Investigative journalist Denton (Pink Lady: The Many Lives of Helen Gahagan Douglas, 2009, etc.) follows critical moments in the career of four-term president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who, demonized by far left and far right, escaped an assassin’s bullet and a bizarre coup plot.
In this tale of a popular president, resentful Wall Street bankers and wacko wing-nuts, the author has found a story whose parallels to today are eerie—perhaps more starkly than they merit because of the prominence she awards them. She focuses on two episodes: the gunshots fired by Giuseppe Zangara at FDR in 1933 following a speech in Miami and the crack-brained coup attempt supposedly spearheaded by bond trader Gerald MacGuire, who was fronting for some conservative powerhouse businessmen who were unhappy with FDR’s early financial moves. MacGuire had approached war hero Marine General Smedley Darlington Butler about his plot; aghast, Butler listened and then blew the whistle. Subsequently—and perhaps consequently?—FDR cracked down even harder on Wall Street and the banks. Denton’s research, though wide and deep, suffers some because she could find out nothing of consequence about assassination threats from the close-mouthed Secret Service—though she does credit the FBI for cooperation. Additionally, she spends so many pages summarizing the political rise, personal life and early presidency of FDR that the title of the book sometimes seems misrepresentative.
Demonstrates how political popularity has a bitter, resentful relative who acts as if elections are valid only when his side wins—and who sometimes packs heat.