By the Book: Franklin D. Roosevelt

July 25, 2016 Bryan Craig

The first year of a new president’s first term is always a crucible. But often it’s only in hindsight, within the carefully considered pages of an authoritative presidential biography, that the full measure of that first year can be taken. In this new series on the best presidential biographies, Miller Center presidential scholars and experts recommend the ones most worth reading.

What is it about FDR that attracts a lot of scholar and public attention? The amount of material on him can be over-whelming. He is one of the most written about presidents that we encounter. It's not such a bad thing, because there are so many complexities and facets to his presidency and his times.

If you had more than 6 months, you could tackle James McGregor Burns two volume work (The Lion and the Fox & The Soldier of Freedom), or Kenneth S. Davis’ four volume history (Beckoning of Destiny, New York Years, New Deal Years, Into the Storm, & The War President), but they do tend to find more weaknesses than strength in FDR.

For one-volume books, the two best are Jean Edward Smith's FDR and Conrad Black's Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion Freedom. With Smith, readers will find a thorough, straight-forward book that mixes secondary and new primary material. Interestingly enough, Black is from England and a conservative, but he claims FDR is one of the most important figures in the 20th century.

FDR was a very private person. However, to glimpse into his marriage with Eleanor, try Joseph E. Persico's Franklin and Lucy: President Roosevelt, Mrs. Rutherford, and the Other Remarkable Women in his Life.