The second volume of Roger Daniels’ two volume biography of Franklin Roosevelt is a worthy and helpful read which focuses on, as does volume one, FDR’s own words Daniels uses to offer what I believe is a clear and helpful picture of Roosevelt generally free of political overtones.
Having read the first volume of Daniels’ FDR biography last year Franklin D Roosevelt: Road to the New Deal, 1882-1939, I was hopeful that I would be able to read volume two which focused on the beginning of World War 2 through his sudden death on April 12, 1945 at Warm Springs, Georgia. Thanks to Net Galley and the publisher, The University of Illinois Press for the availability of this volume.
As with volume one, volume two, focuses on the public statements of FDR but at a crucial point in 20th century history – the onset of the Second World War. With a “you are there” feel, Daniels’ takes the reader on a behind the scenes look at FDR’s words and actions as he navigated between then current American isolationism and the international call, especially from England, for moral and material support against Hitler and Nazi Germany as, Daniels notes, FDR learned to utilize the Executive Order, as a main tool to accomplish this task.
Daniels’ portrait of Roosevelt reiterates those of others, especially a President who liked to stay in charge of things by keeping his subordinates off balance. But this book also tells of a President who resolutely began putting the nation he led on a wartime footing before war would come.
With a dizzying array of acronyms, Daniels takes the reader on a historical review of the development of programs such as Social Security which are now part of American governance and life. He also documents Roosevelt’s on-going domestic battles, notably with numerous labor issues and strikes, as well as the isolationist forces that were active in his late second and early third terms. But much ink is devoted to the war effort and this reader appreciated the detailed portraits of FDR’s meetings with Churchill and Stalin late in the war and notes how difficult travel was for these leaders, especially Roosevelt with his deteriorating health, a theme which Daniels addresses in the late chapters of the book.
But a portrait of FDR that stands out to this reviewer is one of a forward thinking optimist who, even in his last days as the war was being won by the Allies, was thinking ahead to making American and the world a better place. This was clearly shown in the passage in which Daniels quotes at length a letter FDR wrote to Vannevar Bush who was his chief scientific adviser asking him for ways that the research and development which had been done over the course of the war could be used for ways to improve life for everyone after the war had been won.
Franklin D Roosevelt: The War Years, 1939-1944 is a well-researched and well-written book about the 32nd and longest serving US President. I liked it for its narrative style and ability to take me along as Daniels walks us through a turbulent and dangerous time in American history. I gave this book a four-star rating on Goodreads.
Note: I received an electronic galley copy of this book from Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.