From Publishers Weekly
Flying over the Nile near Cairo in October 1943, President Roosevelt looked down and quipped, "Ah, my friend the Sphinx." Sometimes portrayed that way by cartoonists in his time, he is utterly unsphinxlike in Lord Black's new biography. Massive and moving, barbed yet balanced, it is scrupulously objective and coldly unsparing of agenda-ridden earlier biographers and historians. It leaps to the head of the class of Rooseveltian lives and will be difficult to supersede. To Black, the Canadian-born media mogul (he owns the London Daily Telegraph and the Chicago Sun-Times, among other papers worldwide), the second Roosevelt was, apart from Lincoln perhaps as savior of the Union, the greatest American president, and with no exceptions the greatest of its politicians. No FDR-haters have exposed, credibly, more of Roosevelt's "less admirable tendencies," from "naked opportunism," "deformed idealism" and "pious trumpery" to "insatiable vindictiveness." Yet the four-term president emerges in Black's compelling life as personifying vividly the civilization he, more than any other contemporary, rescued from demoralizing economic depression and devastating world war. His larger-than-life Roosevelt possesses consummate sensitivity and tactical skill, radiating power and panache despite a physical vulnerability from the polio that left him without the use of his legs at 39. "His insight into common men," Black writes, "was the more remarkable because he was certainly not one of them, and never pretended for an instant that he was." By comparison, Black claims, most associates and rivals seemed like kindergarten children, yet some exceptions are fleshed out memorably, notably Roosevelt's selfless political intimates Louis McHenry Howe and Harry Hopkins, and his vigorous presidential competitor in 1940, the surprising Wendell Willkie. (Roosevelt's wife, Eleanor, comes off as both harridan and heroine.) Barring occasional lapses into English locutions like "Boxing Day" and "Remembrance Day"(the days after Christmas and Armistice Day), or "drinking his own bathwater," Conrad's style is lucid and engaging, witty and acerbic, with lines that cry out to be quoted or read aloud, as when he scorns an attack on the devotion of Roosevelt's daughter, Anna, with "Filial concern does not make the President a vegetable or his daughter a Lady Macbeth." A few minor historical errors deserve correction in what will assuredly be further printings, and the later sections appear to be composed in undue haste, but the sweeping and persuasive impact of this possibly off-puttingly big book makes it not only the best one-volume life of the 32nd president but the best at any length, bound to be widely read and discussed. 32 pages of b&w photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Black is the CEO of newspaper publishing giant Hollinger International, Inc. He has written a massive, comprehensive, but frequently ponderous biography of the great FDR. Unfortunately, Black spends an inordinate amount of time describing Roosevelt's personal life, often in mind-numbing detail. Does the fact that a young Franklin tried to conceal an accidental gash to his forehead really help to understand the man? Yet this work has great value, particularly when it focuses upon Roosevelt as president and indomitable wartime leader. In Black's view, Roosevelt, like Churchill, understood that the war was more than a mere struggle between nation states. He believed passionately, and correctly, that it was a struggle to preserve the ideals of liberty and democracy that had been nurtured and developed over centuries. It was that belief that sustained Roosevelt, and it was his skill and courage as a leader that allowed him to bring his people to that realization. Despite its flaws, Black's chronicle of a man of strength and vision is a worthy tribute to his legacy. Jay FreemanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved