The best books on FDR (Franklin D. Roosevelt)

4 authors have picked their favorite books about Franklin D. Roosevelt and why they recommend each book.

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On Grand Strategy

By John Lewis Gaddis,

Book cover of On Grand Strategy

For those who want to think big and envisage large systemic change. Gaddis is one of the great military historians and he writes with fluency and adventure. In this book, which is a joy to read, he examines leadership, vision, and decision-making from the perspective of a number of great leaders in history and how they faced crucial turning points.

On Grand Strategy

By John Lewis Gaddis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked On Grand Strategy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A master class in strategic thinking, distilled from the legendary program the author has co-taught at Yale for decades

For almost two decades, Yale students have competed for admission each year to the "Studies in Grand Strategy" seminar taught by John Lewis Gaddis, Paul Kennedy, and Charles Hill. Its purpose has been to prepare future leaders for responsibilities they will face, through lessons drawn from history and the classics. Now Gaddis has distilled that teaching into a succinct, sharp and potentially transformational book, surveying statecraft from the ancient Greeks to Franklin D. Roosevelt and beyond. An unforgettable guide to the…

Who am I?

I have been an activist working on issues relating to human rights and youth protection for over fifteen years and during that time I worked as a lawyer and was lucky enough to make films and write two novels. Eventually, I would concentrate solely on activism and my reading would become very specific and as the focus of my activism changed and I directed my energies to corporate accountability my reading changed course again. The list I offer is from talented writers on important subjects, all write extremely well about things that matter to a human rights activist.  


I wrote...

All the Flowers in Shanghai

By Duncan Jepson,

Book cover of All the Flowers in Shanghai

What is my book about?

I wrote All the Flowers in Shanghai as an attempt to understand the issue of forced marriage from a woman’s perspective. An experience I clearly do not and will not ever have. At the same time, I wanted to look at such an event from the people around the victim – her parents, husband-to-be, and even sibling. What reactions might they have? How might they respond? It was also an opportunity to describe and explore a portion of China’s history as it responded to huge social and political movements. I believe the pace was very important and I hope I captured the changes in daily rhythms as history swallows up the characters’ lives as they move from imperial China to modern China.

Watching The World

By Raymond Clapper,

Book cover of Watching The World: 1934-1944

Largely forgotten today, Ray Clapper was perhaps the most highly respected American newspaper columnist and radio personality of the 1930s and 1940s. Especially adept at sketching the domestic political scene, Clapper restores the nation's wartime leaders to life for modern readers in this collection of excerpts from his columns. President Franklin Roosevelt was "always supremely self-confident, sometimes angry, eager to exchange gossip, quick to make a humorous dig at the expense of some opponent or critic, and especially of a stuffed shirt." By contrast, Governor Thomas Dewey of New York, who ran against Roosevelt in the presidential election of 1944, was "too slippery with words to inspire any confidence." Clapper reserved his harshest judgment for the wartime Congress, which he deemed "a collection of 2-cent politicians who could serve well enough in simpler days," but whose "ignorance and provincialism" rendered them "incapable of meeting the needs of modern government."

Watching The World

By Raymond Clapper,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Book by Clapper, Raymond

Who am I?

William Klingaman is the author of ten books, most recently The Darkest Year: The American Home Front, 1941-1942, and The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano That Darkened the World and Changed History. He holds a Ph.D. In American History from the University of Virginia, and has taught at the University of Virginia and the University of Maryland.


I wrote...

The Darkest Year: The American Home Front 1941-1942

By William Klingaman,

Book cover of The Darkest Year: The American Home Front 1941-1942

What is my book about?

For Americans on the home front, the twelve months following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor comprised the darkest year of World War Two. Despite government attempts to disguise the magnitude of American losses, it was clear that the nation had suffered a nearly unbroken string of military setbacks in the Pacific; by the autumn of 1942, government officials were openly acknowledging the possibility that the United States might lose the war. This is a history of the American home front from December 7, 1941, through the end of 1942, a psychological study of the nation under the pressure of total war.

Destructive Creation

By Mark R. Wilson,

Book cover of Destructive Creation: American Business and the Winning of World War II

You can’t understand today’s privatized military without this groundbreaking new book on the history of WWII and the military-industrial complex. Wilson’s political and economic history overturns celebratory myths of American business acumen winning the war. Instead, Wilson shows that the “arsenal of democracy” lay not in the private sector but in the massive public sector of military-owned and military-operated production facilities that churned out planes, tanks, bombs, and materiel. Government production angered American businessmen who had hoped to capture wartime profits and legitimacy. Corporate leaders and their allies resisted government production at every turn and launched political and public relations campaigns to hide the government’s scope and successes. The private sector’s battle to regain control of military production and services, Wilson shows, launched a long-term movement toward military privatization and outsourcing.

