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Author to speak about new book on FDR, polio

Author James Tobin believes Franklin Delano Roosevelt would not have become president if he had not contracted polio.


Tobin will discuss his theory and his new book, The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency (Simon & Schuster, 2013), at 3 p.m. Wednesday, April 2 in the Ward M. Canaday Center for Special Collections on the fifth floor of UT’s Carlson Library.

The free, public talk will be followed by a book signing and reception.

In his new work, Tobin, who won the National Book Critics Circle Award for his previous book titled Ernie Pyle’s War, examines how FDR used his battle with polio as the narrative that helped get him elected president in 1932.

“The conventional wisdom is that FDR became president in spite of polio. I think the evidence suggests an alternative truth — that he became president because of polio,” he said.

Tobin contends that Roosevelt’s long recovery period kept him out of the presidential race in the mid-1920s when he would not have stood a chance of winning. He also believes that FDR’s public battle to overcome the effects of polio established him as a fighter in the minds of the American public, and this narrative helped him to get elected in the darkest years of the Great Depression. Before polio, FDR was hampered by his image as an aristocrat, but after polio, FDR could present himself as a man of the people willing to fight for the nation’s recovery.

“Polio by itself did not make Roosevelt the man he became,” Tobin concluded. “But one cannot see Roosevelt in full without a deep understanding of his encounter with disease and disability. Without the polio virus and what it did to FDR, the history of American life since the 1920s would not be what it has been.”

Copies of Tobin’s book will be available for sale at the event.

Click here to download a photo of Tobin.

Media Coverage
The Blade (April 2, 2014)

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