Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom Hardcover – Oct 23 2003
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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 Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
Black is actually quite approving of FDR, although he doesn't hold back from criticizing him where he finds him at fault. Overall, though, this book provides a picture of a leader who was up to the task of the times, saving the United States from catastrophe during the Depression and then skilfully maneuvering the nation into and through the Second World War.
This book is massive - almost 1200 pages, plus endnotes. Short of a multi-volume biography, this is about as big a book as you can get.
Conrad Black's writing style is fascinating, alternating between formal and then what can only be described as extravagant turns of phrase e.g. Hitler "irrigating his chin", etc. Black doesn't shy away from making moral judgements - the words "evil" and "disgusting" occur at times. He does make quite strenuous efforts to keep things in balance overall. Though this book is obviously a lot of work to get through, it is certainly worth tackling if you have much interest in the subject and the times.
There is plenty of conventional biography (though rather uneven, for instance Eleanor Roosevelt is relegated to being someone who pops in once in a blue moon to nag FDR), but it gets welded to a psychohistory. While Black has a number of interesting insights and educated guesses, he makes a few rather dubious ones (for instance, he presumes far greater rationality on Hitler's part than the record shows).
While Black's psychohistory of FDR is probably pretty much on target, at times he pushes this a little too far, and you begin to think FDR wasn't just the greatest American president of the twentieth century, but also its greatest psychic.
This fault is exasperated by Mr. Black's habit of delivering near-mystical panegyrics to FDR whenever the mood strikes him, whether appropriate or not, which is a bit too often.
The book is very readable, if inclined to the gossipy side.
It's not a bad book at all, but it really could have used an editor enpowered to restrain Mr. Black's more than occasional but less than obsessive excesses.
I've emphasized the negative simply because terms like "definitive biography" have been used to describe this book. It is no such thing. Rather, it is rather more like a funnish romp through his life, with Conrad Black as co-star commentator. The results are better than one might suppose, but this is certainly not a great book or the only book on FDR one needs to read.
On the back cover of this fine book by Conrad Black are these comments about this book by CONSERVATIVE intellectuals I generally admire:
George F. Will: "Conrad Black skillfully assembles powerful arguments to support strong and sometimes surprising judgements. This spirited defense of Roosevelt as a savior of America's enterprise system, and geopolitical realist, is a delight to read."
John Lukacs: "Conrad Black's FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT is extraordinary. It is something different from the dim and flickering lamp of academic retrospect. A new - and generous - light is poured on its subject: an illumination directed by a conviction of Roosevelt's place in the history of an entire century."
William F. Buckley Jr.: "An enormous accomplishment, a learned volume on FDR by a vital critical mind, which will absorb critics and the reading public."
Henry Kissinger: "No Biography of Roosevelt is more thoughtful and readable. None is as comprehensive."
I really enjoyed Conrad Black's writing style, which adds life to the words with his own colorful descriptors. This is the best single-volume biography of FDR. He presents an accurate and living picture of Roosevelt in his presidency and not a dry summary of the events. For example, I chuckled when Black says that FDR correctly judged Hitler to be the real concern while Mussolini was, in comparison, a buffoon.
My own criticism of the book is that it skips over the human suffering of the period. The Great Depression was devestating.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Well written with great insight towards positioning events in their historical context.Published 10 months ago by David Kelly
Like many Canadians who knew what Black stood for, I was initially puzzled by his choice of subject and thought he would trash Roosevelt. Read morePublished on Nov. 15 2005
I give this book the highest recommendation for anyone with an interest in Roosevelt, American History, or World History. Read morePublished on July 19 2004
Newspaper tycoon Black praises former President Roosevelt for having the clearest strategic vision of the major world leaders during World War II and for using "political... Read morePublished on April 19 2004 by B. Viberg
I don't know of a better one-volume biography of FDR. Geoffrey Ward's two volumes, Before the Trumpet, and A First-Class Temperament are better written and more carefully... Read morePublished on April 5 2004 by Schmerguls
Superlative. This is simply the best biography of FDR I've ever read. It is delightfully devoid of partisanship and provides a portrait of Roosevelt as literally the 20th Century's... Read morePublished on March 31 2004 by Jerry Saperstein
The presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt was momentous and yet it continues to be shrouded in myth. The same is true of Roosevelt the man. Read morePublished on March 31 2004 by dougrhon
While I must admit that I read many reviews of the book before I read it, I approached it with trepidation. Read morePublished on Feb. 18 2004 by Joseph Butson
This book appears scholarly from its detail and extensive bibliography. A close examination, however, reveals the superficiality and ignorance of Conrad Black, the author. Read morePublished on Feb. 18 2004 by Jan Peczkis
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