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Color commentary fights content
on December 27, 2003
This is an odd biography. It ought to be called "the parts of FDR's life that interested Conrad Black with extensive color commentary by Conrad Black." Mr. Black interjects his opinion and comments about the events he is describing intrusively and constantly, right in the middle of the text. Sometimes Mr. Black finds his opinions/speculations/random thoughts and tidbits about FDR and his times rather more interesting than FDR himself.
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.