Mar 5 • 49M

Derek Leebaert | Podcast

Author, 'Unlikely Heroes: Franklin Roosevelt, His Four Lieutenants, and the World They Made'

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James Strock
Derek Leebaert
The Serve to Lead podcast focuses on today’s extraordinary leadership opportunities in business, government, and politics. In a time of intense polarization, this includes advancing our shared American identity and narrative. James Strock is an independent writer, speaker, entrepreneur, lawyer, and reformer. His most recent book is 'Serve to Lead 2.0: 21st Century Leaders Manual.' Strock writes ‘The Next Nationalism’ at Substack.
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Derek Leebaert—historian, strategist, organizational leadership and management consultant, and bestselling author of a series of critically acclaimed books—has written an outstanding and timely new work: Unlikely Heroes: Franklin Roosevelt, His Four Lieutenants, and the World They Made.

In this episode of the Serve to Lead podcast, Leebaert discusses the book, its genesis and its uncanny relevance in our historic moment.

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Unlikely Heroes

Publisher’s Summary

Only four people 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 composed the tough, constrictive, long-term core of government. They built the great institutions being raised against the Depression, implemented the New Deal, and they were pivotal to winning World War II.

Yet, in their different ways, each was as wounded as the polio-stricken titan. Harry Hopkins, Harold Ickes, Frances Perkins, and Henry Wallace were also strange outsiders. Up to 1933, none would ever have been considered for high office. Still, each became a world figure, and it would have been exceedingly difficult for Roosevelt to transform the nation without them. By examining the lives of these four, a very different picture emerges of how Americans saved their democracy and rescued civilization overseas. Many of the dangers that they all overcame are troublingly like those America faces today.

Critical Acclaim

“Mr. Leebaert takes a fresh tack by making his subject the Ickes-Perkins-Hopkins-Wallace bloc. … [And] here is the crucial thing for the gossip-hungry Roosevelt, and a boon for readers of Unlikely Heroes―they were never, ever boring." ―The Wall Street Journal

“Leebaert has done the near impossible—crafted a fresh and challenging portrait of the man and his inner circle.” —Richard Norton Smith, author of An Uncommon Man, former director of the Hoover, Eisenhower, Reagan, and Ford presidential libraries.

“A fascinating and absorbing analysis of FDR’s brilliantly chosen team of four courageous and creative men and women.Susan Dunn, author of 1940: FDR, Willkie, Lindbergh, Hitler—the Election Amid the Storm, Massachusetts Professor of Humanities, Williams College.

“In the vein of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals (2005), political historian Leebaert illuminates the dynamics of FDR’s consequential administration by focusing on four of his lieutenants … Leebaert sheds new light on FDR’s managerial capabilities and ably demonstrates that the cultivation of diversified and resilient talent was essential to the administration’s endurance.” ―Booklist

“Leebaert thoroughly mines diaries, letters, and oral histories to deliver a fine-grained study of the ties that bound this consequential administration. It’s an enlightening investigation into the alchemy of successful governance.” ―Publishers Weekly

"Leebaert is good at adducing current themes in past history, including regional divisions, racism, inequality, trickle-down economics, and a politicized and obstructionist Supreme Court...A nuanced study of reformist government in action and its behind-the-scenes players." ―Kirkus Reviews

“Leebaert follows four protagonists from President Franklin Roosevelt’s inner circle during the Depression. … An intimate portrait of FDR’s inner circle during the New Deal. Readers of U.S. history, economics, and political science should greatly enjoy this volume.” ―Library Journal

“A brilliantly captivating portrait of Roosevelt and his four most important associates, revealing their interwoven lives and friendships. Not only does it provide a unique perspective on the twelve tumultuous years of FDR’s presidency, it is full of illuminating insights into the upheavals of America today.” ―Liaquat Ahamed, Pulitzer-winning author, Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World

“By bringing alive the friendships among FDR’s key officials, Leebaert enables us to feel like insiders during that desperate time…among the many books about Roosevelt―none grants such vibrant access as does Unlikely Heroes.” ―Major-General Mari K. Eder, U.S. Army (ret), former Deputy Commanding General, U.S. Army Reserves, and author of The Girls Who Stepped Out of Line: Untold Stories of the Women Who Changed the Course of World War II

About Derek Leebaert

Derek Leebaert won the biennial 2020 Truman Book Award for Grand Improvisation. His previous 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.

Otherwise he has long been a management consultant, advising enterprises in the IT, defense, and healthcare sectors. He coauthored the MIT Press trilogy on the rise of the information technology revolution, including MIT's The Future of the Electronic Marketplace.

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Image Credit | Author photo, Nancy Crampton, Macmillan Publishers.