The Last 100 Days: FDR at War and Peace, by David B. Woolner (New York: Basic Books; 368 pp., $32.00). The author of this engaging, highly interesting, and extremely well-written book is senior fellow and Hyde Park Resident Historian at the Roosevelt Institute, in addition to holding academic professorships at both Marist and Bard College. His idea to provide the hundred-day end-bracket to Franklin Roosevelt’s presidency was by no means an artificial conceit. Instead, it has a powerful dramatic reality. Roosevelt knew he was ill, though not how ill, a fact his doctors withheld from him and his family. And he could not fail to be aware of his own physical and mental exhaustion, and the strain it was putting upon his faculties. Roosevelt, in short, knew that he had much to do, and little time in which to do it. Woolner, drawing upon a number of collections of recently released papers, succeeds admirably in portraying Roosevelt’s concerned state of mind in the last months of his presidency, and of his life, when “with [his] exhaustion came a narrowing of his view of what was important to him, the nation, and the world.” First, of course, he had a war to win on several fronts, and was faced with the immediate crisis of a German counteroffensive in the Ardennes that caused the Allied forces to retreat 60 miles westward toward the North Sea. But he had also to address weariness and anxiety on the domestic front, and—most important to him after military victory—to establish a new system of international security in the form of the United Nations. According to Woolner, this future institution was of such great importance to Roosevelt that he seriously considered resigning his office in order to take the position of secretary-general. The Last 100 Days offers an intimate view of Roosevelt’s final months that, Woolner explains, “would not [have been] possible without the recently constructed day-to-day calendar of his activities and contacts” that was provided by the FDR Presidential Library as a result of many years of meticulous research. His is a very excellent and important book.
American Empire: A Global History, by A.G. Hopkins (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press; 960 pp., $39.95). Professor Hopkins, formerly of Cambridge University, arrived in America to join the faculty of the University of Texas at Austin on September 10, 2001. The event that followed the morning after, and the American invasion of Iraq in March 2003, caused him to set aside work in progress and begin this rather massive book, whose analytical context is shaped by the author’s previous interests in globalization, in how “imperial expansion transmitted globalizing impulses,” the history of the indigenous citizens of former colonial states, and “how the world looks from the other side of the frontier.” Throughout recorded history, empire has been the default sociopolitical structure. “Political philosophers in many ages,” J.A. Hobson wrote, “speculated on an empire as the only feasible security for peace, a hierarchy of States conforming on the larger scale to the feudal order within a single state.” Hopkins has tried to place the United States, as he says, within a frame of reference that far exceeds her borders: to
[insert] the national epic into a global, and specifically imperial, context. Globalization and empires were interlinked throughout the three centuries covered by this study. Empires were both assertive innovators and agents of globalization. Impulses of expansion and contraction moved in unison; chains of cause and consequence ran in both directions.
He concludes that Western empires were similar in their methods of rule, in the reasons for their rise and the causes of their fall, while noting distinctive elements as well as the many commonalities they shared. Nevertheless, Hopkins politely rejects the claim of American “exceptionalism”; peoples of all nations, he remarks, have always considered themselves and their countries distinctive. His book, while intellectually dense and requiring careful and persistent reading, is an original as well as an excellent work.