Destructive Creation

By Mark R. Wilson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

During World War II, the United States helped vanquish the Axis powers by converting its enormous economic capacities into military might. Producing nearly two-thirds of all the munitions used by Allied forces, American industry became what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called "the arsenal of democracy." Crucial in this effort were business leaders. Some of these captains of industry went to Washington to coordinate the mobilization, while others led their companies to churn out weapons. In this way, the private sector won the war-or so the story goes.
Based on new research in business and military archives, Destructive Creation shows that…


Who am I?

I never thought I’d become a historian of the US military. Like most Americans raised in the era of the All-Volunteer Force, I grew up with no close personal connections to the US military. Yet its symbols, metaphors, and power flooded my life, from movies to games to politics. Every encounter with a memoir, an operational history, a biography, or a government study offered a new understanding of how the US military came to play such a vital role in US society, and how US society in turn shaped practices and people in the military. These five histories did more than any others to shape my understanding of the military’s relationship to American society in the twentieth century.


I wrote...

Rise of the Military Welfare State

By Jennifer Mittelstadt,

Book cover of Rise of the Military Welfare State

What is my book about?

Since the end of the draft, the U.S. Army has prided itself on its patriotic volunteers who heed the call to “Be All That You Can Be.” But beneath the recruitment slogans, the army promised volunteers something more tangible: a social safety net including medical and dental care, education, child care, financial counseling, housing assistance, legal services, and other privileges that had long been reserved for career soldiers. 

The Rise of the Military Welfare State examines how the U.S. Army’s extension of benefits to enlisted men and women created a military welfare system of unprecedented size and scope at the end of the twentieth century. And it examines how this welfare state fared amidst the rollback of civilian social welfare, a turn to “self-reliance” within the military leadership, and the growth of military privatization and outsourcing.  

An Easy Death

By Charlaine Harris,

Book cover of An Easy Death

Here’s a really tricky one. If you’ve ever heard of the True Blood series, you know this author. An Easy Death begins an unusual series for her. This is an alternate history western with a fantasy twist. Some people don’t see alternate history as historical fiction, but I do. This novel follows a similar vein to The Man in the High Castle, where one major shift in history changes everything.

After the assassination of FDR in the 1930s, the US collapses and is picked off by the UK, Canada, Mexico, and Russia. We find ourselves in the Southwestern states, now known as Texoma. It is here that the gunnie Lizbeth Rose tries to piece out a life, running security on runs from Texoma across the border to Mexico.

It’s an amazingly rich story woven into an alternate western setting. If you love to bend the rules of history, you…

An Easy Death

By Charlaine Harris,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked An Easy Death as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

Growing up in West Texas, westerns were just as good as bedtime stories to me. I grew up with all the greats… and the not as greats. The quality didn’t always matter because the spirit was the same. Freedom, opportunity, and possible lawlessness. Survival of the quickest draw. An untamed place where anything could happen. Someone once said that the western genre was America’s genre. It was invented here and our frontier spirit inspired the world. When I decided to write Hour Glass, I channeled the independent spirit of those westerns I grew up with. I wrote the first draft in sixteen days out of pure passion for the subject matter. 


I wrote...

Hour Glass

By Michelle Rene,

Book cover of Hour Glass

What is my book about?

Set in the lawless town of Deadwood, South Dakota, Hour Glass shares an intimate look at the woman behind the legend of Calamity Jane told through the eyes of 12-year-old Jimmy Glass.   

After their pa falls deathly ill with smallpox, Jimmy and his sister, Hour, travel into Deadwood to seek help. While their pa is in quarantine, the two form unbreakable bonds with the surrogate family that emerges from the tragedy of loss. In a place where life is fragile and families are ripped apart by disease, death, and desperation, a surprising collection of Deadwood’s inhabitants surround Jimmy, Hour, and Jane. There, in the most unexpected of places, they find a family protecting them from the uncertainty and chaos that surrounds them all.

