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Eleanor

Review

Eleanor

Reviving our interest in one of America’s great crusaders at this crucial time, bestselling author David Michaelis examines the life and times of Eleanor Roosevelt in ELEANOR.

In her earliest years, Eleanor knew, if she did not fully understand, tragedy. When she was three, traveling by sea on the S.S. Britannic, her family was saved in a lifeboat after a collision with another liner; her mother and brother died of diphtheria; and her father, confined to an asylum, died from alcohol-related causes. Raised by a strict socialite grandmother, the girl was taught that women do not seek professions, but must groom themselves to find a prosperous mate and manage a household.

Eleanor would gradually rebel against this 19th-century credo to become one of the highest-profile women in American political history, arguably the first to step far outside the confines of her role as first lady, as wife of a governor, then of a president. Her lifetime spanned two world wars and a marriage that gave, as Michaelis depicts it, a general good show of stability and mutual respect.

"Michaelis allows us to see Eleanor’s public face and her private moments outside the box of her fame."

However, behind the scenes was infidelity, first by her husband Franklin, with a secretary, and later by Eleanor herself as she slowly gained self-confidence and took on roles as an exemplar of women’s rights. Her liaisons were with both men and women, the latter well defined by her passionate daily letters to reporter Lorena “Hick” Hickok.

A caring mother and supportive spouse and nurse to a disabled husband charged with leading a country at war, Eleanor found her place in the fray when she began knitting socks for soldiers in 1917. From there, she headed Red Cross efforts and, when Franklin contracted polio, began to take his place in public appearances, traveling thousands of miles a year during the height of the Great Depression. Concerned about the plight of America’s Black citizens, she worked on their behalf, allying herself whenever possible with the goals of the NAACP. These views expanded as the world changed; she became active at the UN and, in 1961, was appointed by President Kennedy as the first chairperson of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. 

To fully portray someone whose circumstances and courageous attitude put her on the world stage with some of the best-known figures in the politics and government of her times cannot be an easy task, but in this lengthy exploration, Michaelis allows us to see Eleanor’s public face and her private moments outside the box of her fame. From her own writings and a mountain of other important sources, he paints her as human, female and, at times, vulnerable and sad. As Michaelis notes, even towards the end, “Her happiest days now involved winning fights.” It is Eleanor’s fighting spirit that may reemerge to inspire a new generation.

Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on October 16, 2020

Eleanor
by David Michaelis

  • Publication Date: October 6, 2020
  • Genres: Biography, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 720 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 1439192014
  • ISBN-13: 9781439192016