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Book Name: FDR's Shadow: Louis Howe, The Force That Shaped Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt

Author: Julie M. Fenster

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Overall Rating: (3.91/5) View all reviews (total 23 reviews)

Praise forFDR's Shadow: "A well-written, thoroughly researched account of the complex relationship between the Roosevelts and Howe."--The Oklahoman"This is an interesting and well-written examination of a relationship that greatly influenced policy and politics at the onset of the New Deal."—Jay Freeman, Booklist"Fenster presents first-rate insights into Howe's motivations and the ways in which he overcame Eleanor's initial dislike to become an important political mentor to her. This enjoyable read will appeal to presidential history buffs and those interested in the evolving role of the presidential assistant. Essential for all collections on U.S. Presidents." -- Library Journal "This is a much-needed, thoroughly researched, and engagingly written account of the only indispensable adviser in the rise of both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Julie Fenster well captures her elusive and eccentric subject." -- Conrad Black, Publisher of theLondon Daily,Sunday Telegraph,andSpectator, and author ofFranklin Delano RooseveltandRichard M. Nixon.“Once again Julie Fenster delivers the goods.FDR’s Shadowis a brilliant look at how the indomitable and enlightened Louis Howe became the mega-advisor of the Roosevelt Clan. A must read for anybody interested in U.S. political history. Every page sings.” --Douglas Brinkley, author ofThe Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America."Louis Howe's remarkable career as the political savant behind Franklin D. Roosevelt's rise to power is one of the greatly underappreciated American stories of the last century.  Julie M. Fenster's concise new biography of Howe, based on freshly released material, is a welcome corrective -- a whale of a story told with intelligence and grace."--Sean Wilentz, Princeton University, and author ofThe Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln"FDR’s Shadow: Louis Howe, the Force That Shaped Franklin and Eleanor Rooseveltprovides insights and analyses that will be of interest to anyone wanting to know more about the political landscape of that seminal period of American history." --Claude R. Marx,Boston Globe "Indeed every member of both houses of the Congress has at least one "dragon-at-the-gate" who rations access to the boss, who edits the speeches, and keeps a check on promises that cannot be kept.  But the Howe-Roosevelt symbiotic relationship is a darker story and Ms. Fenster brings a new depth to it."  --Washington Times 


Very interesting start, but peters out at the end

by Andrew S. Rogers

"FDR's Shadow" is a well done study of, as the book's subtitle has it, the "force" who helped Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt transform from, respectively, a moderately successful upstate New York politician and a socialite wife, into the powerful political team who seized the Empire State governorship and, shortly afterward, the White House. Julie M. Fenster makes a pretty compelling case that it was Louis Howe's tireless devotion to the couple and their political advancement made a critical difference in the Roosevelts' fortunes -- particularly after FDR was afflicted with infantile paralysis.The book is well-written, frequently entertaining, and based on admirable research that rescues Howe from the measure of obscurity into which he has fallen. Ultimately, however, I finished the book feeling like some pretty substantial questions were still unanswered. Most fundamentally, why did Howe latch on to the Roosevelts with an energy and determination that was notably lacking in other relationships -- most vitally his own marriage and relationship with his young son? Did Howe simply see in Roosevelt the vehicle for his own political and social ambitions (we know from the work of John T. Flynn among others that FDR himself had precious little in terms of a true political philosophy)? Was there more? I finished this book with the sense that Fenster herself never really got to the bottom of these questions.Just as disappointing was the speed and abruptness with which the book ended. By any measure, the presidential years should be some of the most interesting, if not necessarily the most significant (Fenster argues that Howe's most important contribution to the Roosevelt partnership came in the early 1920s, not later), chapters in any book covering a man so close to FDR. But once the author finished her discussion of Alfred E. Smith's 1922 gubernatorial campaign, it felt like a dead sprint through the last chapter or two, covering not only FDR's governorship but also the 1932 election and the period from the inauguration to Howe's death in 1936. I would certainly have been willing to pay attention through another 100 pages or so had the author chosen to cover these years in more depth. It's seldom I wish an FDR book were longer (so many books about FDR, in contrast, could stand to be about 100 pages briefer). But this one, I do.

FDR's Shadow: Louis Howe, The Force That Shaped Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt

by Anna M. Ligtenberg "AnnaLovesBooks"

Originally submitted August, 2009. Eaten by Amazon? Reposted January, 2010... and dated August, 2009. Love Amazon.ISBN 0230609104 - I picked this one up, excited at the idea of a look at FDR's era from a slightly off-center perspective. Louis Howe, a man known mostly to his own family and political historians, has never really gotten the sort of popular acknowledgment that he deserves. He still hasn't.A somewhat sickly child whose family pampers him to a nearly ridiculous extent, Louis Howe hardly seems like a king-maker. His life story makes complete sense as he becomes a reporter and works with his father. Louis over-reaches in his marriage choice and, from there, seems to become an entirely different person. From his first dealings with Franklin Roosevelt, Howe seems to see, in him, the future - where no one else does. A distant, stand-offish, relationship with Roosevelt's wife changes as he helps her to develop her own political identity and when tragedy strikes the man they both love, Howe is there to support and encourage, never giving up on Roosevelt's shining political future.I've always found the comparison of these two men interesting and hoped for more Howe and less FDR in a book about Howe. There is some of that, although most of it makes Howe appear to be a pathetic and needy man. His marriage is a shambles from the beginning, his parenting skills are non-existent, and FDR and Eleanor take precedence, repeatedly, over his wife and children. While it's always nice to get a glimpse of reality, it's sad that a book titled "FDR's Shadow" merely casts the man as IN FDR's shadow and that, in every way but one, he is painted a miserable failure. Just a slightly more positive glimpse, which surely has to exist, would have been a nice celebration of the man behind the man who did so much for his country. The book isn't terrible, but it is surprisingly thin and uninteresting in a lot of ways. Howe deserves much better.- AnnaLovesBooks