The Age of Reform

By Richard Hofstadter,

Book cover of The Age of Reform

A classic book by one of our country’s most eminent historians, The Age of Reform traces the interplay between American politics and the clashing forces within American society from the time of Jefferson to the time of Franklin Roosevelt. In between, the great social movements – pro-and anti-slavery, populism, progressivism, the New Deal – all play out on a vast canvas. Religion is not the centerpiece of Hofstadter’s narrative, but it’s there throughout, sometimes on stage and at other times in the background. I’ve been recommending this book to my students for years.

The Age of Reform

By Richard Hofstadter,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

I’m an economist, now in my fiftieth year as a professor at Harvard. While much of my work has focused on economic policy – questions like the effects of government budget deficits, guidelines for the conduct of U.S. monetary policy, and what actions to take in response to a banking or more general financial crisis – in recent years I’ve also addressed broader issues surrounding the connections between economics and society. Several years ago, in The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, I examined the implications of our economy’s growth, or stagnation, for the social, political, and ultimately moral character of our society. My most recent book explores the connections between economic thinking and religious thinking.


I wrote...

Religion and the Rise of Capitalism

By Benjamin M. Friedman,

Book cover of Religion and the Rise of Capitalism

What is my book about?

The conventional view of the origins of modern Western economics portrays the subject as a product of the Enlightenment, having nothing to do with religion. On the contrary, I think religion exerted a powerful influence from the outset. I show that the foundational transition in thinking about what we now call economics, beginning in the eighteenth century, was decisively shaped by what were then hotly contended lines of religious thought within the English-speaking Protestant world. Beliefs about God-given human character, about the after-life, and about the purpose of our existence, were all under scrutiny in the world in which Adam Smith and his contemporaries lived.  I also show that these long-standing influences of religious thinking on economic thinking help explain the sometimes puzzling behavior of so many of our fellow citizens today whose views about economic policies – and whose voting behavior too – seem sharply at odds with what would be to their own economic benefit. 

White Houses

By Amy Bloom,

Book cover of White Houses

In this slender, fictionalized account of the “hidden in plain sight” romance between sharp-eyed, sharp-tongued reporter Lorena Hickok and larger-than-life First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, we get a gloriously slanted insiders’ view of a pivotal period in American history. This is emphatically a “lesbian love story”—explicit in its depictions of both the pleasures of female sensuality and the tolls of enforced secrecy. It is also—bluntly and forthrightly—a “middle-aged love story,” with all the attendant sea changes, accommodations, and regrets. Most of all, it’s the story of the two wittiest, savviest, best-positioned women anyone could ever encounter. “As Churchill said (to me),” the fictional Lorena begins one of her marvelous anecdotes. And the thing is, he probably did.   

White Houses

By Amy Bloom,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

My family is a marvelously mixed bunch: lesbian, gay, and straight relatives; Jewish and Latin relatives; relatives along a spectrum of economic situations, abilities, and political views.  The policy work that I do connects me with social justice advocates from across NYC’s multiple ethnic, racial, religious, and LGBTQ communities. The wildly disparate voices that surround me illuminate both the power of communal ties and the dangers of narrow identity labeling.  A central quest behind my work, my reading, and my writing has thus always been to balance and respect everything at once: the cultural structures that sustain us; the individual quirks that challenge and complicate those structures; and the universalities that cross all cultural borders.


I wrote...

Acts of Assumption

By S.W. Leicher,

Book cover of Acts of Assumption

What is my book about?

Serach Gottesman—soft-spoken rebel daughter of a fervently Orthodox Jewish home and Paloma Rodriguez—ambitious, impulsive daughter of a South Bronx Latina family, sacrifice everything they were raised to cherish for the sake of their forbidden union. Ten years into their carefully constructed, satisfyingly cosmopolitan partnership, a series of crises bring their pasts roaring back.

Acts of Atonement asks us to ponder what happens when faith, loyalty, and love are irreconcilably at odds—and to question the deceptive ease with which society pigeonholes Jews, Latinas, and LGBTQI individuals.

The Sacrifice of Singapore

By Michael Arnold,

Book cover of The Sacrifice of Singapore: Churchill's Biggest Blunder

The fate of Singapore was sealed long before the Japanese attack on Malaya in December 1941. The blame lay with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill who refused to listen to warnings from military advisers to reinforce defences in Singapore and Malaya. Her was convinced the Japanese would never dare to attack a white power. Obsessed with beating Rommel, Churchill poured into the Middle East massive resources that should have gone to the Far East. However, when inevitably Singapore fell to the Japanese in February 1942, Churchill attempted to deflect criticism by accusing the defenders of spineless capitulation.

