Mr. Popular, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to an unprecedented four terms, served longer than any other president, and led America through both the Great Depression and World War II. Yet Roosevelt was also a study in contradictions. A scion of one of the most elite families in the country, he became a hero to the common man and enacted policies that created the foundations of our social welfare system. A polished orator who inspired millions with his stirring speeches and intimate fireside chats, he was also a crafty (and sometimes shady) wheeler-dealer who knew how to pull the strings of Washington politics as well as anyone. And though he was known for his optimism and vigor, he was crippled from the waist down for most of his political career. What made Franklin D. Roosevelt tick, and how did he become one of the most influential leaders in American history?
And why should you still care about FDR today? Well, along with Washington and Lincoln, he's often ranked as one of the three greatest American presidents. Of course, "great" is pretty subjective, and like most larger-than-life figures he has both ardent admirers and fierce critics.
No one, however, can deny that FDR was one of our most influential presidents. Roosevelt led the nation through two of the greatest crises in its history, dramatically expanded the power of the presidency, and created new agencies that fundamentally transformed the federal government. Love him or leave him, his place in the history books is assured.
FDR's father's first house burnt down; the State of New York later built a mental institution on the site.
FDR kept the tail of his father's prize racehorse, Gloster, in his White House bedroom.
As a boy, FDR met President Grover Cleveland, who told him, "My little man, I am making a strange wish for you. It is that you may never be president of the United States."
FDR was the first president to appear on television.
An unemployed bricklayer attempted to assassinate FDR in 1933. He missed and killed Chicago mayor Anton Cermak instead.
Jean Edward Smith, FDR (2007)
Written by a popular American biographer, this book is quite thorough. But it's also quite readable, and with only 636 pages of text (in a pretty reasonably-sized font!), it gives you the big picture of FDR's life without overwhelming if you with details. If you want to read one big book about FDR, this is the one to choose.
H.W. Brands, Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (2008)
Brands is a master storyteller and is well known for his biographies of major American figures, Andrew Jackson and Ben Franklin among them. This book is quite readable, but it's also long, clocking in at over 800 pages of prose. If you want to curl up by the fire and read an FDR biography, this is the one to go with, but don't expect to finish it overnight!
Conrad Black, Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom (2005)
The author of this book is a rather FDR-like figure himself: a newspaper magnate, he was once one of the most powerful men in Canada. He's also an excellent writer, and though this book is quite long (1134 pages of text!), it's readable, with a decidedly pro-FDR spin on things.
William E. Leuchtenburg, Franklin D. Roosevelt And The New Deal (1963)
Written less than twenty years after FDR's death, many historians consider this book to be the definitive account of the New Deal. Leuchtenburg both analyzes the economic impact of the New Deal and tells the story of the political machinations that drove its creation.
The family estate
FDR's home in Hyde Park, New York
Young FDR, looking a bit like a girl
From left to right, FDR (age 17), his father, and his cousin Warren, in Groton, Massachusetts
FDR at age 19, closeup of a shot of his Harvard class
A rising star
FDR as a state senator in Albany, New York, 1911
FDR in Warm Springs, Georgia, receiving treatment for polio (note his thin legs!), 1923
FDR in Olean, New York, campaigning for governor
A print commemorating FDR's inauguration, 1933
FDR the optimist
Classic image of a smiling FDR, cigarette holder in mouth
Commander in Chief
Churchill, FDR, and Stalin in Yalta, months before FDR's death in April 1945
F.D.R. (from the American Experience Series, 1994)
This award-winning PBS biography is an engaging overview of FDR's life, with a focus on his political career. You can watch it online or buy the video—your choice.
World War II: When Lions Roared (1994)
To the discerning viewer, this made-for-TV miniseries might come off as a bit dated, possibly overacted. And the chronology of some events has been fudged a bit. But it's strangely compelling, perhaps because it does a pretty good job of condensing five years of history into three hours. Or maybe because it's sort of incredible to watch the young John Lithgow, Michael Caine, and Bob Hoskins playing FDR, Churchill, and Stalin.
In this slightly re-written version of history, little orphan Annie inspires FDR and his cabinet to create the New Deal by singing "Tomorrow" to them. Cheesy? Yes, but the songs are great and the story will bring a smile to your face.
Warm Springs (2005)
Most films about FDR focus on the big-ticket items: the New Deal and World War II. This more introspective movie deals with his struggle with polio in Warm Springs, Georgia.
Roosevelt Library & Museum
The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, located at the site of FDR's house in Hyde Park, New York. The website has an online museum, lots of historical documents, and a short biography and timelines of FDR's and Eleanor's lives.
The Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute (also located at FDR's Hyde Park house) has tons of historical documents and resources for students and teachers.
American Experience: FDR
Back in 1994, PBS did a biography on FDR as part of its American Experience series. The website for the show contains a wealth of information, including a biography (focusing on his political career) and primary source documents.
Not Quite Person of the Century
In 2000, Time magazine named FDR as one of two runners-up for person of the century (the other was Gandhi; Einstein won the prize). This colorful article by presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin makes the case for his impact on the country and the world.
Official White House Bio
The White House has a short, official White House biography of FDR. White House
FDR Bio for Kids
The White House also have a second biography in their "For Kids" site:
American Presidency Project: Franklin D. Roosevelt
Contains audio and (when available) video of FDR's speeches and fireside chats
Online archives at the Presidential Library and Museum
A smaller number of speeches (and one video) are available online here
Online archives at the Presidential Library and Museum
Searchable archive of documents from FDR's presidency
Fireside Chats of Franklin D. Roosevelt
Small but useful site: contains the text of all thirty of FDR's fireside chats.
New Deal Network
Contains a variety of text-based documents related to the New Deal, as well as a huge photo gallery