Review: The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph Of Hope

Editorial Review - - Robert Finn

Every list of the "greatest" American presidents I have ever seen includes the name of Franklin Delano Roosevelt near the very top, usually second only to that of Abraham Lincoln. The canonization ceremonies for him have long since been completed. Even the Republican Party, which so reviled him during his 12 years in office, now invokes his name at its tribal gatherings. In this book Jonathan ... Read full review

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The Smile That Saved America
Okay. Let's get it out of the way. I'm an unabashed liberal; in today's politics, a progressive. Fact of the matter is that without FDR, who knows what my political
ideology would be today. Socialist? Communist? Fascist? Some other "ism?" I've got no clue. All that I do know is that some ultra rich guy, Teddy Roosevelt's fifth cousin, changed the course of American history. He created the modern concept of liberalism. And he gave birth to the social & political philosophies that course through my brain this very minute. Jonathan Alter zaps into this zeitgeist, filling the panoramic American screen with an intimate close up of this President who gave the public more than they could wish for - the hope to move forward. One of the iconic images of Roosevelt is an illustrated Peter Arno New Yorker cover that never ran. In it, seated next to a defeated Herbert Hoover, Roosevelt is seen smiling a smile larger than himself, while Hoover almost slumps, grim & defeated. Roosevelt's smile says it all. It was his magical elixir - gift to the American populace. Alter captures this alchemy without sacrificing the integrity of the reporting. FDR was never a shining knight. He was not this idealistic, progressive savior who single handedly scripted our recovery from the Depression. Not even close. He was an egotistical, self-absorbed, overly ambitious, politically ruthless demagogue, who believed he could inspire a nation into believing once again, that we might prevail. He was the right medicine at the right time, when what we most needed was an individual who could smile through the pain. And, that he could.  

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Simply captivating. Alter does a great job of catering to multiple audiences in this crisply-written biography: whether you are knowledgeable or ignorant about the FDR presidency, there's a lot here for everyone. With ample material from FDR's birth through his ascension to the presidency, and a lush epilogue detailing the lasting effects of the flurry of activity from the hundred days, this is a true biography, not just a simple chronology. This book is "FDR minus World War II", and is all the richer because of the tight focus. 

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