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Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt is indisputably one of the most important presidents in American history. The only United States president to have been elected more than twice, FDR led the country through the Great Depression and during almost all of World War II. Perhaps as important, his presidency set the tone for American politics at least until the election of Ronald Reagan and arguably up to today.

Although this is a brief biography (170 pages), author Roy Jenkins successfully gives the reader a sense of Franklin Roosevelt's appeal. He comes off as a charming and, in most cases, brilliant politician, though one who refused to get too far ahead of the American people. Jenkins adds that though FDR aroused great loyalty in many of his followers, by the end of Roosevelt's life, 'several of those who most helped his rise, had moved not only to detachment but to full opposition.' The author also creates insightful thumbnail sketches of a number of FDR's closest associates. Jenkins' writing is fluid, and this book makes for a good introduction to one of the central political figures of the twentieth century. The author deftly outlines the progress of the New Deal. It is only when Jenkins tries to cram the complexities of World War II into fewer than forty pages that things get just a bit messy.

Roy Jenkins, the author of twenty-one books including biographies of Winston Churchill and William Gladstone, served as a member of British Parliament for many years. Given the author's personal background, it is not surprising that there are a number of references to English history. At certain points in the volume, especially with the approach of World War II, one might think that the book should be called 'FDR and the British.' The author died just before completing this volume, and the last fifteen pages were written by his friend, Harvard professor Richard Neustadt. This work is part of a series called the American Presidents, edited by the noted historian Arthur Schlesinger.