TRAITOR TO HIS CLASS by H.W. Brands

TRAITOR TO HIS CLASS

The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Prolific historian Brands (History/Univ. of Texas; The Money Men: Capitalism, Democracy, and the Hundred Years’ War Over the American Dollar, 2006, etc.) turns his well-honed biographer’s eye to FDR.

Although the progressive administrations of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson had chipped away at the excesses of capitalism, no peacetime executive in American history attempted to wield power as fully as FDR. Upon taking office in 1932 and facing a worldwide economic depression, he pledged to ask Congress “for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis—broad executive power…as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe.” Brands focuses on Roosevelt’s bold, persistent, not always successful New Deal experimentation to save capitalism from itself and to preserve democracy. Born into every conceivable advantage, FDR—particularly after his midlife polio affliction—became the unlikely tribune of the common man, earning the scorn of those wary of veiled socialism and, later, as war loomed, those fearful of dangerous international entanglements. Brands considers Roosevelt’s career (which roughly mimicked his cousin Theodore’s) at every stage—state senator, assistant secretary of the Navy, vice presidential candidate, governor—but devotes most of the narrative to his unprecedented four-term presidency. By the time it ended, Roosevelt had so transformed the office and the country that not even his fiercest critics dared attempt to roll back the change. The author explains the birth of that era and how the vast expansion of the federal government and executive power was attributable to the imagination, discipline, drive and, to the great frustration of his enemies, popularity of the 20th century’s most consequential president. Even though Brands’s evenhanded treatment—he’s forthright about FDR’s inveterate duplicity, his overreaching and his gobbling up of the personal and professional lives of those closest to him—fails to add much new information, his book will likely be the go-to popular biography for quite some time.

A thoroughly readable, scrupulously fair assessment of the one president who could inspire a Mt. Rushmore makeover.

Pub Date: Nov. 4th, 1008
ISBN: 978-0-385-51958-8
Page count: 752pp
Publisher: Doubleday
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 2008




Kirkus Interview
H.W. Brands
October 11, 2016

As noted historian H.W. Brands reveals in his new book The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War, at the height of the Korean War, President Harry S. Truman committed a gaffe that sent shock waves around the world. When asked by a reporter about the possible use of atomic weapons in response to China's entry into the war, Truman replied testily, "The military commander in the field will have charge of the use of the weapons, as he always has." This suggested that General Douglas MacArthur, the willful, fearless, and highly decorated commander of the American and U.N. forces, had his finger on the nuclear trigger. A correction quickly followed, but the damage was done; two visions for America's path forward were clearly in opposition, and one man would have to make way. Truman was one of the most unpopular presidents in American history. General MacArthur, by contrast, was incredibly popular, as untouchable as any officer has ever been in America. The contest of wills between these two titanic characters unfolds against the turbulent backdrop of a faraway war and terrors conjured at home by Joseph McCarthy. “An exciting, well-written comparison study of two American leaders at loggerheads during the Korean War crisis,” our reviewer writes in a starred review. View video >

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