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The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and…
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The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope (2006)

by Jonathan Alter

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Excellent book about FDR's rise to power and how he became one of the most successful presidents of the 20th century ( )
  arelenriel | Jun 7, 2017 |
The man who STILL drives conservatives and libertarians bat-sh&t-nuts-crazy! Mr. Alter lays out just what FDR meant to the country. Alter, to his credit, makes this an exciting insightful read by concentrating on the intangible net-worth of FDR's confidence and his message of hope for a country knocked on its ass during the Great Depression. ( )
  scotchnsota | Nov 6, 2011 |
Those of us alive now have a difficult time understanding the degree of fear and uncertainty felt by people in 1933 when the banks were closing and they had no idea what the future held. One had to live through the time to know how it felt. Even then, some people soon forgot and started complaining about FDR’s efforts to fight the depression. They forgot that before FDR's inauguration may leading thinkers (including the respected columnist Walter Lippman) were encouraging him to assume dictatorial powers in order to save the nation. Conditions were so bad that some people speculated that the last time the world had a similar crisis it was followed by 400 years of "dark ages." And with the wrong people in leadership it could have turned into a dark age. Instead Franklin Roosevelt was able to lift the confidence of the nation.

I can remember my father telling me about Roosevelt closing all the banks in the United States on his first day of being president. He felt FDR had saved the nation. Roosevelt was able to instill the needed confidence in the banks by promising that the banks that were allowed to open again would be safe. The bank’s conditions were reviewed and only the solvent bank’s were allowed to open. Then within weeks, people who had waited in line to get their money out of the bank were now waiting in line to put their money back in. There was no deposit insurance at the time, so the fear of banks failing was real.

Ironically FDR was opposed to deposit insurance at the time. In hindsight it’s apparent that FDR, and most other people at the time, did not understand very much about economics. He sort of took action by intuition. The early New Deal program was actually operated by left over staff from the Hoover administration. Nevertheless, it is obvious that there is no way Herbert Hoover could have instilled the confidence in the banks the way the FDR did. The difference between recovery and disaster was psychological, but nevertheless it was a real difference.

It’s interesting to note that on paper Hoover was much more qualified to be president than FDR. Which indicates that the most important trait needed to be president is charisma. Experience and administrative skill are not all that important for the top person; Others can do that stuff.

The conclusion of this book is that FDR deserves credit for saving democracy, but not ending the depression. The depression was ended by World War II. ( )
1 vote Clif | Jul 6, 2010 |
I admit to reading this one because Obama was reading it and because so many pundits have been citing similarities between the Depression in the 30ies and Roosevelt’s first 100 days of New Deal legislation and the situation currently faced by our new president. I ended up seeing more differences than similarities between the two presidents and between the two situations—which doesn’t mean the book isn’t not only interesting but timely. By the way, I agree with the author that this time around 100 days won’t do it. And even with Roosevelt, as Alter says, his most significant legislation, Social Security, passed later in his Presidency.While the book tends to zero in on the 100 days, the author obviously found that, writing to a general audience, he had to give considerable background on Roosevelt—which he does in a series of short chapters which I found fun to read even though I’m fairly well read on Roosevelt the person and the president and have recently read a good complete biography (Edwards, FDR). In most chapters there was an anecdote or fact that I’d not heard before so I couldn’t accuse Alter of just regurgitating what other writers have written.Alter makes much of the comment by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes that Roosevelt’s primary asset was not his mind but his “first class temperament”—that the title of the first book I read about Roosevelt (by Geoffrey Ward). However, Alter does honor the suggestion, made by Edwards among others, that it’s not clear whether Justice Holmes was talking about FDR or about Teddy Roosevelt. But temperament is an important issue in the book and timely because so many have noted that one of Obama’s greatest assets is what most call, these days, his “unflappability”. In temperament they may not be all that similar, but for both Obama and Roosevelt, likability is an important part of the appeal and the ability to talk to “the people” (not just the politicians) in a way that clarifies complex issues and involves the listener in solutions is of critical importance.Alter gives considerable space to Eleanor in this book too: her despair at giving up her privacy to become first lady, her discovery of a new and historically significant role for the first lady, and her function in keeping FDR in touch. Because of his paralysis, the extent of which the American people did not know, Roosevelt was more vulnerable to what we now call the “bubble” the President exists in. In the 30ies Eleanor began traveling the country and the world, going down in coal mines—and eventually into war zones—to talk to “ordinary Americans” and bringing her insights back to the President. From the first, Roosevelt recognized the danger that the President grow “out of touch”, reminding us that Obama’s fight to keep his Blackberry isn’t just his technology fix, but his recognition that Presidents can easily become bubble-dwellers. ( )
  fourbears | Apr 24, 2010 |
Jonathan Alter is great as a political commentator, and ditto writher. ( )
  BillTillman | Jan 18, 2010 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743246012, Paperback)

