Unlikely Heroes: FDR, His Four Lieutenants, and the World They Made by #Derek Leebaert #NetGalley #ArcReview #Roosevelt

Drawing on new materials, Unlikely Heroes constructs an entirely fresh understanding of FDR and his presidency by spotlighting the powerful, equally wounded figures whom he raised up to confront the Depression, then to beat the Axis.

Only four people served at the top echelon of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Administration from the frightening early months of spring 1933 until he died in April 1945, on the cusp of wartime victory. These lieutenants composed the tough, constrictive, long-term core of government. They built the great institutions being raised against the Depression, implemented the New Deal, and they were pivotal to winning World War II.

Yet, in their different ways, each was as wounded as the polio-stricken titan. Harry Hopkins, Harold Ickes, Frances Perkins, and Henry Wallace were also strange outsiders. Up to 1933, none would ever have been considered for high office. Still, each became a world figure, and it would have been exceedingly difficult for Roosevelt to transform the nation without them. By examining the lives of these four, a very different picture emerges of how Americans saved their democracy and rescued civilization overseas. Many of the dangers that they all overcame are troublingly like those America faces today.

I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy of Unlikely Heroes (Amazon US) (Audible) by NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

If you’re familiar with my blog, then you know that I am very familiar with the Roosevelt family. Well over 60 books read so I’ve given up counting. I’ve read flattering portraits of FDR and I’ve read critical accounts, too. This book falls somewhere in-between.

Roosevelt’s top advisor was Harry Hopkins, a sickly man living on borrowed time. His three most trusted advisors of his cabinet were Harold Ickes, Henry Wallace, and the first female member of the cabinet, Frances Perkins. Each of these people had terrible strains in their personal lives, whether it was Hopkins bad health, or Perkins’ husband’s Bi-Polar disorder, or Ickes complicated love life. Several of them had serious money troubles despite their above-average salaries as government officials.

Leebaert posits that these four people were really the ones responsible for all the successes in the Roosevelt administration. He claims that Roosevelt really wasn’t a great administrator, but was lucky enough to have these four smart people working for him, advising him and he ultimately took their advice. What the author does best is show the inner workings of the Roosevelt administration in detail and how they changed America.

Mad props to Frances Perkins for getting Roosevelt to not completely ignore the domestic front when World War II broke out. The work she did throughout her life, both before and after the Roosevelt administration, improved the quality of life for working families to this day. Considering all she had to go through in her personal life, it is clear that she was a born fighter. Indeed, Ickes, Hopkins and Wallace were all fighters who didn’t let their complicated personal lives interfere with their day-to-day work. Compartmentalization was key for all four of Roosevelt’s agents of change.

If you haven’t read a great deal about Roosevelt’s administration, this book is a great introduction. It does plod at times, but only in parts, and is overall a great book to add to my Presidents library.

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