled with clichÇs, and redundancies clog the text. Although we learn much about Byrnes and the politics of his era, this work is, in the end, disappointing. Byrnes, an important figure, deserves a better biography.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-393-03367-8
Page count: 576pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1994




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