This is not a book about President Roosevelt. It is an effort to communicate, through the words of many writers, something of the ideas, the problems, and the actions of men and women in Franklin Roosevelt's America between 1932 and 1945. The degree to which that age, or any age, expresses itself in its literature must remain ultimately unknown and unknowable. The editor who wrenches out of context those writings and portions of writings that seem to him capable of evoking significant moments or experiences is both privileged and handicapped by the unearned gift of historical hindsight. He can decide -- although not without trepidations -- that a given short story or poem captures the flavor of a moment in time. He is aware of the irony with which time can invest the most casual sketch or can nullify the most portentous prophecy or analysis. But, in his eagerness to find epitomes, he may give undeserved importance to an apparently symbolic work that actually sprang from purely local and personal motives; thus, Mr. James Thurber has been so kind as to explain that one of his admirable stories "was by no means the result of the period in America in any economic or political sense, but was written simply because a certain young woman had been for several months driving me nuts."
The editor may also become aware (as this one has) that some notable literary figures are missing from his compilation. But the purpose of this book has not been to excerpt the finest literary works published while Mr. Roosevelt was president, but rather to assemble a coherent and connected group of materials for a social history of the age. The work of Thomas Wolfe, for example, cannot be ignored by any literary historian of the Thirties; but it has little to contribute to such a book as this, partly because Wolfe's concerns were so predominantly personal, and also because his work must be read extensively to produce its characteristic effect.