A good overview of an otherwise overlooked man

by CGScammell

I enjoyed reading this fast-paced little book.This short book gives a good overview of Louis Howe the man, the failed businessman and part-time reporter who struck a warm and early professional relationship with Franklin Roosevelt after the latter won his first senatorial position in 1910. This relationship blossomed after FDR's re-election in 1912, when he was deemed an "insurgent senator" who went against the powerful Tammany Hall.By all accounts Louis Howe before Roosevelt had a dull career, filled with repeated firings, a marriage that was at best lukewarm, and a personality that bordered on sloppy and uncharismatic. Rude, pessimistic and prone to extreme jealousy, this man did not seem to have what it took to be a successful insider. The first half of this book focuses on Howe's life before Roosevelt.The relationship between Howe and Roosevelt, which in this book takes off in Chapter Six, "Navy Men," was based on a mutual respect and canniness for politics and drive. These two men worked well with each other. Howe directed Roosevelt's career and Roosevelt gave Howe a steady income and prestige. This book demonstrates how these two unlikely men were able to work well together. Howe was also the conduit between Franklin and Eleanor long after the love in the marriage had faded.When Woodrow Wilson was elected president in 1912, Wilson picked Roosevelt, a strong supporter of him (against his own cousin Theodore) in the campaign, as assistant secretary to the Navy. Howe followed Roosevelt as his clerk, starting what became a life-long partnership between the two men that strengthened at the beginning of World War I, widened (but also strained) after the 1918 revelation of Roosevelt's affair with Lucy Mercer, and solidified nine years later when Roosevelt came down with polio and lost the use of his legs. Howe had become an unpopular figure in the private lives of the Roosevelts, yet he was also an important go-getter for both of their personal careers.Here is where Julie Fenster's book really takes off, in Chapter Seven, "The Edge of Decision," where Howe works as assistant to Roosevelt's failed vice-presidential campaign of 1920. After skimming through the 1910s, the emphasis of the second part of this book focuses on the years 1927 through 1932, his years as New York Governor and then Democratic candidate in 1932. Howe died in 1936.This book is easy reading and gives a good insight into the chemistry of Howe and Roosevelt and how that chemistry not only won Roosevelt's first presidential term, but also worked to keep a respectfully working relationship afloat between Franklin and Eleanor after the Mercer affair. Research for this book comes mostly from newspaper articles, the Columbia University Oral History Research Office Collection, several biographies, some interviews of aging descendents and Howe's personal papers, which weren't released to the public until 2006 at the FDR Library.This is a nice addition to any fan of FDR and Eleanor.

A Good Overview

by Charles M. Nobles

This is not an exhaustive, last word standard by which all others will be judged type book about a fascinating practitioner of the art of politics. I suspect it was not meant to be given the rather short number of pages. However, it should not be disregarded since the author provides a highly readable, tantalizing glimpse into the relationship between Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and a man the Roosevelt's son says was most likely the greatest influence in his parents lives.Louis Howe was a newspaper reporter that became addicted to politics when he worked for the New York Herald and for Auburn, New York, Mayor Thomas Mott Osborne...at the same time. In effect, he was a spy for the Mayor or as he described it, "...a confidential agent..." The ethical implications of that arrangement would be more than suspect today. In any event he became enthralled with politics and FDR's anti-Tammany Hall stand in the state senate. The rest, as they say, is history. Howe went on to manage Roosevelt's losing vp campaign, worked as his personal assistant in the Navy Department, and ultimately was considered responsible for helping Roosevelt overcome Polio to the extent that he at least was able to regain his self-confidence and run for and win the presidency. That he was able to inspire confidence and self-esteem in Eleanor Roosevelt is without question and deserving of a book on the subject in and of itself.Roosevelt described Howe as his best friend and chief protector which is pretty heady stuff coming from the president of the U.S. However, the price Howe paid was very high. His marriage was a shambles, his relationship with his children was sad and almost pathetic, and one gets the impression that Howe was a sad, lonely individual. The real question is why someone with his obvious talent would commit virtually his entire life to someone else's dreams and ambitions to the exclusion of his own family and friends.I am not a student of the Roosevelt's and so was not well read on the life and times of Howe. While the book is a good overview it leaves me with many unanswered questions and has caused me to look for additional books on Howe and his relationship with the Roosevelt's. It truly is an interesting subject and this book is a start but not the final word. Not something a serious student of the subject would particularily want given its brief, a glimpse really, of the matter but worthy of the general readers time.

Unsatisfyingly brief

by chefdevergue

To sum up the last four (yes --- four) pages of this very small book:In 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt secured the Democratic Party's nomination for President of the United States (oh --- by the way, he won the election).In 1936, Louis Howe died.The End.Huh?!? That's it?!? This was my reaction when I finished this book. I don't get it. 30-plus pages covering Howe's youth and early adult years, and then a race to the finish, once things really start to get interesting. I fail to see the point of this book. Howe helped Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt redefine the roles within their marriage (after the marriage was permanently altered by FDR's affair, and then polio), and this all was pretty interesting as far as it goes, but good grief --- that in and of itself is not enough to carry a whole book. There wasn't much discussion about Louis Howe, the political advisor. What did he do during the 1932 campaign? For that matter, what was Howe doing during FDR's two gubernatorial campaigns in 1928 and 1930? Don't expect answers in this book. Expect passages such as "Starting in 1930...Howe began to work more feverishly than ever, building a pathway for the 1932 presidential campaign." (p. 206) What did he do to build this pathway? Your guess is as good as mine.All in all, a really disappointing book about a subject which deserves a more thorough treatment.

