Franklin D. Roosevelt, consensus choice as one of three great presidents, led the American people through the two major crises of modern times. This volume analyses that leadership in combating the Great Depression; its successor explains how he became the leader of the Free World as well. The first volume of an epic two-part biography, Franklin D. Roosevelt: Road to the New Deal, 1882-1939 presents FDR from a privileged Hyde Park childhood through his Depression-era presidency to the ominous buildup to global war. Roger Daniels revisits the sources and closely examines Roosevelt’s own words and deeds to create a twenty-first century analysis of how Roosevelt forged the modern presidency. Daniels’s close analysis yields new insights into the expansion of Roosevelt’s economic views; FDR’s steady mastery of the complexities of federal administrative practices and possibilities; the ways the press and presidential handlers treated questions surrounding his health; and his genius for channeling the lessons learned from an unprecedented collection of scholars and experts into bold political action.
This dry academic biography of F.D.R. (the first of two planned volumes) will have limited appeal for lay readers. Daniels (Prisoners without Trial: Japanese Americans in World War II), a history professor at the University of Cincinnati, differentiates his approach from the legion of other F.D.R. biographers by "pay more attention to Roosevelt's speeches than his other biographers had," and making extensive use of New York Times coverage of his subject his review of which found "hundreds of examples of otherwise unrecorded and obscure examples of formal, semiformal, and reactive utterances by Roosevelt." There are sections that will interest non-experts, as in Daniels's analysis of how F.D.R.'s tenure as governor of New York set him in good stead for his tenure as president. Still, despite the book's length and its granular examination of F.D.R.'s policies, some readers will be frustrated by the offhand treatment of some major events, including Roosevelt's first race for the White House and the near-successful attempt on his life in 1933. Daniels is at least consistent in addressing his stated purpose of explaining what F.D.R. "did and what he hoped would result," rather than expounding upon "why this somewhat coddled son of American gentry became a tribune of the people."