Escapism sold books, to be sure, but not nearly as many as were sold by exposing America’s flaws and making the average American reader (and book club member) look closely at his or her most cherished social assumptions. Americans might not be eager to accept integration, feminism, homosexuality, juvenile delinquency, and the drug culture– or to shoulder the blame for the existence of these problems– but they were certainly willing to read about them.
Peter Fleming was a famous English traveler, explorer and adventurer, whose non-fiction books were hugely successful. My father owned signed copies of all of them - he and Peter Fleming had become acquainted over some detail of set design at the Korda film studio in Shepperton - and I had read each of them with breathless adolescent excitement.
FDR had a certain charisma, at least in his first term, with the big grin, the cigarette holder at a jaunty angle, and the battered hat on his imposing head, but no other American president since then has had it except JFK - indeed, some of them have been positively anti-charismatic, like Gerald Ford, Carter, and the Bushes.
Citizens of Rome might boast that the claim of 'Civus romanus sum' set them apart from barbarians and slaves, and it was true up to a point, but Roman citizens lived in a society that accepted pain, cruelty, and torture as the norm, and in which there was no suggestion of equality at birth or mercy in the afterlife.