Unlikely Heroes: Franklin Roosevelt, His Four Lieutenants, and the World They Made (Hardcover)

Unlikely Heroes: Franklin Roosevelt, His Four Lieutenants, and the World They Made By Derek Leebaert Cover Image
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"Masterful.” —The Guardian

"Propulsive."
The Wall Street Journal

"Leebaert has done the near impossible—crafted a fresh and challenging portrait of the man and his inner circle.”
Richard Norton Smith, author of An Uncommon Man, former director of the Hoover, Eisenhower, Reagan, and Ford presidential libraries.

“A fascinating and absorbing analysis of FDR’s brilliantly chosen team of four courageous and creative men and women.”Susan Dunn, author of 1940: FDR, Willkie, Lindbergh, Hitler—the Election Amid the Storm, Massachusetts Professor of Humanities, Williams College.

Drawing on new materials, Unlikely Heroes constructs an entirely fresh understanding of FDR and his presidency by spotlighting the powerful, equally wounded figures whom he raised up to confront the Depression, then to beat the Axis.

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. Many of the dangers that they all overcame are troublingly like those America faces today.

About the Author


Derek Leebaert won the biennial 2020 Truman Book Award for Grand Improvisation. His previous books include Magic and Mayhem: The Delusions of American Foreign Policy from Korea to Afghanistan and To Dare and to Conquer: Special Operations and the Destiny of Nations, both Washington Post Best Books of the Year. He was a founding editor of the Harvard/MIT journal International Security and is a cofounder of the National Museum of the U.S. Army. He holds a D.Phil from Oxford and lives in Washington, D.C.

Praise For…


"One of my favorite books from 2023...Roosevelt, as Mr. Leebaert makes clear, was a maddening boss and not a very nice man who used his knowledge of each lieutenant’s personal vulnerabilities as leverage. But he also had an uncanny knack for spotting men and women who could—at least with things he considered important—get big things done."
—Michael Barone, Wall Street Journal

"Illuminating."
George Will, The Washington Post

“Mr. Leebaert takes a fresh tack by making his subject the Ickes-Perkins-Hopkins-Wallace bloc. … [And] here is the crucial thing for the gossip-hungry Roosevelt, and a boon for readers of Unlikely Heroes—they were never, ever boring."
The Wall Street Journal

“In the vein of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals (2005), political historian 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.”
Booklist

“Leebaert thoroughly mines diaries, letters, and oral histories to deliver a fine-grained study of the ties that bound this consequential administration. It’s an enlightening investigation into the alchemy of successful governance.”
Publishers Weekly

"Leebaert is good at adducing current themes in past history, including regional divisions, racism, inequality, trickle-down economics, and a politicized and obstructionist Supreme Court...A nuanced study of reformist government in action and its behind-the-scenes players."
Kirkus Reviews

“Leebaert follows four protagonists from President Franklin Roosevelt’s inner circle during the Depression. … An intimate portrait of FDR’s inner circle during the New Deal. Readers of U.S. history, economics, and political science should greatly enjoy this volume.”
Library Journal

"Constructs an entirely fresh understanding of FDR and his presidency by spotlighting the powerful, equally wounded figures whom he raised up to confront the Depression, then to beat the Axis. .By examining the lives of these four, a very different picture emerges of how Americans saved their democracy and rescued civilization overseas."
Daily Kos

"Unlikely Heroes is the most exciting book written about FDR's presidency in decades. Finally, we see exactly how he led the nation."
James Strock, author, Theodore Roosevelt on Leadership, Founder, Serve to Lead Group

“A brilliantly captivating portrait of Roosevelt and his four most important associates, revealing their interwoven lives and friendships. Not only does it provide a unique perspective on the twelve tumultuous years of FDR’s presidency, it is full of illuminating insights into the upheavals of America today.”
Liaquat Ahamed, Pulitzer-winning author, Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World

“By bringing alive the friendships among FDR’s key officials, Leebaert enables us to feel like insiders during that desperate time…among the many books about Roosevelt—none grants such vibrant access as does Unlikely Heroes.”
Major-General Mari K. Eder, U.S. Army (ret), former Deputy Commanding General, U.S. Army Reserves, and author of The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line: Untold Stories of the Women Who Changed the Course of World War II

“No modern American political era has been the subject of more books.... But Derek Leebaert’s personality-driven account of the life and times of our greatest president quickly convinces us there is a place for one more compelling volume. … masterful.”
The Guardian

"A terrific read."
The Hugh Hewitt Show

"A surprising, counterintuitive take on Roosevelt... I hope to pick up some secrets on building successful teams while I’m at it."
—Nicholas Thompson, CEO, Atlantic, 2023 summer reading list | McKinsey & Company

"'Unlikely Heroes' pen-portrait of FDR is almost unparalleled in the literature about U.S. presidents. Only a handful of works about Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, TR, and Nixon compare."
—Walter McDougall, Professor of History and the Alloy-Ansin Professor of International Relations, University of Pennsylvania; Pulitzer winner

Product Details
ISBN: 9781250274694
ISBN-10: 1250274699
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: February 28th, 2023
Pages: 496
Language: English