The Defining Moment

  • by Jonathan Alter
  • Narrated by Grover Gardner
  • 12 hrs and 32 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

In this dramatic and fascinating account, Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter shows how Franklin Delano Roosevelt used his first 100 days in office to lift the country from the despair and paralysis of the Great Depression and transform the American presidency. Instead of becoming the dictator so many wanted in those first days, FDR rescued banks, put men to work immediately, and laid the groundwork for his most ambitious achievements, including what eventually became the Social Security Administration. Alter explains how FDR's background and experiences uniquely qualified him to pull off an astonishing conjuring act that saved both democracy and capitalism. Jonathan Alter, a Newsweek Senior Editor, has written the widely acclaimed "Between the Lines" column since 1991, examining politics, media, and society at large. For the last decade, he has also worked as an analyst and contributing correspondent for NBC Broadcasting, including Today, NBC Nightly News, and MSNBC. Grover Gardner is one of the spoken word industry's most esteemed and versatile performers. He has recorded hundreds of books and has garnered an Audie Award, 18 Earphones Awards, and was deemed to have one of the "Best Voices of the Century" by AudioFile magazine. He was also named Narrator of the Year for 2005 by Publishers Weekly.

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What the Critics Say

"A most readable book....A reflection on the way that Roosevelt reinvented the presidency....Alter's account has a refreshing buoyancy, not unlike its protagonist." (The New York Times Book Review)
"Alter goes on to document FDR's early programs, pronouncements, and maneuvers with succinct accuracy." (Publishers Weekly)
"A book like this, revealing the power of presidential speeches, should be read, in FDR's repetition for emphasis, 'again and again and again'." (William Safire)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Very Enjoyable!

The Defining Moment is up there with the top echelon of recent presidential biographies (John Adams, Team of Rivals, Truman). Jonathan Alter has crafted a book that moves quickly, is full of interesting anecdotes, and makes you feel like you really know FDR in a way that other biographies that culminate in his handling of WWII (rather than the New Deal) never do.

He also has a rather interesting aspect in his writing in that he will occasionally step out of the narrative and explain how FDR compares and/or directly influenced future presidents by name. I found it a very compelling part of the book that did not distract. Of course this book was written just a couple of years ago and the comparisons only extend to George W Bush. A subsequent edition that included comparisons to Obama in a few years would be fascinating.

Of course it is impossible not to compare certain aspects of what FDR did to deal with the Great Depression and what is going on today in Washington. There are a fair number of similarities, though the book is also a great refresher on how much, much worse the Depression was compared to the current economic environment. That being said, it was wonderful to see what the right person can do even in dire circumstances. This has not happened frequently enough in our history and the times is has happened are worth careful study.

As others have noted, the title is a bit misleading in that the book is really a fairly complete biography of FDR up to and including the first 100 days he was in office, but we actually don't get to the beginning of the 100 days until we are about 75% through the book.

Overall a great and timely "read". Grover Gardner does his usual fabulous job narrating the book. I highly recommend it.
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- John M

Fawning hero worship

I bought this book thinking that it's main subject was the transition of power from the Hoover Administration to the Roosevelt Administration and how that transition affected the struggle through the Depression. What I found turned out to be a completely different book.

Mr Alter first provides us with a perfectly workable, although short, biography of Franklin Roosevelt from his birth through this successful campaign for the Presidency in 1932. I had not yet read a regular biography of FDR so this was helpful to me in understanding the background to his Presidency and the identity and backgrounds of the advisers he brought with him into office. While I knew their names from many other books I had read of the period I did not know who they really were in terms of personalities and what their backgrounds and opinions were. This book was very helpful in filling in those blanks.

The book was well written and contains a great deal of useful information, but the book suffers from a excessive case of hero-worship. Franklin Roosevelt was a great man and a great President and there is much to admire in what he did and how he went about doing it, but he, like all of us, had his faults and made his mistakes, some of them very serious, and a serious book needs to not only examine those faults and mistakes but clearly admit them to be what they were. This book does not do that. Examples abound, but I will list only two since I do not wish this review to sound like a polemic.

Franklin Roosevelt refused to help the Hoover Administration in its attempt to alleviate the suffering caused by the Depression prior to Roosevelt's inauguration. Mr Alter admits this but is quick to make excuses for Franklin Roosevelt. He (FDR) wanted the US to get as far down in the Depression as it could so he (FDR) could step in and rescue them. This does not sound like the action of a responsible person. People were suffering and FDR worsened that suffering for political purposes. It is hard to excuse that kind of action, but Mr Alter manages to do so by saying that FDR could better save them if they were far worse off than otherwise. What kind of an excuse is that?

The Roosevelt Administration adopted, almost completely, the Hoover Administration's mechanisms for combating the Depression. The policies the Roosevelt Administration put in place were those formed by the Hoover Administration. Mr Alter admits this. But the Roosevelt Administration refused to give any credit to the Hoover Administration for all of their efforts. Politics may be a hard game, but what is the purpose of throwing dirt on the names of the people whose programs you are adopting? Mr Alter has no problem with what seems to me to clearly be irresponsible behavior.

Grover Gardner''s narration is, as always, a pleasure to listen to and adds greatly to the quality of this book. My review of the book itself would be 3 ½ stars if I could award half star ratings, but, since I cannot, I can only give this book 3 stars. Mr Alter had a great deal of material to work with and could have produced a more balanced look at the start of a very important Presidency, but chose to lose himself in adoration and hero-worship. FDR and Audible's readers deserve better.
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- Mike From Mesa

Book Details

  • Release Date: 04-28-2006
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.