A Companion to Franklin D. Roosevelt. Edited by William D. Pederson. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. 784 pp.
A Companion to Harry S. Truman. Edited by Daniel S. Margolies. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012. 632 pp.
A Companion to Franklin D. Roosevelt is a valuable contribution to the series of companion editions published by Wiley-Blackwell to document the central historiographical features of, in this case, American presidents. Noted Franklin D. Roosevelt (or FDR) scholar, William D. Pederson, has done excellent work in crafting this large and detailed study that places Roosevelt and his presidency in a clear historiographical context. A Companion to Harry S. Truman, on the other hand, does much more than offer simple historiography. The book is very thorough, and many of its 27 essays actually are creative of a new synthesis or understanding of a topic. Daniel S. Margolies, as editor, provides clear and focused introductions to the book and to the sections that reveal a well-developed plan for covering the complexity of the Truman era.
Organized by issues and themes rather than chronologically or by crisis, the thirty-five essays in the Pederson volume are remarkably consistent in quality and are representative of the complexity of the Roosevelt era. Although there are too many essays to describe in detail here, the authors represent a cross-section of the profession--new, senior, social, cultural, and political, and this review will be simply a sampling of the rich resources provided by this volume.
The essays in the first part of the volume address a great deal of personal history, including biographies of FDR and of Eleanor Roosevelt, the prepresidential career, and an essay on how historians have dealt with FDR's physical and psychological health.
Biographies, perhaps the oldest of history art forms, are reviewed by Kenneth E. Hendrickson, Jr. His conclusion is that "no subject of biography has generated more literary chaos than Franklin Delano Roosevelt" (p. 1). He briefly surveys the biographies of FDR written by historians, journalists, associates, and relatives. Coming in for special praise from Hendrickson were works produced by Patrick J. Maney (The Roosevelt Presence: The Life and Legacy of FDR [Oakland: University of California Press, 1998]), Roy Jenkins (Franklin Delano Roosevelt: The American Presidents Series: The 32nd President, 1933-1945 [New York: Times Books, 2003]), and, especially, Jean Edward Smith (FDR [New...