Roosevelt House is pleased to present a discussion of the new book Unlikely Heroes: Franklin Roosevelt, His Four Lieutenants, and the World They Made by Derek Leebaert. In this absorbing and illuminating history, Leebaert constructs a fresh understanding of FDR and his presidency by spotlighting the powerful, equally wounded figures whom he chose to confront the Depression and defeat the Axis.
Drawing on new materials, Unlikely Heroes delivers a fascinating and eye-opening portrait of the four people who served at the top echelon of President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration—from the frightening early months of spring 1933 until he died in April 1945, on the cusp of wartime victory. These lieutenants—Harry Hopkins, Harold Ickes, Frances Perkins, and Henry Wallace—composed the tough, long-term core of government. They developed the institutions established to address the Depression, implemented the New Deal, and were pivotal to winning World War II.
Yet, in their different ways, each of the four advisors had begun as an outsider. Up to 1933, writes Leebaert, none would ever have been considered for high office. Still, each became a world figure without whom it would have been exceedingly difficult for Roosevelt to transform the nation. By examining the lives of these individuals, a different picture emerges of how Americans saved their democracy and rescued civilization overseas—overcoming dangers that are troublingly similar to those America faces today.
Derek Leebaert won the biennial 2020 Truman Book Award for Grand Improvisation: America Confronts the British Superpower, 1945-1957. His other books include Magic and Mayhem: The Delusions of American Foreign Policy from Korea to Afghanistan and To Dare and to Conquer: Special Operations and the Destiny of Nations, both Washington Post Best Books of the Year. He was a founding editor of the Harvard/MIT journal International Security and is a cofounder of the National Museum of the U.S. Army. He holds a D.Phil from Oxford and lives in Washington, D.C.
Scott Borchert is the author of Republic of Detours: How the New Deal Paid Broke Writers to Rediscover America, winner of the inaugural New Deal Book Award. He has written for The New York Times, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. This is his second appearance in a Roosevelt House program.