Franklin Delano Roosevelt's first hundred days in office came during the country's worst moment in history. The Great Depression was at its darkest point the economy in collapse, people desperate for jobs, money and food. During these bleak days many questioned whether democracy itself was a failure, suggesting America needed a dictator on the order of Mussolini or the barely known Hitler to set things right. These voices did not come from the bizarre fringes of society, but from such prominent sources as The New York Daily News and national columnist Walter Lippman. Almost no one saw much hope for the future, in America or anywhere else.
But Roosevelt did. The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope turns the dial back to those early days when few knew whether any solution could save the nation from teetering into fascism on one side and revolution on the other. Newsweek political columnist Jonathan Alter argues that Roosevelt offered a sea change in politics, an ability to depart from the way things had always been done, tied to a willingness to experiment to try anything until something worked. It was this combination, along with the gift of talking directly to the common man, that allowed Roosevelt to bring hope back to America. The Defining Moment is a fascinating window into a time that changed the very way our nation thinks about government and its role in society. At times Alter's political biases poke through, but his writing is deft, pulling the reader rapidly along and creating a feeling of tension that echoes the desperation of the times a remarkable achievement for a book examining bank runs, government social experimentation and bureaucratic foibles. If you want to understand how our government came to be what it is today, or if you just want an interesting read about a pivotal time in history, this is indeed a defining book. Howard Shirley is a writer in Franklin, Tennessee.