Beautifully written, but incomplete...

by Cynthia K. Robertson

I waited months to purchase Julie M. Fenster's new book, FDR's Shadow: Louis Howe, the Force that Shaped Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Howe was nicknamed "the kingmaker" for setting the path for Franklin Roosevelt to become president. Unfortunately, although this book is beautifully written, it is very incompleteLouis Howe started out as a newspaperman, and eventually became FDR's political advisor, confidant, best friend, and even what would today be his chief of staff. Many could not see Howe's genius and instead, focused on his looks (he was a small, wizened, gnome-like, unhealthy specimen of a man who dribbled cigarette ashes all over himself). But early on, Howe saw something in FDR and started addressing him as "Beloved and Revered Future President." Howe set a road-map for FDR's accession, and cultivated friends and worked deals. When this road was threatened by FDR's polio in 1921, Howe had to fight Sara Roosevelt (FDR's mother) to get him back into politics. From this time onward, Howe pretty much lived with the Roosevelts and never returned to his family. FDR would have never gotten the nomination for president at the Democratic Convention in 1932 without Howe making back-room deals. "A typical impression of Howe was that he was veritably smitten with Franklin Roosevelt and wanted nothing more than to live, homely as he was, through the handsome aristocrat with the friendly charm. That version of their relationship, though, smacks of a fairy tale and overlooks the fact that Howe had a vision for American society. Had the Roosevelts not shared that vision...Howe would not necessarily have followed them."Howe was first FDR's friend. But when FDR contracted polio, he and Eleanor became a team. He encouraged her to join political groups, coached her in public speaking, and turned her into a confident political figure in her own right. Howe claimed that once FDR completed two terms of office, he could then get Eleanor elected for another two terms. "The idea of a grown man with a family of his own impressing himself in a marriage of two other people was unusual and practically unprecedented. Part of the reason that it worked is that Franklin and Eleanor needed Louis equally."Once FDR became president, Howe was installed in the Lincoln Bedroom. But his fragile health became worse and he died in 1936. His death was a blow to both Eleanor and Franklin. Not only did they lose the bridge between them, but FDR made some major blunders (like trying to stack the Supreme Court) that Howe would probably have prevented.Shadow is beautifully written and we get to see the conflicting emotions of Howe. After giving up so much, he often felt underappreciated. The recent unveiling of the Louis Howe papers in the FDR Library gives us a look into the sad relationship between Howe and his wife, Grace. But there is so much that Fenster neglected to tell us about Howe. Next to Howe, FDR was probably closest to secretary Missy LeHand. Yet there is virtually nothing about how Howe and LeHand interacted. Howe had a secretary, Margaret Durand, nicknamed Rabbit by FDR. She gave her life to Howe just as Howe gave his to FDR. Yet she merits only one fleeting mention. Other tidbits would have helped to flesh-out Howe, including more information about him singing in a DC church and his play writing and performances. There is very little after FDR is elected president. Eleanor used to shop for Howe and after he died, she would send flowers to Grace Howe on certain anniversaries. There is hardly anything about his kids. Also, what happened to them after he died? Also, it would have been interesting if Fenster included that FDR appointed Grace Hartley to the job of post master (the first for a woman) after Howe's death.It is regrettable that this book was way too short and lacking so much information about Howe and his life. FDR's Shadow had the potential to be so much more.

A most interesting book delightfully written

by Dr. J. J. Kregarman

One of the great advantages of the Vine program is that one is, at times, encouraged to become aware of most excellent writers and important bits of history. This is one of those times. Julie M. Fenster is one of those writers and this is one of those books. Louis Howe surely had a tremendous influence on American history as he more than any other Democrat, even Roosevelt himself, was responsible for FDR's election to the presidency and Eleanor Roosevelt's political, public blossoming. But the scope of this book is broader than just Howe's biography. Julie Fenster paints a marvelous picture of the New York political world in the early part of the twentieth century and illuminates Roosevelt's life during those times. A great read.

The man behind the man...

by D. S. Thurlow

In "FDR's Shadow", author Julie Fenster explores the life of Louis Howe, principal political advisor to the rising New York politician Franklin Delano Roosevelt, eventually known to history as FDR, the first and only president to win four terms, the president of the New Deal and the Second World War.The book opens with Howe's 1936 funeral and its impact on the Roosevelt family. The story properly begins with Louis Howe's challenging youth, his career as a newspaper reporter, and his life as a political operative in the rough and tumble of New York state politics in the early 20th Century. His almost chance partnering with Roosevelt, then a wealthy, charming, and ambitious but inexperienced young politician, was life-changing for both men. FDR and Howe collaborated on a series of successful political campaigns, ending in the White House in 1933. The author assesses that Howe's most valuable service was in pushing FDR back into public life after his bout with polio, and in setting his wife Eleanor on the path to her own public career.Fenster's account is perhaps a little too concise at just over 200 pages plus a nice selection of photographs. Her narrative is tightly focused on the life of Louis Howe, a conflicted and often unhappy man with a genius for politics and the good sense, and good fortune, to hitch himself to a rising star. Recommended.

