Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life

Robert Dallek. Viking, $40 (704p) ISBN 978-0-525-42790-2

Dallek (Camelot’s Court), an acclaimed biographer of earlier American presidents, covers nearly every aspect of F.D.R.’s life in a characteristically adroit work that is balanced in coverage and prudent in assessment. While Dallek does not add in any major way to existing knowledge of F.D.R., his emphasis falls on the two great crises of F.D.R.’s presidency—the Depression and WWII—and highlights F.D.R.’s emergence as a skillful politician. Given the book’s paucity of attention to issues regarding women, people of color, the environment, and civil and human rights, it’s not quite the timely work it is being framed as. When those issues arise it’s within chronological coverage of the New Deal and war. Readers may tire from the book’s relentless parade of declarative statements, though few will challenge Dallek’s characterization of Roosevelt as “an instinctively brilliant politician” and all will benefit from Dallek’s principal addition to earlier works on F.D.R.: the convincing argument that as early as May 1943 F.D.R. was showing signs of the illness that would kill him. The result is a comprehensive retelling of a major American life that will rank among the standard biographies of its subject. Agent: John W. Wright, John Wright Literary. (Nov.)