In This Review

FDR

By Jean Edward Smith
Random House, 2007
880 pp. $35.00
Purchase

There is no shortage of biographies of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but Smith is one of the titans of American biography and makes this mostly familiar story vivid and fresh. Biographers of the Roosevelts tend to divide between partisans of Eleanor and supporters of Franklin. Although he provides an unblinking account of FDR's failings as a husband (and a slightly less thorough account of his shortcomings as a father), Smith clearly prefers Franklin to Eleanor and argues that his political sense, fallible as it sometimes was, made him a far more effective figure than his more principled but less flexible wife. The treatment of FDR's foreign policy is particularly good, and Smith's defense of FDR's response to the plight of European Jewry is convincing. The great strength of this book lies in its ability to present so many sides of Roosevelt so clearly and so well. Sometimes callow, sometimes smug, often playful, and always devious, FDR was perhaps the greatest master of U.S. politics who ever lived, and Smith helps readers understand many of the facets of this extraordinary man.