A New Perspective on The Roosevelt Team

by James Gallen

"FDR's Shadow" tells the unusual story of the relationship between FDR and Louis Howe and their families. Louis Howe was one of those cheer leaders, sounding boards, a general right hand men needed by any highly successful politician. Howe grew up as the asthmatic son of an upstate New York Democratic newspaper editor who gave Louis an introduction to his vocation, journalism, and his passion, politics. It was on his beat of reporting on the New York legislature that Howe met then State Senator Franklin D. Roosevelt. They established a working relationship which continued when Roosevelt took Howe to Washington upon Roosevelt's assumption of the position of Assistant Secretary of the Navy. In FDR's 1920 campaign for vice-president it was Howe who had to keep the candidate focused on his audience and his goals. It was during this campaign that Howe began mentoring Eleanor Roosevelt as she emerged from her cocoon and blossomed into a campaign partner and a leader among Democratic women.Howe's role in the Roosevelt household transformed in 1921when Franklin was stricken with polio. Eleanor sent for Howe who immediately left Washington for Campobello. From this day forward, Howe would be a part of the Roosevelt household and an occasional visitor to his own.In what today would be called crisis management, Howe assumed direction of the medical treatment, access to the cottage and, eventually, FDR's transportation back to New York. In the years that followed it was Howe who kept Franklin and Eleanor focused on his rehabilitation and return to the world of politics. Howe's total dedication to FDR was illustrated by the time spent with Franklin making and racing model boats, while excluding their own sons from this pass time. It was Howe who kept the dream of the White House alive.Throughout the twenties, a peculiar triangle developed between Eleanor, Franklin and Louis. Eleanor and Franklin would never vacation together nor could they share their confidences as they journeyed into an uncharted world. They each found their confidant in Louis, who found his family in Eleanor and Franklin, even as he distanced himself from his own family.In the chapters of this book, the reader follows FDR as he returned to public life with his highly acclaimed nomination of Al Smith for President in 1924, his narrow election as governor of New York in 1928 and the careful staking of the White House, culminating in Roosevelt's election in 1932. The stories continued until Howe's death on April 18, 1936.Despite all that I have written, this book is primarily about the life and career of Franklin D. Roosevelt and, secondarily, about Eleanor. I have studied extensively about FDR but I still learned much about him and Eleanor from this book. It draws the reader's attention to Eleanor's development into a political force in her own right. After reading this book I suspect that, had she been First Lady fifty years later, Eleanor, not Hillary, would have been the first First Lady to make a serious run at the White House in her own name. Any book about a much covered life, such as FDR's, has to offer something new to justify its publication. This book passes that test. While introducing, or reacquainting the reader with the anecdotes of Franklin's life, it brings out details which are overlooked in other books. What makes this book special is its description of the role of the catalyst that made the elements of the Roosevelt world react as they did. It will help any reader achieve a deeper understanding of the unique Roosevelt team.

Behind the Giant

by J.D. "LiteraryArky"

The story of a man who dedicated his life to making FDR President. This is a welcome addition to the work on FDR.

A thin book in many ways

by John A. Lefcourte

A very interesting topic: Louis Howe was Franklin D.Roosevelt's right-hand political advisor, but there are only 214 padded pages and they are poorly written. Too many surmises on the author's part and a teeth-gritting style. Not enough detail as to the specifics of his assistance to Roosevelt although good detail as to the personal relationship and psychological support he provide both Franklin and Eleanor. Good info as to how he encouraged and supported Eleanor in her development into a influential personage in her own right. In retrospect, the author's sources seem to all be written, with no attempt by the author to conduct interviews with individuals who were familiar with Howe. Hence an unsatisfying sense of having only glossed over the subject.

Completes another piece of the puzzle

by Kate Stout "History Maven"

People enjoy reading about Franklin and Eleanor not only because of their important impact on America, but because of the sometimes mysterious and confusing nature of their relationships with each other and others in their lives.In this well researched and well written book about Louis Howe, FDR's principal campaign advisor and political strategist, you get a sense of the political battles that eventually led to FDR's presidency. You also learn about Howe encouraged Eleanor to shed her role as a good and dutiful wife to take on the political activism that brought great meaning to her life.Howe was not only a political operative, he was an intimate member of the Roosevelt household. After Franklin contracted polio, Howe rushed to his side and helped Eleanor with the nursing. When Franklin was finally able to move back to NYC, Howe moved in with the family to help. He emphasized the importance of keeping Franklin mentally active, and brought interesting visitors to keep Franklin engaged with the world.Howe also served as a bridge between Eleanor and Franklin as their lives went in different directions in the 1920's.Heartily recommend this book which helps you understand another aspect of the complex puzzle of Franklin and Eleanor. It is a relatively brief book (about 200 pages) which seems an appropriate size for the topic.

Long overdue

by M. A Newman

The career of Louis Howe is at the same time one of the most fascinating, yet least fully understood. Howe was a mentor, friend and advisor to both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. A strong case can be made that without Louis Howe, Franklin Roosevelt might be best known for stamp collecting and Eleanor Roosevelt as an unfulfilled society matron, perhaps giving the occasional tour of her uncle's house at Sagamore Hill. Howe was a great door of opportunity through both of them marched to their respective and interconnected destinies.It is not as though Howe were unknown. He is a leading character in most biographies, plays and movies depicting the famous couple. That he kept Franklin's presidential ambitions alive during polio and that he made Eleanor into an effective public figure in her own right is not in dispute. What is unknown is his motivation and an understanding of what made Louis Howe tick.While this book is likely to be of interest to people wanting to understand how Louis Howe operated, it does not assess the depth of his devotion to the first couple and how he was able to give so much of himself. Was it that he saw greatness in both in creating this most amazing of power couples that he achieved greatness in himself? This is the conclusion one is left with.While I liked the book, I think it might have been better if the author had assessed what impact Howe's death had on the future of the Roosevelt administration. Howe ultimately was the only one who tell Roosevelt he was making a mistake and he had impeccable instincts in that regard. It is tempting to consider what Roosevelt would have done in his second term. Would Howe have advised the same course as FDR undertook, court packing issue and the unsuccessful purge of the Democratic Party if he had been around. I doubt it.One is left with a great deal of respect for Louis Howe upon reading this book. While I have no doubt that both Roosevelts had what it took to be great, it took someone like Howe to set them on this path.Into this

