Though the name Lewis Douglas may not be familiar to most Americans today, in his time he was a figure of national prominence. The son of a mining magnate, Douglas grew up in comfort amidst the rough life of the mining towns of Arizona and Sonora before being sent east for an education at elite prep schools in New York and New Jersey. After service in the First World War, he returned home and entered politics, winning election to Congress in 1926. Quickly developing a reputation as a fiscal conservative, Douglas was asked by Franklin D. Roosevelt to serve as his first budget director and played a critical role in the development of the New Deal, but left the post less than two years into his administration due to his objections to the increasing amount of deficit spending. He returned to government during the Second World War, serving a vital role in the War Shipping Administration before concluding his career as the American ambassador to Great Britain in the late 1940s.
Covering such a varied life requires command of a formidable body of information. In this his biographers, Robert Paul Browder and Thomas G. Smith, prove more than equal to the task. Using a wide array of sources, they write about issues as diverse as the fight over Colorado River water, the budget debates of the early New Deal, and the efforts to tackle postwar reconstruction in Europe with equal authority. They portray Douglas as a charming and capable man who remained true to his principles, never deviating from his conservative beliefs even when they were out of step with the times. Such principles won him considerable admiration but stunted what started out as a promising political career, one which could have led to even greater political heights than the ones he achieved.
Well written and informative, Browder and Smith’s biography is a good book about an unjustly overlooked political figure. The product of meticulous research in a range of archives, it easily stands as the definitive work on Douglas’s life and career, one unlikely to be bettered in the future. With it, readers can gain a better appreciation of a capable and talented man, one whose political career ultimately was defined by principles to which he held fast regardless of the limits they imposed on his prospects.