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The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidencyby James Tobin
Synopses & Reviews
Here, from James Tobin, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in biography, is the story of the greatest comeback in American political history, a saga long buried in half-truth, distortion and myth — Franklin Roosevelt's ten-year climb from paralysis to the White House.
In 1921, at the age of thirty-nine, Roosevelt was the brightest young star in the Democratic Party. One day he was racing his children around their summer home. Two days later he could not stand up. Hopes of a quick recovery faded fast. "He's through," said allies and enemies alike. Even his family and close friends misjudged their man, as they and the nation would learn in time.
With a painstaking reexamination of original documents, James Tobin uncovers the twisted chain of accidents that left FDR paralyzed; he reveals how polio recast Roosevelt's fateful partnership with his wife, Eleanor; and he shows that FDR's true victory was not over paralysis but over the ancient stigma attached to the crippled. Tobin also explodes the conventional wisdom of recent years — that FDR deceived the public about his condition. In fact, Roosevelt and his chief aide, Louis Howe, understood that only by displaying himself as a man who had come back from a knockout punch could FDR erase the perception that had followed him from childhood — that he was a pampered, too smooth pretty boy without the strength to lead the nation. As Tobin persuasively argues, FDR became president less in spite of polio than because of polio. The Man He Became affirms that true character emerges only in crisis and that in the shaping of this great American leader character was all.
"Tobin shows his gifts as a veteran reporter, PhD historian, and biographer in this moving page-turner....Tobin has a real knack for capturing the essence of the historical figures he's discussing. Much more than a mere rehashing of this aspect of FDR's life, the book shows how his response to polio gives us insights into his character and how he would go on to battle the Great Depression and World War II enemies....Highly recommended." Library Journal, Starred Review
"When FDR said in his first inaugural address that the only thing the American people had to fear was fear itself, he was drawing on his own experience in overcoming the effects of polio. Having pulled himself up from the reality and even more the fear of paralysis, he was prepared for the challenge of leading America's effort to overcome the paralysis of the Depression. This powerful book offers a vivid account of how Roosevelt's fight for personal recovery lit his path to the White House. I could hardly put it down." James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom
"Tobin's balanced and detailed approach offers a well-rounded look at a slice of F.D.R.'s life generally obscured from popular accounts, and it makes for fascinating reading." Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
"In Tobin's elegant and moving book, the story of FDR's rise from polio victim to president feels remarkably intimate. The Man He Became reveals the extraordinary inner strength and determination that allowed Roosevelt not just to triumph over a personal tragedy but to inspire an entire nation when it needed it most." Candice Millard, author of The River of Doubt
With a searching new analysis of primary sources, NBCC award winner James Tobin reveals how FDR’s fight against polio transformed him from a callow aristocrat into the energetic, determined statesman who would rally the nation in the Great Depression and lead it through World War II.
When polio paralyzed Franklin Roosevelt at thirty-nine, people wept to think that the young man of golden promise must live out his days as a helpless invalid. He never again walked on his own. But in just over a decade, he had regained his strength and seized the presidency.
This was the most remarkable comeback in the history of American politics. And, as author James Tobin shows, it was the pivot of Roosevelt’s life — the triumphant struggle that tempered and revealed his true character. With enormous ambition, canny resourcefulness, and sheer grit, FDR willed himself back into contention and turned personal disaster to his political advantage. Tobin’s dramatic account of Roosevelt’s ordeal and victory offers central insights into the forging of one of our greatest presidents.
About the Author
James Tobin is an associate professor of journalism at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. A former prizewinning reporter, he earned a PhD in history from the University of Michigan. His first book, Ernie Pyle’s War (Free Press), won the National Book Critics Circle award.
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