FDR: A Biography by Ted Morgan
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FDR: A Biography

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The United States is said to have emerged from the economic depression of the 1930's after Americans were roused from their mental dumps and persuaded to get up and march into the future behind a man in a wheelchair. Morgan's book provides a splendid portrait of that man, the nation's 32nd President, a portrait he has painted with admiration while including all the roughness, pimples and warts. A distant cousin of Theodore Roosevelt, FDR was born in 1882 into the gentry that lived along the Hudson in upstate New York. An only child coddled by wealthy parents, particularly his mother, he was blessed with good looks, winning manners and a strong core of self-esteem. He was also, says Morgan, a gifted and facile liar. One lie he put about was that his father had served with Garibaldi. Another was that he himself, while reporting for the Harvard Crimson, had scooped the Boston press by eliciting from Harvard President Charles Eliot an admission that he would support Theodore Roosevelt, whom Eliot had once denounced as ""a degenerate son of Harvard,"" for vice president in the 1900 election. A few years later, FDR was elected to the New York Senate and for years afterward would take credit for the successful passage there of a bill that established a maximum 54-hour work week for women in industry. Frances Perkins, who had lobbied strongly for the legislation and who was to serve as Secretary of Labor when FDR became President, said he was not even present the night the bill was passed, but the record showed he had voted for it in absentia. Roosevelt's career in Albany was brief, for he went on to become Assistant Secretary of the Navy under Wilson. Later, he also became an actual champion of labor as New York's governor. Roosevelt by then was already the man in a wheelchair; stricken with polio in 1921, it had left him paralyzed from the waist down. His illness seems to have transformed him, giving him a deeper understanding of the underdog that was to dominate his thinking as President. At the time of his first inaugural, in 1932, the Depression was at its worst, with bread lines of unemployed, mounting mortgage foreclosures, rampant bank failures and widespread pessimism that the paralysis in the nation's economy would never be cured. But cured it eventually was, largely because of FDR's New Deal legislation (and despite the tact that much of that legislation was declared unconstitutional during Roosevelt's second term). Before the end of that term, WW II broke out in Europe and FDR's domestic programs took a back seat to foreign affairs, with Roosevelt undertaking a number of covert measures to help embattled Britain. Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor brought the US into the war, and once again FDR had a new role to play. As commander-in-chief, he oversaw plans for the Allied invasion of North Africa in 1942, which was followed by the invasion of Sicily and the Italian mainland. In the summer of 1944, a few months before his election to a fourth term, came the Allied invasion of Normandy and the opening of the second front that Stalin had long been urging. Morgan provides a vivid description of the jockeying that went on among the Big Three leaders, as he does of the in-fighting on the domestic political scene during FDR's years in the White House. He devotes far less space to Roosevelt's private life, possibly because there was relatively little private life left after Eleanor Roosevelt's discovery in 1918 that her husband had been having an affair with her social secretary. On April 12, 1945, four months into his fourth term, FDR died while having his portrait painted by a friend of that secretary (now a middle-aged widow, who had commissioned the portrait and was also present). The portrait was never finished, but Morgan's biography of the man he credits with having transformed America more than takes its place.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Simon & Schuster