Review of Robert Dallek’s “Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life”

by Walter G. Moss

Walter G. Moss is a professor emeritus of history at Eastern Michigan University, Contributing Editor of HNN, and author of “An Age of Progress? Clashing Twentieth-Century Global Forces” (Anthem Press, 2008). For a list of all his recent books and online publications, click here.

In the Preface to his almost 700 page book, presidential historian Robert Dallek tells us why he wrote it: “to remind people, especially a younger generation with limited knowledge of American history, of what great presidential leadership looks like.” In his Epilogue he sums up his conclusions. He considers FDR one of our three greatest presidents, along with Washington and Lincoln. (An aggregate of polls rating our best and worst presidents agrees with him.) Having written previous books on Truman, Nixon, Kennedy, L. Johnson, and Reagan, Dallek knows more than a little about presidential qualities.

He believes that “Roosevelt’s New Deal reforms—Social Security, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, unemployment insurance, the National Labor Relations Board, the legitimization of labor unions, the Rural Electrification Administration, the many dams and other conservation projects, and the Fair Labor Standards Act, which provided for minimum wages and maximum hours, to cite just some of the most memorable domestic programs—were giant steps in humanizing the American industrial system.” Although Dallek mentions that FDR’s conservation legacy was “as great of that of his cousin Theodore,” readers desiring to know more about this subject should consult historian Douglas Brinkley’s two long books, one on each of the Roosevelt presidents’ conservation accomplishments.

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