The best books to understand why FDR was the greatest American president

Who am I?

I consider FDR the greatest of all presidents for leading America with distinction in the domestic crisis of the Great Depression and the foreign crisis of World War 2 and creating the modern presidency that survives today in the essential form he established. I have written books on Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan during fifty years as a US history professor in UK universities. I always intended to write a book about how FDR reinvented the presidency that these Republicans inherited, something I finally did in ‘retirement’. My five chosen books explain the challenging times he faced and the leadership skills he displayed in meeting them.     


I wrote...

FDR: Transforming the Presidency and Renewing America

By Iwan W. Morgan,

Book cover of FDR: Transforming the Presidency and Renewing America

What is my book about?

FDR transformed the presidency into an institution of domestic and international leadership, providing a model against which every successor was measured. My book is unique in focusing on the leadership skills he displayed as domestic reformer in the 1930s and as wartime commander-in-chief. It explains how he enhanced the presidency’s governing capacity, promoted a constitutional revolution, forged a new intimacy between Americans and their president through his genius for political communication, and transformed the Democrats from minority to majority party. It further demonstrates his strategic and organizational leadership during America’s greatest foreign war, his role in holding together the US-UK-Soviet Grand Alliance, and his pioneering development of the national-security presidency. Given this range of accomplishments, FDR merits recognition as America’s greatest president.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945

Iwan W. Morgan Why did I love this book?

This Pulitzer Prize-winning study is the best single-volume history of America in the Age of FDR.  Meticulously researched, ambitiously conceived, and vividly written, it crafts superb portraits of the presidencies of Herbert Hoover and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Kennedy offers a balanced assessment of FDR’s New Deal, concluding that his reforms enhanced the socio-economic security of millions of Americans despite their overall failure in the 1930s to achieve economic recovery, which would only come about through the crucible of war in the early 1940s. However, the real heroes of the book are the American people for their resilience and resolve in the face of the Great Depression and World War 2, the two greatest challenges the United States faced in the twentieth century.  

By David M. Kennedy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Freedom from Fear as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Between 1929 and 1945, two great travails were visited upon the American people: the Great Depression and World War II. Freedom from Fear tells the story of how Americans endured, and eventually prevailed, in the face of those unprecedented calamities.

The Depression was both a disaster and an opportunity. As David Kennedy vividly demonstrates, the economic crisis of the 1930s was far more than a simple reaction to the alleged excesses of the 1920s. For more than a century before 1929, America's unbridled industrial revolution had gyrated through repeated boom and bust cycles, wastefullly consuming capital and inflicting untold misery…


Book cover of The People and the President: America's Conversation With FDR

Iwan W. Morgan Why did I love this book?

This remarkable volume offers a selection from the millions of letters that ordinary men and women sent FDR in response to his radio Fireside Chats. Roosevelt used these talks to explain his policies to the American people, many of whom wrote him in return (for the cost of a 3-cent postage stamp) to communicate their thoughts about his presidency and the state of the nation during the depression and war years. Their letters reveal the multiple images that Americans had of FDR: friend, neighbor, trusted leader, protector—or, far less often, violator of the Constitution, enemy of sound economics, warmonger. They provide a timely reminder for our own times of the presidency’s capacity for civic education and the importance of dialogue between leaders and citizens.

By Lawrence W. Levine (editor), Cornelia R. Levine (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The People and the President as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

America's Conversation with FDR
For readers of The Greatest Generation, an extraordinary window on the '30s and '40s By the time FDR took his oath of office on March 4, 1933, Americans had been in the depths of the Great Depression for four years. One week later, the President gave the first of what would be thirty-one Fireside Chats.

MacArthur Award-winning historian Lawrence W. Levine and independent scholar Cornelia Levine have combed through the millions of letters that flooded the White House in response to the Chats. Grateful, infuriated, proud, scolding, the letters, collected here and combined with the Levines'…


Book cover of Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt vs. the Supreme Court

Iwan W. Morgan Why did I love this book?

This is a fascinating account of FDR’s confrontation with the Supreme Court after it struck down many New Deal measures as unconstitutional expansions of federal authority. In response, he proposed a court-packing bill enabling him to appoint additional justices supportive of his policies, but this got nowhere in Congress because it threatened the constitutional separation of the powers. Nevertheless, Roosevelt still emerged victorious from the imbroglio. Wary of political backlash if it continuously opposed a popular president, the Supreme Court changed course to accept the New Deal once FDR abandoned efforts to pack it. This outcome preserved the judicial branch as a separate arm of the US government while upholding the ideal of a living Constitution whose interpretation changed with the times to make America’s democracy workable. 

