Man of Destiny
FDR and the Making of the American Century
Alonzo L. Hamby
Basic Books, New York, New York, 2015, 512 pages
Book Review published on: June 16, 2017
Alonzo Hamby’s Man of Destiny: FDR and the Making of the American Century provides a comprehensive one-volume biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR), arguably the greatest American political leader to rise out of the tumult of World War I, the economic excesses of the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, and the global conflicts collectively known as World War II. This biography is both a great beginner’s guide to the story of this complex man and his extended family as well as a refresher for a student of the period attempting to put new discoveries and old scandals into context. From this book one can gain a greater understanding of the nature of the man and the roles and relationships of the many people surrounding this most public of presidents.
Born into a prominent New York family, the younger cousin of Theodore Roosevelt who rose to be our twenty-sixth president, FDR married his cousin Eleanor who was at least his intellectual equal and who also served as his private and sometimes his public conscience. FDR served President Woodrow Wilson as assistant secretary of the Navy during World War I, overcame the initial illness and a lifetime of the debilitating effects of polio, was elected governor of New York, and finally served as America’s thirty-second president in 1933 for the first of four terms.
FDR surrounded himself with a close group of long-terms friends, associates, and family members. He effectively governed through a network of dedicated public and private personalities who could effectively execute policy while arguing their issues and concerns. Sometimes departing from the sound advice of his associates, as when he tried to pack the U.S. Supreme Court in 1937 to be assured of favorable rulings, once defeated he could readily adapt his plans and move on. His appointees to public office included Democrats of his party but also very capable members of the opposing Republican Party. Through Eleanor and others, he could also seek advice and counsel from other factions of American society and political groups. Thoroughly capable, FDR was a superb communicator in his many public appearance over the years, including his mastery of the new medium of radio to conduct his groundbreaking “fireside chats” that could go over the heads of the media and other politicians and permit him to be able to communicate with the American public, and eventually the public of most Allied nations. Dying in office in April 1945, he did not live to see the end of World War II.
There is enough material within this book to satisfy the average history buff, together with insight and references for the serious student of foreign and economic policies and military art and science to recommend this authoritative work. Immensely readable, the book may not answer everyone’s questions about the period, but it will provide sufficient facts and information on the public and private successes, issues, defects, and complications to keep all readership groups satisfied but hungry for more details.
Book Review written by: Lindsay H. Gudridge, Fort Gordon, Georgia