Frustrating book

by Marcy L. Thompson

There's a great story here. Julie Fenster has obviously done sufficient research that she ought to be able to tell that story. However, this book goes astray in more than one way. Louis Howe was instrumental in helping the Roosevelt's through the time of FDR's illness and rehabilitation, as well as in his later political triumphs. He also helped Eleanor grow into herself, as it were. However, while the subject sounds fascinating, the book was a disappointment.Most importantly, it takes a wildly veering approach to the general history of the times and of the Roosevelts, in particular. Sometimes, the book seems to expect that you know general background information. FDR and Eleanor are introduced as adults, and reference is made to the fact that Theodore Roosevelt was her close relative, but not FDR's close relative -- much background about their youths and early adulthoods seems to be assumed, and much of it is important to understanding the two of them. Other times, she spends a great deal of time establishing some fact that could have been simply asserted or illustrated much more briefly.Also frustrating to me was the fact that the story deeply involves Louis Howe's own family and marriage. A great deal of time is spent on letters from him to his wife, but there is little context provided (such as her letters to him). The marriage clearly unravels over the course of the book, and this is both partly reason for and partly result of his choices about how to engage with the Roosevelts. Despite the ongoing discussion of this marriage, I never felt that I had enough information to understand what was happening in it, let alone make any informed guess as to why.At one point, FDR and Howe spend a summer building model boats and racing them. The author suggests that Howe's son was also interested in model boats and would have enjoyed being part of that, but then she says that he couldn't really include his son, without giving a plausible reason why not. The matter is not mentioned again. Over and over, Howe's son is depicted as longing for his father's attention, with the clear suggestion that he does not get it, only to have the two of them decamp for the beach house that they both loved, just the two of them.The writing also careens wildly from tedious listing of facts with no analysis to engaging prose that illuminates (unfortunately, usually only for a few moments) someone's character or the unfolding of a momentous event.As an example of the clumsy writing, let's consider the discussion of FDR's debilitating illness. It took quite some time before the Roosevelts had a confirmed diagnosis, partly because polio most often struck children, not adults. However, the final diagnosis is certainly more or less common knowledge among the people who would read a book such as this (moreso than, say, the fact that FDR's prep school was Groton, a fact that readers are expected to know). However, the way that the progress of the illness is presented in the book, it's treated as if it were a mystery illness to reader as well as to the Roosevelts. That at least some doctors knew what the disease was is made clear by the specialists they chose to bring into the case, but there is no discussion of who knew what, or when. The timeline is somewhat jumbled, as well, due to the apparent attempt to treat the diagnosis as a mystery to the reader as well as to the family who where there at the time.The uneven treatment of background information seems to have little to do with whether that information would be useful to the reader. For instance, Howe's mother is given a full biographical treatment, but she disappears out of the narrative shortly thereafter. On the other hand, Sara Roosevelt (who was FDR's mother) is given almost no background information, and yet she is a pivotal character in much of the story of his illness. Direct reference is made to Sara's adherence to the things she learned in her youth, but what these things are is never eally explained, nor are we told if this is a relatively normal generation gap or if her upbringing was unusual for its time and place. In several parts of the book, she is depicted as a great adversary of Howe's but it is never described exactly how he won the day (which he certainly seems to have done) or what the consequences of this defeat were, bearing in mind that she was quite a bit more wealthy than her son and that the younger Roosevelts lived in houses owned or provided by her for much of their marriage.People change their minds with no comment. For instance, on one page, Anna Roosevelt is sending kind greetings to Howe in letters to her mother, and a few pages later, she has come to despise him. Little comment is provided as to how this change occurred, or how Eleanor dealt with the antagonism between her daughter and her friend.On the whole, I disliked this book, which annoyed me, because the good parts made it quite clear that there is a very good story here. Unfortunately, this book doesn't tell that story in a way that was able to hold my attention or help me make sense of the facts of what occurred. I hope someday someone does write a good book about this man and his relationship with the Roosevelts. Alas, this is not that book.

The force that shaped FDR

by Mary G. Longorio "Texasbookgirl"

Very few if any biographies of Franklin Roosevelt fail to mention his friend and supporter Louis Howe. Howe was also responsible; in part, for the emergence of Eleanor Roosevelt's emergence as a political presence, allowing her a way to still engage with FDR following his infidelity and betrayal. Although Eleanor was first put off by Howe's bad habits and gnome like appearance, she developed a deep appreciation of his fidelity to both her and Franklin. He encouraged her to find her own voice and to work as an extension of her husband. Louis Howe was not an imposing man, he was of slight build, disheveled, and suffered a myriad of illnesses. His devotion to the Roosevelts was a curiosity and matter of speculation. After meeting FDR in 1911, Howe was convinced that Roosevelt was presidential material and he began to guide FDR's political career. Under Howe's guidance, FDR turned towards the working class (this branding him a traitor to his class} and often was a trusted sounding board for both the Roosevelts. Julie Fenster's FDR's Shadow is a thoroughly researched look into a man once referred to as "most private' of the President's private secretaries". A well researched look into one of the greatest political "king makers".

Interesting and different view

by M. Hyman "Artist at large"

I found this book to be quite enjoyable. It is short and engaging, and it tells the story of FDR through the viewpoint of his political adviser Louis Howe. You get a sense of the shaping of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and who they were as people, by learning about Louis Howe, their long time political advisor and friend. What I like about this book:* It takes a different viewpoint on the story, so it isn't just yet another book about FDR* It discusses the relationships of Louis and his wife, Franklin and Eleanor, and their families, so it makes the story personal* It is short, so it is a pleasant rather than overwhelming read* It very much gives a sense for the time and the people, and the political climate of the time, which was very different than that of todayThere are a few photographs and other artifacts hidden in the back which are worth looking at.Quite good and worth reading.

