His Final Battle (Review)

Franklin Delano Roosevelt has been called the greatest President of the 20th Century. People of differing political preferences may disagree or agree with that assessment.  However, the fact remains that the 32nd President of the United States of America was an enigmatic, devoted, influential, important figure who helped shape the history of the last century. If we could distill F.D.R.’s life down to one word, it would have to be, “determination”.

It was his almost superhuman drive and mental fortitude that kept him in the fight for world freedom and for his own life.  As we now know, this vitally impressive world leader was a physical wreck.

I have read a few excellent biographies about Franklin Roosevelt, but have always wanted to know more about this enigmatic man.  Many of my lingering questions were answered in the latest F.D.R. book. His Final Battle: The Last Months of Franklin Roosevelt, by Pulitzer Prize winning author Joseph Lelyveld, fills in the details surrounding the last half-year of the great President’s life.

That last year of Roosevelt’s life was a very critical time in World History.  The tide of dominance in the Second World War had decisivly turned in favor of the Allied Powers, The Tehran and the Yalta Summit conferences, the Poland question, the conception of the United Nations, the harnessing of the atom as a weapon of war, and the question of a fourth Presidential term shared the spotlight. All these concerns took place with only public hints about the state of the President’s overall health.

Lelyveld, in his expert journalistic manner, sifted through F.D.R.’s speeches, and writings along with newly revealed medical descriptions to decide how impaired the President’s abilities were during the final months. The author discovers that despite the President’s very serious illnesses, Roosevelt still possessed his assertive, humorous, sharp mind.

Joseph Lelyveld’s talent and skills that won him a Pulitzer Prize are on full display in this compelling, excellent overview of Roosevelt’s last months. Lelyveld sourced archived published accounts plus the latest digital information available.  He then weaved the old with the new to bring out new perspectives and information in a highly readable style.

Lelyveld was an executive editor of the New York Times from 1994 until 2001, topping a Times career of almost 40 years. He began at the paper in 1962 after graduating from Harvard College in 1958 and receiving his master’s degree from the Columbia School of Journalism in 1960. His 1986 Pulitzer Prize was in General Non-Fiction for the book Move Your Shadow. A work regarding apartheid through the viewpoint of Afrikaners in the Union of South Africa.

His Final Battle is a pleasure to read. I felt like I had taken a trip in a time machine to the 1940s.  Despite the fact that Roosevelt was suffering through serious heart problems, had dangerously high blood-pressure, and often felt tired, he was able to effectively maneuver through the dangerous field of global politics during the most important war of the 20th Century.

His leadership abilities were peerless. He delegated tasks to various people without informing them of the involvment of other officials. This meant that some of his closest aids believed they knew how F.D.R. thought and acted on particular issues but were totally surprised when he actually settled on a decision and what he wanted done.

Parts of the Roosevelt mystery that were revealed include how he viewed his fellow allied leaders and how he dealt with them.  He had to coddle Winston Churchhill’s and Joseph Stalin’s massive egos. He had to diplomatically work through Polish concerns for a free Poland versus the realpolitik of the Soviet Union’s push to quickly defeat Germany and Stalin’s desire to control Poland. All of this took place alongside the concerns of a re-election campaign.

His Final Battle is a first class book that will be enjoyed by people who have interests in biography, history, and World War Two.  It should be especially interesting to readers who want to know more about one of the greatest leaders of recent times.

{ His Final Battle: The Last Months of Franklin Roosevelt by Joseph Lelyveld; 613 pages, published 2016  by Thorndike Press; ISBN:  978-0-385-35079-2 }

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders this idea from President Franklin Roosevelt: “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely.  The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.”

About swabby429

An eclectic guy who likes to observe the world around him and comment about those observations.
This entry was posted in Books, cultural highlights, Health, History, Politics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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