In an era of such great national divisiveness, there could be no more timely biography of one of our greatest presidents than one that focuses on his unparalleled political ability as a uniter and consensus-maker. While Robert Dallek’s Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life will take a fresh look at the many compelling questions that have attracted all his biographers — how did a man who came from so privileged a background become the greatest presidential champion of the country’s needy? How did someone who never won recognition for his intellect foster revolutionary changes in the country’s economic and social institutions? How did Roosevelt work such a profound change in the country’s foreign relations?–the focus of his book will be on Roosevelt as a man dedicated to public affairs, a master politician who skillfully and cannily used the presidency to advance a remarkable national agenda.
For FDR, politics was a far more interesting and fulfilling pursuit than the management of family fortunes or the indulgence of personal pleasure, and by the time he became president, he commanded the love and affection of millions of people. While all Roosevelt’s biographers agree that the onset of polio at the age of 39 endowed him with a much greater sense of humanity, Dallek sees the affliction as an insufficient explanation for his transformation into a masterful politician who would win an unprecedented four presidential terms, initiate landmark reforms that changed the American industrial system, and transform an isolationist country into an international superpower.
The author of the #1 New York Times bestselling biography of John F. Kennedy, An Unfinished Life, and a noted FDR scholar who he won the prestigious Bancroft Prize in 1980 for Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 1932-1945, Dallek attributes FDR’s success to two remarkable political insights. First, unlike any other president, he understood that effectiveness in the American political system depended on building a national consensus and commanding stable long-term popular support. Second, he made the presidency the central, most influential institution in modern America’s political system. In addressing the country’s international and domestic problems, Roosevelt recognized the vital importance of remaining closely attentive to the full range of public sentiment around policy-making decisions–perhaps FDR’s most enduring lesson in effective leadership.
ROBERT DALLEK is the author of An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917-1963 and Nixon and Kissinger, among other books. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic Monthly, and Vanity Fair. He is an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Society of American Historians, for which he served as president in 2004-2005. He lives in Washington, D.C.