In This Review

Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
By Roy Jenkins
Times Books, 2003, 208 pp

This brilliant short biography provides more insight and reward than many Roosevelt biographies ten times its length. Jenkins, who died in the final stages of completing the manuscript, was ideally suited to appreciate the longest-serving U.S. president. As a master biographer, political practitioner, and partisan of the same Anglo-American liberal tradition that shaped Roosevelt, Jenkins had the intellectual and political background to understand F.D.R.; as a foreigner, he was able to view Roosevelt's accomplishments and failures from a judicious distance. The light touch and deft style that Jenkins employed when treating even the weightiest matters illuminate rather than distract: to call Eleanor Roosevelt's childhood circumstances "a House of Mirth atmosphere" is to say more, and more economically, than most others who have written on the theme. The carefully selected facts and quotations in the book are memorable precisely because they are so spare. Jenkins' long biographies of statesmen such as Gladstone and Churchill showed that he was a master of the long form; his life of Roosevelt shows that his biographical talents, undiminished by age, did not require acres of paper to achieve their full effect.