The Last 100 Days

The Last 100 Days

FDR at War and at Peace

David B. Woolner

Basic Books, New York, 2017, 368 pages

Book Review published on: April 27, 2018

Most view the first one hundred days of a presidential term with excitement or criticism. These first couple of months inform the public’s perception of how things are going. They tell us if the chief executive and his administration are setting conditions to realize policies promised during the campaign. They may even portend what will happen over the remaining term. The one hundred-day standard to which modern-day presidents are measured traces its roots to the first days of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s (FDR) presidency, 4 March through 14 June 1933. During his first days in office, FDR led the passage of fifteen pieces of major legislation, all part of his New Deal initiative. This remarkable progress made in such a short period of time earned FDR widespread popularity. In The Last 100 Days: FDR at War and at Peace, author, columnist, and editor David B. Woolner argues that the last one hundred days of FDR were just as important and as impactful as the first one hundred. Woolner is a senior fellow and resident historian of the Roosevelt Institute, professor of history at Marist College, and senior fellow of the Center for Civic Engagement at Bard College.

In great detail, Woolner covers FDR’s last one hundred days, beginning on Christmas Eve 1944 at Hyde Park, New York, through his death on 12 April 1945 at Warm Springs, Georgia. During this short period of time, FDR dealt with the surge of the Wehrmacht in the Battle of the Bulge. He traveled nearly fourteen thousand miles (mostly by ship) to participate in the war summit at Malta with Prime Minister Winston Churchill, followed by the Yalta Conference with Churchill and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. He examined how to approach the final stages of the war against Japan, including the implications of using the atomic bomb. He explored how the United States would transition its economy from one of war to one of peace, and he laid the final groundwork for the establishment of the United Nations. And, if that were not enough, while returning home following the Yalta Conference, FDR also stopped in Egypt to negotiate the creation of a homeland for Jewish people in Palestine.

The reader gains an appreciation for just how much was on FDR’s plate, not only in quantity of the issues but also in complexity. Furthermore, most readers will also gain a newfound appreciation for just how ill FDR was. It is no secret that FDR was ill; the extent to which he was ill is revealed by Woolner, despite the public face that FDR was healthy for a man of his age. Remarkably and to his credit, FDR remained committed to his work and vision that the United States would play a leading role in the postwar world.

Based on over seven hundred citations, Woolner meticulously narrates the challenges, opportunities, successes, and failures that FDR faced. Sources include memoranda from doctors, declassified records from the Office of Strategic Services, documents from the British and Soviet archives, diaries of people close to FDR, and a recently constructed day-to-day calendar of FDR’s daily activities (including activities that FDR wanted kept secret). This calendar would not have been possible without the painstaking reconstruction performed by researchers at the FDR Presidential Library (the Nation’s first presidential library).

Woolner embarked on his journey to convince readers that FDR’s work during his last days was just as significant as his first. He did a magnificent job of doing so. The book is a pleasure to read and will appeal to many audiences. FDR’s accomplishments during his first one hundred days were significant in raising the United States out of the depths of the Great Depression. Many of those initiatives remain with us today. It is the work he did at the end of his presidency that expanded beyond the borders of the United States and had a lasting impact on the rest of the world. The fact that he did so given his poor health is all the more remarkable. In penning his final speech (never delivered) the day before he died, FDR wrote, “The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.” Those words are reflective of the optimism and belief in America by her thirty-second president.

Book Review written by: David D. Haught, Fort Belvoir, Virginia