Published in 1960, “The Age of Roosevelt: The Politics of Upheaval (1935-1936)” is the last of three volumes in Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s series on FDR. Originally projected to consist of four volumes, Schlesinger failed to complete the series after being appointed Special Assistant to President Kennedy in 1961. Schlesinger was a well-known historian, social critic and prominent Democrat. He died in 2007 at the age of 89.
Despite being the longest book in the series (with 657 pages of text and almost 60 pages of footnotes) this final volume covers just a two-year period – the last half of FDR’s first presidential term. As was the case with its two predecessor volumes, this book proves erudite, insightful and extremely detailed. But in equal sympathy with the first two volumes, this book is rarely focused on FDR. Instead, it is essentially a political biography of the second phase of FDR’s New Deal.
But not only is little seen of FDR or his family…also missing are the descriptive “mini-biographies” of Roosevelt’s advisers and colleagues which were present in earlier volumes. What the reader is treated to are occasionally interesting anecdotes and behind-the-scenes observations relating to the economic and political pressures on FDR’s administration during his first term.
But while Schlesinger provides an astute and sophisticated understanding of the era, his book is often dry and tedious. There are few captivating scenes or engaging storylines and readers expecting to be entertained will be sorely disappointed. The often masterful (but rarely exciting) scholarship of Schlesinger is far more likely to appeal to serious students of the era than presidential scholars or enthusiasts.
Schlesinger also curiously over-emphasizes the impact of fascism and communism on American politics, but his later discussion of the Supreme Court’s reaction to the New Deal legislation is comparatively more germane and fascinating. The volume concludes with a relatively full account of the election of 1936…but virtually no review of the most important themes the author hoped to convey in the book’s 30+ chapters.
Arthur Schlesinger’s “The Age of Roosevelt: The Politics of Upheaval (1935-1936)” wraps up a deep intellectual study of the United States during Roosevelt’s early presidency – but with very little focus on FDR himself. Scholars of the New Deal will find this volume invaluable…though somewhat “friendly” to progressive politics. But neither this volume, nor Schlesinger’s series as a whole, provides meaningful insight into the complex character and remarkable life (or presidency) of Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Overall rating: 2½ stars