Thursday, October 22, 2009

Five best biographies about FDR

Richard Norton Smith is Scholar-in-Residence of History and Public Policy at George Mason University. A presidential historian and former head of six presidential libraries, his books include An Uncommon Man: The Triumph of Herbert Hoover (1984), The Harvard Century: The Making of a University to a Nation (1986) and Patriarch: George Washington and the New American Nation (1993). His book, Thomas E. Dewey and His Times, was a finalist for the 1983 Pulitzer Prize.

In 2006 he named a five best list of biographies about FDR for the Wall Street Journal. One title on the list:
"A First-Class Temperament" by Geoffrey Ward (Harper & Row, 1989).

This is a pointillist portrait of a man groping his way toward greatness. Of special note is the chapter ("The Place") describing Roosevelt's semi-feudal Hyde Park estate as a metaphor for the tradition-loving side of this famous innovator. (Long before the Civilian Conservation Corps reforested Depression-era America, FDR planted 300,000 trees on his ancestral acres.) Ward offers sobering evidence that, physical infirmity aside, Roosevelt had enough character defects--from his cheerful mistruths to his use of government agencies to pursue enemies--that he might not have survived the gantlet of today's gotcha journalism.
Read about another book on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue