Illinois State Library

Illinois Center for the Book


Individual Author Record

General Information

Name:  Jonathan Alter  

Pen Name: None

Genre: History Non-Fiction

Audience: Adult;

Born: 1957 in Chicago


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Illinois Connection

Alter was born and raised in Chicago.

Biographical and Professional Information

Jonathan Alter is journalist and author who was a columnist and senior editor for Newsweek magazine from 1983 until 2011. He was a lead columnist for Bloomberg View, a new commentary website. Currently, he is a columnist for the Daily Beast, a political analyst for NBC News and MSNBC and at work on a biography of Jimmy Carter and an HBO documentary on The great newspapermen Jimmy Breslin and Pete Hamill. Today, Alter lives in Montclair, New Jersey, with his wife Emily Lazar, a former executive producer of the Comedy Central show ''The Colbert Report''.


Published Works Expand for more information


Titles At Your Library

The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope
ISBN: 0743246012

Simon & Schuster. 2007

This is the story of a political miracle—the perfect match of man and moment.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in March of 1933 as America touched bottom. Banks were closing everywhere. Millions of people lost everything. The Great Depression had caused a national breakdown. With the craft of a master storyteller, Jonathan Alter brings us closer than ever before to the Roosevelt magic. Facing the gravest crisis since the Civil War, FDR used his cagey political instincts and ebullient temperament in the storied first Hundred Days of his presidency to pull off an astonishing conjuring act that lifted the country and saved both democracy and capitalism.

Who was this man? To revive the nation when it felt so hopeless took an extraordinary display of optimism and self-confidence. Alter shows us how a snobbish and apparently lightweight young aristocrat was forged into an incandescent leader by his domineering mother

his independent wife

his eccentric top adviser, Louis Howe

and his ally-turned-bitter-rival, Al Smith, the Tammany Hall street fighter FDR had to vanquish to complete his preparation for the presidency.

“Old Doc Roosevelt” had learned at Warm Springs, Georgia, how to lift others who suffered from polio, even if he could not cure their paralysis, or his own. He brought the same talents to a larger stage. Derided as weak and unprincipled by pundits, Governor Roosevelt was barely nominated for president in 1932. As president-elect, he escaped assassination in Miami by inches, then stiffed President Herbert Hoover's efforts to pull him into cooperating with him to deal with a terrifying crisis. In the most tumultuous and dramatic presidential transition in history, the entire banking structure came tumbling down just hours before FDR's legendary “only thing we have to fear is fear itself” Inaugural Address.

In a major historical find, Alter unearths the draft of a radio speech in which Roosevelt considered enlisting a private army of American Legion veterans on his first day in office. He did not. Instead of circumventing Congress and becoming the dictator so many thought they needed, FDR used his stunning debut to experiment. He rescued banks, put men to work immediately, and revolutionized mass communications with pioneering press conferences and the first Fireside Chat. As he moved both right and left, Roosevelt's insistence on "action now" did little to cure the Depression, but he began to rewrite the nation's social contract and lay the groundwork for his most ambitious achievements, including Social Security.

From one of America's most respected journalists, rich in insights and with fresh documentation and colorful detail, this thrilling story of presidential leadership—of what government is for—resonates through the events of today. It deepens our understanding of how Franklin Delano Roosevelt restored hope and transformed America.

The Defining Moment will take its place among our most compelling works of political history.

Between the Lines; A View Inside American Politics, People, and Culture
ISBN: 0681497556

State Street Press. 2008

New Hardcover with dust jacket

The Promise: President Obama, Year One
ISBN: 1439101191

Simon & Schuster. 2010

Barack Obama’s inauguration as president on January 20, 2009, inspired the world. But the great promise of “Change We Can Believe In” was immediately tested by the threat of another

Great Depression, a worsening war in Afghanistan, and an entrenched and deeply partisan system of business as usual in Washington. Despite all the coverage, the backstory of Obama’s historic first year in office has until now remained a mystery.

In The Promise: President Obama, Year One, Jonathan Alter, one of the country’s most respected journalists and historians, uses his unique access to the White House to produce the first inside look at Obama’s difficult debut.

What happened in 2009 inside the Oval Office? What worked and what failed? What is the president really like on the job and off-hours, using what his best friend called “a Rubik’s Cube in his brain?" These questions are answered here for the first time. We see how a surprisingly cunning Obama took effective charge in Washington several weeks before his election, made trillion-dollar decisions on the stimulus and budget before he was inaugurated, engineered colossally unpopular bailouts of the banking and auto sectors, and escalated a treacherous war not long after settling into office.

The Promise is a fast-paced and incisive narrative of a young risk-taking president carving his own path amid sky-high expectations and surging joblessness. Alter reveals that it was Obama alone—“feeling lucky”—who insisted on pushing major health care reform over the objections of his vice president and top advisors, including his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, who admitted that “I begged him not to do this.”

Alter takes the reader inside the room as Obama prevents a fistfight involving a congressman, coldly reprimands the military brass for insubordination, crashes the key meeting at the Copenhagen Climate Change conference, and bounces back after a disastrous

Massachusetts

election to redeem a promise that had eluded presidents since FDR.

In Alter’s telling, the real Obama is an authentic, demanding, unsentimental, and sometimes overconfident leader. He adapted to the presidency with ease and put more “points on the board” than he is given credit for, but neglected to use his leverage over the banks and failed to connect well with an angry public. We see the famously calm president cursing leaks, playfully trash-talking his advisors, and joking about even the most taboo subjects, still intent on redeeming more of his promise as the problems mount.

This brilliant blend of journalism and history offers the freshest reporting and most acute perspective on the biggest story of our time. It will shape impressions of the Obama presidency and of the man himself for years to come.

The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies
ISBN: 1451646089

Simon & Schuster. 2014

From the bestselling author of The Promise, the thrilling story of one of the most momentous contests in American history, the Battle Royale between Obama and his enemies from the 2010 midterms through the 2013 inauguration.

In The Center Holds, Jonathan Alter provides the first full account of America at the crossroads. With exclusive reporting and rare historical insight, he pierces the bubble of the White House and the presidential campaigns in a landmark election that marked the return of big money and the rise of big data. He tells the epic story of an embattled president fighting back with the first campaign of the Digital Age.

Alter relates the untold story behind Obama’s highs and lows, from the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound to the frustration of the debt ceiling fiasco to his unexpected run-ins with black and Latino activists. Alter takes us inside Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan’s Boston campaign as well as Obama’s disastrous preparation for the first debate. We meet Obama’s analytics geeks working out of “The Cave” and the man who secretly videotaped Romney’s infamous comments on the “47 percent.”

The Center Holds deepens our understanding of the Obama presidency and the future of the country.


Awards

N/A

Availability for Public Speaking

Speaking Engagement Availability: (Yes)