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A Leader in Touch With the People
on March 12, 2010
While I have reservations about Black's ability to judge fairly the critical roles of important people in history by his tendency to see life as either right or wrong, I still appreciate his passion to create a big-picture view of events. He believes his thesis is infallible if he can demonstrate the greatest command of the relevant facts. In the case of this weighty tome on the political life and times of FDR, president of the United States during its most tumultuous years, Black brings to the table a ton of evidence to show his readers that his hero, while an imperfect individual, was an ideal leader who solved problems based on what he perceived to be best for the common man and the nation. In Black's opinion, FDR was that cagey politician who sized up the economic needs of the country during the Great Depression and developed a one-size-fits-all approach to getting the country back to work, though it would take almost a decade to do so. Roosevelt succeeded where others like his predecessor Hoover failed because he was prepared to radicalize the role of government to such an extent that his opponents either jumped on board or quickly became marginalized. For Black, a bit of a misunderstood autocrat and snob himself, FDR represents the ideal embodiment of national leadership. As an east-coast Brahman, who was dismissed early in life as a little rich boy, FDR dedicated himself to being a committed democrat and benign autocrat by time he entered state politics in the late 1920s. By sheer determination to overcome the terrible effects of polio in his personal life and a Machivellian cunning to outwit a bevy of Republicans and Democrats who threatened his desire for reform, FDR became the man of the hour. Anyone who stood in his way lost, including his wife, Eleanor. In numerous places throughout the book, Black regularly endorses the correctness of FDR's decisions as a leader who continuously got it right at key points in the unfolding of the New Deal programs. FDR's apparent keen awareness and foreknowledge as to how the greater world operated allowed him, in Black's eyes, to patiently wait for the tide to turn in his favour. While "Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom" is certainly intimidating in size, it does provide some useful insights as to how the gradually improving state of the nation during those early years of the FDR administration led to greater American influence abroad in the l940s. FDR, a leader much curtailed by the partisan demands of an isolationist Congress, was prepared to pull out all the stops to become successful in his defense of liberty at home and abroad. There is one caution here that Black, the admirer, mentions. FDR, while clearly understanding the Nazi threat in the 1930s to his sense of decency and taking steps to stop it, may not have been so up on the newly-emerging Communist menace after WW II. While there are no new profound interpretations as to how and why FDR did what he did to become America's longest-serving president, the book has merit based on the fact that Black bought the personal FDR archives on which to research its contents. Structural weaknesses in the book includes stilted language in places, questionable wording("sodomized the constitution" on Page 380)and its unwieldy size. I recommend anyone interested in reading this work to first of all consult a general history of the period to become familiar with the support cast and public institutions involved in the FDR saga. Black assumes you should already know the background.