I Wish This Were a Better Book

by Nicholas Puner

I respectfully disagree with those who have blurbed this book as being "brilliant" or "superb." Well-researched it is, but it never comes to life. One of the problems is that Louis Howe was not an especially colorful character. Indeed, he was much more quirky than colorful. The story of his being the eminence gris behind FDR is, also, not new. It is just fleshed out here to a greater extent than it has been in books that have chronicled FDR. But there's a reason for that: the story, while interesting, is fairly thin. A misfit of a man with limited good ideas for himself hitches his star to an incandescent other. He has the vision (which actually may be no more than dogged devotion reinterpreted) to persevere after Roosevelt is felled by polio, and to propel him to being revenant as a political force. Meanwhile, he, Howe, since he doesn't really have a life, becomes indispensable to FDR and his family, importantly befriending Eleanor and even, eventually, bringing the redoubtable Sara Delano Roosevelt into his fan club.So, this is a story that has been told before, as a sidebar in many other books, but is now excavated in an attempt to give it life as a stand-alone tale. To me, it is fairly thin gruel.What is more, Fenster is not a gifted writer, at least not as demonstrated in this book. She writes well enough in a connect-the-dots way, but she has a propensity for anachronisms like "the media" for "the press," and for infelicitous usage: verbs like "reach out" and "opt."If you're especially interested in the relationship between Howe and Roosevelt, this is a good primer. But if you're interested in a good read, try one of the many fine biographies of FDR, from Friedel to Schlesinger and James M. Burns, to Geoffrey Ward.

Fenster's masterwork!

by Professor Emeritus P. Bagnolo "Slugger/BIGGUY"

FDR's Shadow was Louis Howe, whose life was not terribly, or rather was marginally, successful, until fate brought he and FDR together, at first with mild brushes, and later, with Howe seeing the potential in an FDR Presidency, even when FDR was taking some NY State ups and downs and sometimes enduring a few political bludgeoning's.Reading the early history of Howe one begins to wonder how this man seemingly wretched in many ways, came to be a man of such incredible insight, foresight and ingenuity. But I have seen this type of growth before and probably so have you. That Howe saw even in the paralyzed and near helpless FDR during the polio attack, a man of destiny is remarkable to say the least. That Howe sacrificed the greatest career offer of his life to move into the Roosevelt home and help nurse FDR to back to health and eventually to a presidency, was phenomenally, prophetic.Howe was a hanger on in his marriage, and on his career and not particularly interested in wealth or success, to the point where he often rolled in poverty. His wife, and apparently one-sided true love, Grace, did not seem to share his romantic and marital intensity, or his seemingly casual view of career import. How he became, or rather blossomed into the brilliant, indomitable and enlightened choreographer of the Greatest president America has had since the era of the Founding Father's, Ms. Fenster lays out with precise and unbiased alacrity.The Book, FDR's Shadow, follows Howe, as his early career crisscrossed Roosevelt's path over a period of years until they hooked up. After reading two tomes, (1900 pages) on FDR, FDR, and Traitor To His Class, and several smaller volumes, in the last several months, including; Roosevelt's Secret War, as well as Roosevelt and Lucy, I had what I thought was a well rounded portrait of the man, but FDR's Shadow, rounds out the picture of Howe with a more satisfactory finish. I had wondered about his long absences from his wife and children and what I found was a flawed marriage, in which loyalty and romance seemed one-sided, flowing from Howe to his wife and apparently seldom returned.Julie M. Fenster's research is impeccably presented and displays a well-rounded and comprehensive biography, which even gives glimpses of the Roosevelt my family, had come to know and love, so well.One reviewer called Howe FDR's Karl Rove, hardly true, there was not a speck of Machiavellian or murderous evil in Howe, though he was probably brighter than Rove, he also had something Rove lacked, a conscience.The writing beginning in the generations before Louis Howe and skating amid the bumps and disappointments of Howe's loveless love life and his poor earning record, to his finding his place in the world and his masterful direction of FDR's political career and life, including overcoming of Eleanor's distrust and dislike of him and his turning down career altering wealth in order to help nurse FDR back to health from the disease I shared with FDR, Paralytic Poliomyelitis. In my case the paralysis passed after two years and I returned to health, FDR was no so fortunate which made his 32 years of excelling while so burdened, nothing short of a testament to the man and his family.Howe apparently saw in FDR from the beginning, what most of us saw after the fact. Nevertheless, his prophetic assessment of FDR matched FDR's own, when he commented as very young man that the path to the presidency for him as for his Uncle Teddy, was undeniably, from state Senator, to Governor of NY, to Assistant Secretary of The Navy, to the White House and he did just that with the incredible help of Louis Howe.Fenster draws from a man small and unlettered, and lacking a professional portfolio, budding genius and the main man behind the greatest hero of modern times.Fenster weaves her way and and us as well, with no punches pulled, through the mire of Howe's personal life, along with FDR's and Eleanor's and brings us to a strong understanding of the man many believe to have been a Godsend to the poor and middle classes. In fact, they believe that Roosevelt invented and sustained the middle classes until G W Bush in the greatest Highway robbery of all time, drained the Treasury into the pockets of Fascists, and thereby mostly wiped out the middle classes and the concept of "retirement," perhaps, forever.This is a small book and a rather brief read, however, if you are an FDR fan, or simply a history buff, when the book becomes available, buy it, or place a reservation for it now. I think you will enjoy it if you share any of the views apparent in this writing.

