Making of America Book 5: Franklin D. Roosevelt


Franklin D. Roosevelt tells the story of the president who lifted the United States from depression to global leadership

When Roosevelt was first elected president in 1933, America was in the throes of the Great Depression—the worst economic crisis in U.S. history—and the world was experiencing a menacing rise in Nazism and other dangerous extremists. Throughout his four presidential terms, Roosevelt was a steady and inspiring leader. He implemented progressive social reform through his New Deal agenda and helped lift America from economic crisis. He guided America to victory in World War II.

Born into wealth and privilege, Roosevelt entered politics at a young age. His career and world views were shaped by his marriage to Eleanor Roosevelt and his long struggle with polio.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, our thirty-second president, forever left his mark on our nation and the world. By the time of his death, America had grown to a global economic and military superpower. His New Deal legislation changed the relationship of American citizens to their government. His policies came close to fully realizing Alexander Hamilton’s vision of a government that touches and improves the lives of all citizens.

The book includes selections from Roosevelt’s writings, endnotes, a bibliography, and an index.

256 pages                                                        978-1-4197-3402-1                             Ages 9-12

Keywords:  biography, president, politics, American history, narrative non-fiction, 9 year old, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old


“But believe it or not, you won’t find it so hot

If you ain’t got the do re mi”

-- Woody Guthrie (1937)


“Donald Trump is the un-Roosevelt. FDR was a patrician who betrayed his class. Trump is a parvenu who enables that class. FDR sought to unite the nation on behalf of a noble cause. Trump seeks to divide it for his own self-interest. Roosevelt embraced the Four Freedoms: of speech and worship, and from want and fear. Trump abuses them, demonizing his critics as treasonous, denigrating Muslims as terrorists and Democratic Jews as disloyal, enriching the wealthy at the expense of working Americans and sowing fear and discord to maintain his hold on power.”

-- from “If FDR Built It, Donald Trump Wants to Destroy It” by Jack Schwartz (9/3/19)


In the Roaring Twenties, when the Republicans were in charge, the rich were getting richer.


“Not everyone prospered, however. Beneath the glittering surface there were rumblings of discontent. Because factory and business owners had complete freedom in how they ran their factories, wages remained low even as businesses grew more profitable. As a result, the gap between laborers and business executives widened as millions of laborers worked long days for poverty-level wages while the business tycoons grew wealthier.

Only the very rich--about 5 percent of the population--could afford to send their children to college. In fact, money was just about all a person needed to gain admission to the nation’s best universities, which created a cycle: Because only the wealthy could afford college, only the wealthy were qualified for high-level jobs. Laborers working ten or twelve hours each day to feed their families had no choice but to put their own children to work as soon as they were old enough, thus setting them up for a lifetime of low-skill and low-wage labor. Immigrants were discriminated against and thus had more difficulty lifting themselves from poverty. Blacks, segregated with fewer opportunities than whites, had it hardest of all.”


Such was the economic landscape of the U.S. in the 1920s, before the Great Crash and the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Leading America out of the Great Depression, Roosevelt wove the social safety net that changed life for the majority of Americans.


In her captivating portrayal of FDR, author Teri Kanefield presents one of American history’s greatest presidents, the man who saved capitalism from its own worst excesses, improved the lives of millions of Americans, and saw America through most of World War II. The author has quite a knack for engaging the reader. She tells story after memorable story, bringing the long-dead president to life. For example, it’s moving to learn how a young FDR developed the ability to “hide his thoughts, feelings and motive behind a bland face” out of fear of disturbing his father, who was in poor health after a heart attack. It’s fascinating to read about Roosevelt’s domineering mother Sara and the slacker reputation Franklin developed in his youth.


So what transformed that privileged slacker into the great man he became? What was FDR’s secret weapon? The author devotes a fair share of the book to the amazing Eleanor Roosevelt, FDR’s conscience and brain trust. He would not have been the same great leader without her.


Not that he always heeded her advice. Regarding one of FDR’s worst decisions as President, Eleanor strongly opposed the interning of thousands of Japanese and Japanese Americans living on the West Coast. In this instance, FDR deferred to the War Department. Unfortunately, the War Department’s decision was built on a foundation of rumors, racism, and greed.


There are few presidents in American history whose legacies are so notable and appreciated generations later. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s successes, including the establishment of a minimum wage, Social Security, and the GI Bill, set him apart. He’s well worth learning about, and this biography is an excellent starting point.


Recommended by:  Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

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