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The Man He Became.

How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency

A journalist and associate professor at Miami University, James Tobin won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Ernie Pyle's War: America's Eyewitness to WWII (1997). He is also the author of To Conquer the Air: The Wright Brothers and the Great Race for Flight (2003).

The Topic: Beginning with the summer of 1921, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was diagnosed with polio, and ending with his 1932 presidential election, James Tobin examines FDR's valiant response to the disease that robbed him of the ability to walk in an era that viewed "cripples" with fear and disdain. Grimly determined to return to politics, his hard work paid off in 1928 when he regained the partial use of his legs and won election as governor of New York shortly thereafter. "The particular way in which Roosevelt came back from his illness," Tobin writes, "exhibited the essential habits of mind and action that he would deploy during the Great Depression and World War II: improvisation, experimentation, and perseverance in the face of enormous trouble." Simon & Schuster. 384 pages. $30. ISBN: 9780743265157

Chicago Tribune

"Tobin does us all a service by reminding us how difficult life was for the disabled early in the previous century. ... While there will never be an end to the books on FDR, this one gives us a valuable look at a lesser-known aspect of his extraordinary life." TOM MORAN

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"Journalism professor James Tobin examines Roosevelt's life between August 1921, when he was stricken with poliomyelitis, and his election as president. ... [Tobin] provides a detailed, layman's view of how the poliovirus strikes and what it sometimes does to a body it invades." JULES WAGMAN

St. Petersburg Times

"Certainly in American political history few figures overcame greater obstacles on their long and painful road to the White House than Franklin Roosevelt, the subject of James Tobin's well known, but no less compelling story of an improbable political resurrection. ... The Man He Became becomes itself the rich narrative of a 39-year-old man coming to grips with his medical condition and resolving to navigate a return to the political arena." DANIEL RUTH

USA Today

"At a time when every celebrity cough or sniffle is duly blogged, it's fascinating to learn how FDR first suffered and then stage-managed the disability brought on by polio, emerging not as an object of pity but as an exemplar of courage and capability, a figure of strength whose cheerful, compassionate character inspired the nation at its most vulnerable modern moment. Tobin tells this story unsentimentally, with a forensic tilt that doesn't dwell on the stereotypical Roosevelt persona." MATT DAMSKER

Christian Science Monitor

"The Man He Became gets bogged down intermittently with excessive details about the scientific nature of polio. At times it can read like a textbook. ... But for the most part, Tobin's book is a valuable document of a good man who became a better person while battling horrific circumstances." JORDAN SMITH

Wall Street Journal

"Mr. Tobin's tight, lucid narrative may leave readers longing for more, in which case they might turn to Geoffrey Ward's A First-Class Temperament (1989) for a more detailed account of FDR's polio ordeal. Still, the story merits retelling. Mr. Tobin presents it skillfully and with admirable empathy." ALONZO L. HAMBY


Despite the abundance of books that study FDR and assess his legacy in American politics, economics, and culture, The Man He Became is only the second to focus on his struggle with polio. "That suffering can improve an individual's character is a simplistic clich[eacute]," observes the Christian Science Monitor, "but in FDR's case, it seems to have been true." Tobin persuasively argues that polio gave Roosevelt profound insight, heightened empathy for those less fortunate, and rare resilience and fortitude in the face of a crisis. This thoughtful but dispassionate retelling of those harrowing days of infection and recuperation can, in the beginning, overwhelm readers with medical details, but The Man He Became is a welcome addition to our understanding of this great statesman and his enduring legacy.

By James Tobin
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Author:Tobin, James
Article Type:Book review
Date:Nov 1, 2013
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