...meticulously researched and authoritative … Adequate single-volume biographies about FDR abound. But none are as heroically objective and wide-angled as this fine Dallek effort. A master synthesizer of primary sources, Dallek, who previously won the Bancroft Prize, brilliantly deliberates on Roosevelt’s Hudson Valley childhood, tenure as assistant secretary of the Navy (1913-1920) and years as a progressive New York governor (1929-1932). The anchor of this book, however, is the White House years … I found Dallek’s spirited examination of how Roosevelt interacted with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill from 1940 to 1945 the most enthralling part of this biography.
Dallek wants to ground his book firmly in reality rather than hero-worship – hence his encouraging subtitle, A Political Life. He believes that FDR was a born politician of ferocious and very nearly infallible instincts, and through a combination of extensive research and first-rate storyteller's gifts, he makes the reader believe it, too ... Dallek relates in fine and compelling detail all the thorniest scandals of the FDR years ... But far more prominent than scandal in these pages – and far more welcome – are Dallek's frequent examinations of the now-forgotten political opposition FDR faced at every stage of his long tenure as president ... In odd but very appreciable ways, Dallek's nuts-and-bolts 'political life,' seeking the real man underneath all the familiar accolades, somehow manages to re-affirm that greatness. We see FDR afresh, which is an amazing feat in its own right.
In an era in which moral, linguistic, and financial corruption hold sway, this story could not be more timely. It is the story of a high-born male — tall, immensely handsome, and intelligent, who sees his life’s purpose in doing good for others ... Some historians may cavil that Dallek has done little original research, with no new information or insights, moreover that he has paraphrased their work to an immoderate extent. Or worse, has largely ignored the most recent work of historians over the past 15 or 20 years. Biographers may feel the same: lamenting Dallek’s lack of an individual authorial style or vivid narrative artistry and architecture, so that the book reads at times like a generic piece of young adult nonfiction ... For my money, however, I think “Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life’’ a most welcome reminder of what a career of idealistic political purpose can still achieve for one’s country, and for the world.