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FDR's Shadow: Louis Howe, The Force That Shaped Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt

1 rating: 3.0
A book by Julie M. Fenster

Praise for FDR's Shadow: "A well-written, thoroughly researched account of the complex relationship between the Roosevelts and Howe."--The Oklahoman  "This is an interesting and well-written examination of a relationship that greatly influenced … see full wiki

Author: Julie M. Fenster
Genre: Biographies & Memoirs
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
1 review about FDR's Shadow: Louis Howe, The Force That...

Very interesting start, but peters out at the end

  • Aug 25, 2009
"FDR's Shadow" is a well done study of, as the book's subtitle has it, the "force" who helped Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt transform from, respectively, a moderately successful upstate New York politician and a socialite wife, into the powerful political team who seized the Empire State governorship and, shortly afterward, the White House. Julie M. Fenster makes a pretty compelling case that it was Louis Howe's tireless devotion to the couple and their political advancement made a critical difference in the Roosevelts' fortunes -- particularly after FDR was afflicted with infantile paralysis.

The book is well-written, frequently entertaining, and based on admirable research that rescues Howe from the measure of obscurity into which he has fallen. Ultimately, however, I finished the book feeling like some pretty substantial questions were still unanswered. Most fundamentally, why did Howe latch on to the Roosevelts with an energy and determination that was notably lacking in other relationships -- most vitally his own marriage and relationship with his young son? Did Howe simply see in Roosevelt the vehicle for his own political and social ambitions (we know from the work of John T. Flynn among others that FDR himself had precious little in terms of a true political philosophy)? Was there more? I finished this book with the sense that Fenster herself never really got to the bottom of these questions.

Just as disappointing was the speed and abruptness with which the book ended. By any measure, the presidential years should be some of the most interesting, if not necessarily the most significant (Fenster argues that Howe's most important contribution to the Roosevelt partnership came in the early 1920s, not later), chapters in any book covering a man so close to FDR. But once the author finished her discussion of Alfred E. Smith's 1922 gubernatorial campaign, it felt like a dead sprint through the last chapter or two, covering not only FDR's governorship but also the 1932 election and the period from the inauguration to Howe's death in 1936. I would certainly have been willing to pay attention through another 100 pages or so had the author chosen to cover these years in more depth. It's seldom I wish an FDR book were longer (so many books about FDR, in contrast, could stand to be about 100 pages briefer). But this one, I do.

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