Only four people served at the top echelon of President Franklin Roosevelt's Administration from the frightening early months of spring 1933 until he died in April 1945, on the cusp of wartime victory. These lieutenants composed the tough, constrictive, long-term core of government. They built the great institutions being raised against the Depression, implemented the New Deal, and they were pivotal to winning World War II. Yet, in their different ways, each was as wounded as the polio-stricken titan. Harry Hopkins, Harold Ickes, Frances Perkins, and Henry Wallace were also strange outsiders. Up to 1933, none would ever have been considered for high office. Still, each became a world figure, and it would have been exceedingly difficult for Roosevelt to transform the nation without them. By examining the lives of these four, a very different picture emerges of how Americans saved their democracy and rescued civilization overseas.
Mr. Leebaert, a tech exec and freelance writer on politics and history, takes a granular but propulsive approach to their story. He’s a dependable guide through bureaucratic and diplomatic thickets, and few of his subjects’ maneuverings seem to have escaped his notice ... e’s interested in questions of leadership, especially during the war years—he’s written extensively about foreign policy—so his tale naturally gravitates toward the levers of national power and the officials angling to grasp them. Most appealingly, he offers persistent but unobtrusive parallels to our own disordered moment: reminders that we are still bedeviled by many of the same problems ... He doesn’t ignore his subjects’ private lives, although he doesn’t dwell on them either ... Mr. Leebaert’s touch here is light, even tentative, as if he’s reluctant to go poking around in the trash or let his attention drift from the realm of officialdom, and the book is disappointingly less vivacious as a result.
Leebaert illuminates the dynamics of FDR’s consequential administration by focusing on four of his lieutenants ... Leebaert sheds new light on FDR’s managerial capabilities and ably demonstrates that the cultivation of diversified and resilient talent was essential to the administration’s endurance.
This well-researched, absorbing narrative reveals what it was like during the FDR administration from four unique perspectives. Unlikely Heroes should be of interest to a wide range of history and biography readers.