Excellent biography of a great formative influence on Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt

by Robert Moore

Note: I wrote my original review before seeing any of the other reviews. Several of them have prefaced their reviews by saying some astonishing things. I'll skip the comparisons of Howe to Karl Rove. No part of Howe's political vision was driven by the dark cynicism that permeated everything that Rove did. Perhaps all that these reviewers really meant to do was point out that Howe was as important in molding FDR as Rove was Bush. But I frankly don't find that very helpful since in every other way the two were dramatically different, with no similarities at all.My complaint with these other reviews is in characterizing Louis Howe as "unknown" or "forgotten." In what world? Saying that Louis Howe is unknown is merely an admission of ignorance; it says absolutely nothing about Howe and his actual status in American history. Anyone who has studied presidential history knows who Louis Howe is. Anyone who has read anything about FDR knows a great deal about Louis Howe. Louis Howe is and has been since the 1920s a well-known American political figure. And every book on Roosevelt (Franklin or Eleanor) contains countless references to Howe. He is not an obscure figure, he is not unknown, he is not neglected, and he is not a figure who Fenster has attempted to rescue from obscurity. Louis Howe remains what he has always been, one of the most famous and crucial figures in the story of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Fenster is merely delving more deeply into a story that can benefit from more attention. What follows is the rest of my original review:Anyone who has read very much about the life of either Franklin or Eleanor Roosevelt knows the important place that Louis Howe holds in their lives and thus in American history. Without Louis Howe it is highly unlikely that Franklin Roosevelt would have become president of the United States or that Eleanor Roosevelt would have become one of the foremost political figures in American history. Although he contributed comparatively little to FDR's administrations, except for the first, which was the only one in which he was able to serve, he was perhaps the single greatest collaborator with FDR in his quest for the presidency and without question the most crucial person in molding Eleanor as a political speaker and public figure. By any criterion he is one of the most important individuals in the story of the way in which Franklin Roosevelt through the New Deal and leading the free world to victory in World War II remade America.Virtually everyone who knew FDR says that while he had always been an energetic, bright, and charismatic individual, he had never been particularly deep until he had his bout with polio. Everyone agrees that the experience deepened him as a person, not only providing him with time to think more profoundly about life, but toughened his character by making him fight to deal with his disability. And in recuperating from his polio, he spent a great deal of time in Warm Springs, Georgia, where he came to see a part of America that he had not previously known. The programs of the New Deal were intended very much to help people very much like those he met in Warm Springs.The key person during the crisis after his contracting polio was Louis Howe. Fenster points out that Eleanor Roosevelt entitled the portion of her autobiography telling of the period of FDR's rehabilitation "Louis Howe Takes Charge." He took charge of his nursing, his rehabilitation, his contacts with the public, his business affairs (Howe went to the insurance company of which FDR was nominally in charge and basically ran the business for him, along with the secretary there who would play such a huge role in FDR's life, Missy Lehand). It is possible that without Howe FDR might have rebounded from his illness to return to politics. It is possible, but it is frankly not imaginable. For most of the twenties FDR fed off Howe's will and his indomitable vision of Roosevelt one day becoming president. He continued to belief this of FDR even when FDR didn't think of it at all and his mother Sara wanted him to retire to Hyde Park where he would live the life of a country squire. Imagine a world in which FDR had not become president. Even extreme conservatives like Sam Brownback of Kansas have fought for the preservation of key pieces of FDR's New Deal. But setting aside the New Deal, what of WW II? Both Churchill and Josef Stalin agreed that the most important factor in the Allied victory over the Axis forces was FDR's moral and political leadership. It is possible that much of the needed legislation passed in the thirties would have passed without FDR (though not likely -- many, many Americans were publicly hoping for the installation of a dictator in the early thirties, an option that FDR firmly rejected). And it is possible that another strong leader would have emerged as the US entered WW II. But the brute fact is that FDR was there when most needed. And he was there because Louis Howe supported FDR through the bleakest period of his life.As Fenster shows so well, Louis Howe was equally crucial to the development of Eleanor Roosevelt. She essentially became the person she did because of Howe. Eleanor is almost universally regarded as the greatest of all First Ladies, but she was far more than that, a major public figure in her own right, even serving as the first ambassador to the United Nations from the United States. Her work in advancing the participation of women in politics has few parallels and with a husband who was unable to travel, she became his eyes and legs. Fenster explains how Howe helped her rely upon her strengths and correct her weaknesses (such as a natural tendency to giggle in the middle of her speeches). Fenster explains how Eleanor gave over a hundred speeches to an audience of one person, Louis Howe. He would then go over the speech with her, analyzing what worked and what did not, and helping her craft an effective speaking style. And even when she gave speeches, Howe would set at the back, communicating with her through the set of hand signals they worked out together.But Howe's help was greater than that to Eleanor. In a time when she was struggling with her own perplexity about what to do with her life while her husband was struggling with illness and demanding so much attention, Howe comforted Eleanor as much as he propped up Franklin. Quite likely neither Franklin nor Eleanor Roosevelt would have become the figures that they did without Louis Howe. It is, then, hardly surprising that there is a biography on Louis Howe. The surprise is that there have been so few.If you are a student of either of the Roosevelts, then is a very fine addition to an FDR/Eleanor collection. I have about thirty books on FDR and already knew a great deal that is contained in the book, but it definitely deepened my knowledge of FDR's most celebrated aide. Even so there are some things you will learn elsewhere that were not mentioned here. For instance, there is the famous anecdote of Howe opening a bottle of alcohol that he had set aside a couple of decades earlier to be opened upon FDR's election to president (I think it was sherry, but I would need to look it up). When it was clear that FDR had the electoral votes to win, he opened the bottle and began drinking with delight. But there are many other things I learned for the first time. It certainly isn't a great first book on FDR, but if you are, like me, someone who every year tries to read one or two books on FDR, this is a very find book to take up.