The Sacrifice of Singapore

By Michael Arnold,

Why should I read it?

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


Who am I?

My father was taken prisoner by the Japanese at the fall of Singapore on the 15th of February 1942. He spent three and a half years slaving on the Thai Burma railway. During my early years growing up, my father rarely talked about his experiences, and it wasn't until after he died in 1990 that I became interested in what he went through as a prisoner of war. Since then, I've spent my time researching the Japanese prisoner of war experiences and have read countless books on the subject. I myself have published four books and I consider myself one of the leading experts on the Japanese prisoner of war experience.


I wrote...

Frank Pantridge MC: Japanese Prisoner of War and Inventor of the Portable Defibrillator

By Cecil Lowry,

Book cover of Frank Pantridge MC: Japanese Prisoner of War and Inventor of the Portable Defibrillator

What is my book about?

This book tells the life story of Doctor Frank Pantridge, the inventor of the portable defibrillator. When Pantridge returned from the war he began to specialise in diseases of the heart and particularly heart fibrillation. He reasoned that if a person had a heart attack, ventricular defibrillation should be applied where it occurred as many people were dying before reaching the hospital.

He produced the world's first portable defibrillator in Belfast in 1965, initially operating from a specially equipped ambulance. American President Lyndon B Johnston's life was saved by a Pantridge defibrillator in 1972 when he had a heart attack. This biography tells the story of a man whose invention has saved countless lives over the last half-century.

The People and the President

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

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

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.

The People and the President

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.


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.

Supreme Power

By Jeff Shesol,

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

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. 

Supreme Power

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.

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.

Eleanor Roosevelt, Vol. 1

By Blanche Wiesen Cook,

Book cover of Eleanor Roosevelt, Vol. 1: 1884-1933

The irresistible first volume of Cook’s much-praised, magisterial 3-volume study of Eleanor Roosevelt’s eventful life. An expert narrator and historian, Cook follows ER through her difficult childhood, impactful education, challenging marriage, political training, and fascinating early career in public life, right up to the brink of becoming first lady in 1933. Sensitive, solicitous, and a triumph of biography.

Eleanor Roosevelt, Vol. 1

By Blanche Wiesen Cook,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Eleanor Roosevelt, Vol. 1 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first volume in the life of America's greatest First Lady, "a woman who changed the lives of millions" (Washington Post).

Eleanor Roosevelt, Vol. Three: 1938-1962, will be published in November 2016.

Eleanor Roosevelt was born into the privileges and prejudices of American aristocracy and into a family ravaged by alcoholism. She overcame debilitating roots: in her public life, fighting against racism and injustice and advancing the rights of women; and in her private life, forming lasting intimate friendships with some of the great men and women of her times. This volume covers ER's family and birth, her childhood, education,…

Who am I?

Eleanor Roosevelt loved to teach history and she must have been really good at it. As a historian with a specialty in U.S. women’s history, I love exploring the life and impact of Eleanor Roosevelt. It's a rewarding way to experience the early decades of the 20th century, to gain familiarity with the culture, issues, and politics of the 1930s, 40s, and 50s, and, while so doing, to meet up with an astonishingly talented group of writers and scholars who have made their own inquiries into Eleanor Roosevelt’s life and works. Studies of ER now constitute a thriving subfield in scholarship and publishing; it's a privilege to be part of it.


I wrote...

Eleanor Roosevelt: In Her Words: On Women, Politics, Leadership, and Lessons from Life

By Nancy Woloch (editor),

Book cover of Eleanor Roosevelt: In Her Words: On Women, Politics, Leadership, and Lessons from Life

What is my book about?

Acclaimed for her roles in politics and diplomacy, first lady Eleanor Roosevelt was also a prolific author, journalist, lecturer, broadcaster, educator and public personality. Using selections from her books, columns, articles, press conferences, speeches, radio talks, and correspondence, Eleanor Roosevelt: In Her Words tracks her contributions from the 1920s, when she entered journalism and public life; through the White House years, when she campaigned for racial justice, the labor movement, and the “forgotten woman”; to the postwar era, when she served at the United Nations and shaped the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Entries convey Eleanor Roosevelt’s preparation for leadership, the skill with which she defied critics and grasped authority, her competitive drive as a professional, and the force of her message to modern readers.

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