By Jeff Shesol,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Supreme Power as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Beginning in 1935, the Supreme Court's conservative majority left much of FDR's agenda in ruins. The pillars of the New Deal fell in short succession. It was not just the New Deal but democracy itself that stood on trial. In February 1937, Roosevelt struck back with an audacious plan to expand the Court to fifteen justices-and to "pack" the new seats with liberals who shared his belief in a "living" Constitution.


Book cover of A Call to Arms: Mobilizing America for World War II

Iwan W. Morgan Why did I love this book?

This is a vivid retelling of the US production miracles that enabled America and its Allies to win World War 2. Instead of overwhelming readers with dry numbers, the book comes alive by focusing on the human dimension. Klein credits FDR for understanding that the US had to become the ‘Arsenal of Democracy’ to win the war, while lionizing innovative industrialists and engineers who turned this vision into reality and the federal officials who cleared the way for their operations to succeed. He also highlights the struggles of the millions who endured disruption and discomfort in migrating to undertake war work far from their home regions. This is essential reading to understand the home front in America’s greatest foreign war. 

By Maury Klein,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Call to Arms as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The colossal scale of World War II required a mobilization effort greater than anything attempted in all of the world's history. The United States had to fight a war across two oceans and three continents--and to do so, it had to build and equip a military that was all but nonexistent before the war began. Never in the nation's history did it have to create, outfit, transport, and supply huge armies, navies, and air forces on so many distant and disparate fronts.

The Axis powers might have fielded better-trained soldiers, better weapons, and better tanks and aircraft, but they could…


Book cover of American Warlords: How Roosevelt's High Command Led America to Victory in World War II

Iwan W. Morgan Why did I love this book?

This is an intimate account of the collaboration between the quartet who led America to victory in World War II: FDR, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, Army Chief of Staff George Marshall, and Commander-in-Chief of the US Fleet Admiral Ernest King. The four sometimes disagreed: the military men initially worried that FDR sought to shape war strategy for political purposes; the president overruled their preference for an Anglo-American invasion of Nazi-occupied France in 1943, something he considered premature. Far more often, the quartet set aside personal, political, and professional differences to pull the nation through its darkest days of the twentieth century. Superbly researched and written, this book offers illuminating commentary on how wars are won.

By Jonathan W. Jordan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked American Warlords as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From New York Times bestselling author Jonathan W. Jordan—author of Brothers, Rivals, Victors—comes the intimate true story of President Franklin Roosevelt’s inner circle of military leadership, the team of rivals who shaped World War II and America.

“Superbly written, well researched, and highly interesting.”—Jean Edward Smith, New York Times bestselling author of FDR and Eisenhower in War and Peace 

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States was wakened from its slumber of isolationism. To help him steer the nation through the coming war, President Franklin Roosevelt turned to the greatest “team of rivals” since the days of Lincoln:…


You might also like...

Songbird

By Laci Barry Post,

Book cover of Songbird

Laci Barry Post Author Of Songbird

New book alert!

Who am I?

Author Group fitness instructor Mom of two Travel consultant Hiker

Laci's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

It's 1943, and World War II has gripped the nation, including the Stilwell family in Jacksonville, Alabama. Rationing, bomb drills, patriotism, and a changing South barrage their way of life. Neighboring Fort McClellan has brought the world to their doorstep in the form of young soldiers from all over the country and German POWs from halfway around the globe.

Songbird is an inspirational, historical fiction novel, dealing with family, faith, strong women, and the American home front. It explores many historical elements of the World War II era, such as women's aid groups, the writings of Ernie Pyle, D-day, radio and music of the 1940s, and the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Songbird

By Laci Barry Post,

What is this book about?

When the perils and social changes of World War II confront a small southern town, faith, family, and love sustain the lives of one young woman and her family. Can those left behind endure?

"I'm waiting for my life to begin. Waiting for the train to come in," Ava Stilwell, a young woman eager for life, sings a popular song with the big band that reflects her heart. In the midst of a world at war, Ava finds love, a passion for her music, and new opportunities, but the war still looms over her, threatening to take it all away.…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Franklin D. Roosevelt, the New Deal, and the Supreme Court?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Franklin D. Roosevelt, the New Deal, and the Supreme Court.

Franklin D. Roosevelt Explore 54 books about Franklin D. Roosevelt
The New Deal Explore 31 books about the New Deal
The Supreme Court Explore 22 books about the Supreme Court