FDR's Karl Rove

by Ronald H. Clark

Unless you are over 60, you probably have never heard of Louis Howe (1871-1936). Howe played a major role, perhaps the major role, in guiding FDR to the presidency. At his death, he was living in the White House and serving as a principal advisor to Roosevelt. This book focuses not only on Howe's influence on FDR, but also how he helped shape Eleanor Roosevelt herself into a potent political actor. So, the book is a biography of Howe, a study in how FDR moved from being a paralyzed, unsuccessful vice presidential candidate in 1921 to the Presidency, and an analysis of how Howe's influence impacted both Roosevelts and American politics. So, this book covers a lot of ground in a couple hundred pages.How successful you think the book is depends upon why you are reading it. This is not a thick scholarly tome, heavy with hundreds of footnotes, and going into everything in minute detail. In fact, the book really does not discuss much in detail following FDR's first election. However, if you want to get a quick oversight of Howe's significance, and gain some new insights into the Roosevelts, the book well satisfies that objective. I particularly found the author's discussion of FDR's early initial political career in Duchess County and Albany most interesting, since few books on FDR cover this topic to any extent. The book also helped me better understand the sensitive relationship between FDR and Al Smith, certainly a fascinating character in his own right. The author has done a good job of research, especially making use of papers at the FDR Library in Hyde Park. For the general reader, the writing is very clear and easy to follow; and even for those (including myself) who have studied the FDR era, some new information and perspectives emerge. Some very helpful illustrations are included as well. But this definitely is not an "in-depth" study, which is why it is valuable as a brief overview of Howe and the Roosevelts for those not already conversant with this unique political figure.


by Stephen T. Hopkins

Something about Franklin Delano Roosevelt led Louis Howe to conclude that he could become President of the United States, and Howe devoted two decades of his life to making that happen. Julie Fenster's new book, FDR's Shadow: Louis Howe, The Force That Shaped Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, credits Howe with making both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt excellent politicians. This is a well documented story, based on many primary records, including the personal papers of Louis Howe that were released to the public by the FDR Library in 2006. Until I read this book, I had noted Howe as part of the Roosevelt team, and considered him as a secondary player, perhaps because his death in 1936 preceded the majority of Roosevelt's time in office as President. Thanks to Fenster, I now have a greater appreciation of the role that Howe played in the formation of FDR as a master politician and leader, and in the important way he helped Eleanor find her place in the public arena. FDR's Shadow is a well written account of the time and the players, and reminded me of the value and importance of candid friends who can communicate freely with leaders who need to listen to voices different from their own.Rating: Three-star (Recommended)

A Strange Man's Impactful Journey/more Fingy Conners please

by Thomas Grover

Louis Howe's impact on FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt, and thus his impact on world history is amazing. This book does a great job of telling us not of great events, but of Howe the man. What would cause a man to virtually ignore his own wife and children for a lifetime while ingratiating himself into an initially resistant Roosevelt family in any and all ways possible ?Howe was a poor provider and had difficulty keeping a job, partly due to an unpleasant personality. He also selfishly turned down profitable opportunities just to stay close to the Roosevelts. Fortunately for his family, after decades of relative poverty his wife inherited a substantial income from none other than Lizzie Borden, the Fall River Massachusetts woman believed to have murdered her parents with an axe.Howe did have his strengths though. He was a tremendously prescient political operator who saw the potential in both FDR and Eleanor long before anyone else, including themselves. He then,over a period of decades that included having to deal with FDR's paralysis, engineered perhaps the most improbable political comeback in American History. At the same time he brought Eleanor out of her "shell" to become one of the most influential American women in modern history.I think the chances are high that had Howe not existed, FDR and Eleanor would be unknown to us today. Given the Roosevelt's world wide impact during the depression, the War, and beyond one can only imagine how the World would look today if there had been no Louis Howe.A note to the author:The reader is introduced to a wildly colorful character named Fingy Conners, a 19th and early 20th century tycoon. I happen to have written, and published, a magazine article on this mans life and know well his story. It would be wonderful if a writer of Ms. Fensters ability would write a book on him.

The Man Who Made FDR President Steps Out of the Shadows

by W. C HALL

The subject of the book, Louis McHenry Howe, devoted more than two decades of his life to the cause of electing Franklin Roosevelt as President of the United States. In the pages of Julie Fenster's new biography, Howe finally steps out of the shadows and we gain a clearer understanding of his life. It was a life crowned with great professional success after years of frustration and failure, but apparently never blessed with personal happiness. Fenster has taken advantage of the recent opening of Howe's personal papers at the FDR library to present a more rounded picture of Howe's life than was previously possible.Howe was born into a life of wealth and privilege in Indiana in 1871, but battled poor health from his childhood onward. He married, but the marriage was not a happy one, and he and his wife spent the majority of their years together living apart. Howe worked as a journalist and political operative with only middling success for many years before crossing paths with a young New York State Senator named Franklin Delano Roosevelt.Although Howe devoted many years to serving Roosevelt, this biography makes clear that the years 1921-22 were the pivotal ones in the relationship. After FDR was stricken with polio, Howe moved into the Roosevelt household full time, and devoted himself to keeping FDR's political flame alive when most everyone thought he was doomed to a life of invalidism. It was during those years that the relationship between Howe and Eleanor Roosevelt deepened, and he became a mentor to the once shy and awkward woman who would go on to become one of the country's greatest First Ladies.Sadly, Howe did not have many years to enjoy the fruits of his decades of labor. He died midway through FDR's first term in the While House. But by then, the greatest goal of his life had already been accomplished.--William C. Hall

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