cover image The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency

The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency

James Tobin. Simon & Schuster, $30 (336p) ISBN 978-0-7432-6515-7

Many books have been written about Franklin Roosevelt’s life in politics, but here Tobin (Ernie Pyle’s War) takes a risk by telling the story of one of the country’s most popular presidents from a largely unexplored angle. As the subtitle suggests, this book looks at Roosevelt’s life from the time he contracted polio to the time he became president, and does so with a compassionate view. To keep the book from becoming a maudlin sympathy tale, Tobin considers some obvious but important questions: How did Roosevelt overcome his “handicap” to become president? Would he have become president had he not contracted polio? What effect did his affliction have on him personally? How did his accomplishments affect the perception of handicapped persons generally? The conclusion may be surprising to many: “that he became president because of polio” and the advantages it afforded him during a turbulent period in Democratic Party politics. Personal items are not glossed over—Tobin makes it clear that F.D.R. was not always kindest to those closest to him and that his family life was tense—and the myriad medical and political details are coupled with glimpses of his vulnerable moments. Tobin’s balanced and detailed approach offers a well-rounded look at a slice of F.D.R.’s life generally obscured from popular accounts, and it makes for fascinating reading. (Nov.)