This is the story of a political miracle -- the perfect match of man and moment. Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in March of 1933 as America touched bottom. Banks were closing everywhere. Millions of people lost everything. The Great Depression had caused a national breakdown. With the craft of a master storyteller, Jonathan Alter brings us closer than ever before to the Roosevelt magic. Facing the gravest crisis since the Civil War, FDR used his cagey political instincts and ebullient temperament in the storied first Hundred Days of his presidency to pull off an astonishing conjuring act that lifted the country and saved both democracy and capitalism.

Who was this man? To revive the nation when it felt so hopeless took an extraordinary display of optimism and self-confidence. Alter shows us how a snobbish and apparently lightweight young aristocrat was forged into an incandescent leader by his domineering mother; his independent wife; his eccentric top adviser, Louis Howe; and his ally-turned-bitter-rival, Al Smith, the Tammany Hall street fighter FDR had to vanquish to complete his preparation for the presidency.

"Old Doc Roosevelt" had learned at Warm Springs, Georgia, how to lift others who suffered from polio, even if he could not cure their paralysis, or his own. He brought the same talents to a larger stage. Derided as weak and unprincipled by pundits, Governor Roosevelt was barely nominated for president in 1932. As president-elect, he escaped assassination in Miami by inches, then stiffed President Herbert Hoover's efforts to pull him into cooperating with him to deal with a terrifying crisis. In the most tumultuous and dramatic presidential transition in history, the entire banking structure came tumbling down just hours before FDR's legendary "only thing we have to fear is fear itself" Inaugural Address.

In a major historical find, Alter unearths the draft of a radio speech in which Roosevelt considered enlisting a private army of American Legion veterans on his first day in office. He did not. Instead of circumventing Congress and becoming the dictator so many thought they needed, FDR used his stunning debut to experiment. He rescued banks, put men to work immediately, and revolutionized mass communications with pioneering press conferences and the first Fireside Chat. As he moved both right and left, Roosevelt's insistence on "action now" did little to cure the Depression, but he began to rewrite the nation's social contract and lay the groundwork for his most ambitious achievements, including Social Security.

From one of America's most respected journalists, rich in insights and with fresh documentation and colorful detail, this thrilling story of presidential leadership -- of what government is for -- resonates through the events of today. It deepens our understanding of how Franklin Delano Roosevelt restored hope and transformed America.

The Defining Moment will take its place among our most compelling works of political history.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:20 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

This is the story of a political miracle--the perfect match of man and moment. FDR took office in 1933 as America touched bottom. Banks were closing, millions of people lost everything--the Great Depression had caused a national breakdown. Journalist Alter brings us closer than ever before to the Roosevelt magic. Facing the gravest crisis since the Civil War, instead of circumventing Congress and becoming the dictator so many thought they needed, FDR used his cagey political instincts and ebullient temperament in the storied first Hundred Days of his presidency to pull off a conjuring act that lifted the country and saved both democracy and capitalism. Alter shows us how a snobbish and apparently lightweight young aristocrat was forged into an incandescent leader by his domineering mother; his independent wife; his eccentric top adviser, Louis Howe; and his ally-turned-bitter-rival, Al Smith.--From publisher description.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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