Long before he steered the country through both the Depression and World War II, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882–1945) was a headstrong fellow who knew what he wanted, played for keeps and mastered the art of taking charge.
FDR inspires the love of biographers, and naval historian de Kay (A Rage for Glory: The Life of Commodore Stephen Decatur, USN, 2007, etc.) can lay on his ardor with a trowel. Nonetheless, his book, focused on Roosevelt’s first forays into public office, tells a convincing story of how a privileged young man proved he was as good as his famous name. Starting political life as a New York state senator, he ran afoul of Boss Charles F. Murphy of Tammany Hall when he backed the wrong horse for a U.S. Senate seat. As a “crusader for good government,” he gained the approval of Woodrow Wilson, the newly elected and equally reform-minded New Jersey governor who would soon become president. As Wilson’s Assistant Secretary of the Navy, FDR, a naval enthusiast from boyhood, tackled his new role with the plucky presumption of a young man who was sure he ought to be running the place. FDR was hawkish on America’s entry into World War I, frequently locking horns with his boss, Josephus Daniels, and his commander in chief. De Kay is sympathetic to FDR as a bull-headed problem-solver who let nothing stand in his way where his Navy was concerned, the man who took the initiative on numerous major wartime projects. The author is also fair in noting FDR’s overreach, his ego and his gambler’s instinct—whether it meant having a potentially career-wrecking affair with his wife's secretary or making an ill-advised run for the Senate.
A highly readable, somewhat fawning, ultimately credible biography of an ambitious, energetic risk-taker.