I was inspired to read this by the broadcast earlier this month of Ken Burns's "The Roosevelts" documentary. Frank Freidel's book has been on my shelf off and on for nearly a quarter century, but only now was I motivated to pick it up and read it.
Part of the reason why I waited so long was because of the background of the book, Frank Freidel was the first Roosevelt biographer to use FDR's papers to construct a scholarly examination of Roosevelt's life and career, and the four volumes he wrote are still a valuable resource for anyone seeking to learn about FDR. But the last volume ends in 1933, and given the slowing pace it seemed unlikely that Freidel was ever going to finish his project. This, I think, helps to explain the contours of the book; Freidel takes only 107 pages to get through this material, and uses the remaining 500 pages of text to cover the remainder of Roosevelt's presidency. This leaves the book top-heavy, though this problem is probably excusable given the fact that it's Roosevelt's 12 years as president which justifies the numerous books written about him.
In reading these pages, though, it's hard not to mourn the series that Freidel left unfinished. His summa is a knowledgeable and informative look at Roosevelt political career, one that portrays him as a more complex figure than the caricature of a liberal hero would suggest. Though Roosevelt's personal life receives less attention, Freidel addresses his marriage to Eleanor and his philandering as well. FDR's polio affliction is also addressed, though with none of the nuance and insight that would inform Geoffrey Ward's A First-Class Temperament a few years later. Yet despite these issues, the overall book itself succeeds in compressing Roosevelt's life into the confines of a single volume. It is a notable and worthy achievement, one that propels Freidel's book to the forefront of presidential biographies.