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The Man He Became

The Man He Became

How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency

Here, from James Tobin, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in biography, is the story of the greatest comeback in American political history, a saga long buried in half-truth, distortion and myth— Franklin Roosevelt’s ten-year climb from paralysis to the White House.

In 1921, at the age of thirty-nine, Roosevelt was the brightest young star in the Democratic Party. One day he was racing his children around their summer home. Two days later he could not stand up. Hopes of a quick recovery faded fast. “He’s through,” said allies and enemies alike. Even his family and close friends misjudged their man, as they and the nation would learn in time.

With a painstaking reexamination of original documents, James Tobin uncovers the twisted chain of accidents that left FDR paralyzed; he reveals how polio recast Roosevelt’s fateful partnership with his wife, Eleanor; and he shows that FDR’s true victory was not over paralysis but over the ancient stigma attached to the crippled. Tobin also explodes the conventional wisdom of recent years—that FDR deceived the public about his condition. In fact, Roosevelt and his chief aide, Louis Howe, understood that only by displaying himself as a man who had come back from a knockout punch could FDR erase the perception that had followed him from childhood—that he was a pampered, too smooth pretty boy without the strength to lead the nation. As Tobin persuasively argues, FDR became president less in spite of polio than because of polio.

TheMan He Became affirms that true character emerges only in crisis and that in the shaping of this great American leader character was all.
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  • Simon & Schuster | 
  • 384 pages | 
  • ISBN 9780743265157 | 
  • November 2013
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Video

History in Five: James Tobin on How Polio Shaped FDR's Political Career

James Tobin, author of THE MAN HE BECAME, presents the five things you should know about Franklin Delano Roosevelt, his affliction with polio, and his rise in politics.

Read an Excerpt

The Man He Became CHAPTER 1 Infection
– July 28, 1921 –

The virus that causes poliomyelitis entered Franklin Roosevelt’s body in the summer of 1921. At the moment of infection he was a famous and vigorous young man on the rise toward national leadership. The virus was small beyond imagining.

Ten more years would go by before the first electron microscopes revealed that the poliovirus resembles a distant planet inscribed with tiny canyons. The virus is not alive in the... see more

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Posted by Off the Shelf Staff

A documentary, no matter how brilliant, can only scratch the surface of the extraordinary Roosevelt family. These bookspick up where Ken Burns' filmleft off.

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About the Author

James Tobin
Photo Credit: Myra Klarman Photography

James Tobin

James Tobin won the National Book Critics Circle Award in biography for Ernie Pyle’s War and the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award for To Conquer the Air: The Wright Brothers and the Great Race for Flight. Educated at the University of Michigan, where he earned a PhD in history, he teaches narrative nonfiction in the Department of Media, Journalism, and Film at Miami University in Oxford, OH.

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