Book Review: Franklin D. Roosevelt, Vol I, Road to the New Deal, 1882-1939


by Roger Daniels

Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2015. Pp. xxiv, 324. Illus., notes, biblio., index. $34.95. ISBN: 0252039513

FDR from Privileged Youth through the New Deal

The 32nd president always ranks among the top three in polls of scholars and one would think that the examination of his life has already been well trodden by a great many excellent historians, but Prof. Daniels (emeritus Cincinnati), who has done work in immigration studies and the experience of Japanese-Americans in World War II, gives us a very interesting look at FDR’s political maturation and presidency through a careful reevaluation of his own words and actions, and how these influenced not only the events of his times, but also the evolution of the office.

Daniels devotes only about a third of the volume devoted to FDR’s background. He traces the man's early life and political career through the election of 1920, then covers his battle against polio, and his return to politics as governor of New York during the depths of the Depression. Daniels devoted the rest of the volume to FDR's election as President, the years of the New Deal, and the coming of WW II in Europe.

Daniels explores FDR’s growth into the office of President, his increasing skill at managing the complexities of government, adopting ideas from academia and business and adjusting them to fit changing circumstances as recovery waxed and waned, and his gift for turning foes into allies. While generally favorable to FDR, Daniels does not hesitate to discusses some uncomplimentary matters, such as how and why FDR avoided some sensitive issues, most notably race, to focus on the economic crisis. So the volume is almost entirely on domestic matters, with only one out of nine chapters on foreign affairs, although there is some coverage of the beginnings of rearmament and the anticipation of war, which is sufficient to set the stage for the second volume in Daniels' biography, The War Years, 1939-1945.

Note: The Road to the New Deal is also available as an e-book.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   

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