Saturday, December 21, 2013

Review: Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt:  Volume One 1884-1933 (Part One)Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume One 1884-1933
Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume II: 1933 - 38
by Blanche Wiesen Cook

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume II: 1933 - 38"In many ways Eleanor Roosevelt remains a bellwether for our belief system. A woman who insists on her right to self-identity, a woman who creates herself over and over again, a woman of consummate power and courageous vision continues to challenge our sense of what is acceptable and what is possible. To this day, there is no agreement as to who Ealeanoir Roosevelt was, what she represented, or how she lived her life. Her friends and her detractors have made extravagant claims of goodness and mercy, foolishness and naivete. She has acquired sainthood and been consigned to sinner status. Many of us, especially those of us born daughters in a world that encouraged daughters to sit along the sidelines of action, are drawn to her because of her vision and her commitment to an activit's life. She continues to haunt our memories and inspire our days, because she never gave up on life; she never stopped learning and changing. She worked to transform our world in behalf of greater dignity and more security for all people, for women and men in equal measure" (from the Introduction to vol. 1, p.3)
This two volume biography presents a sympathetic, but not entirely laudatory, view of a woman who struggled with many personal challenges yet accomplished a tremendous amount for the good of others. The men in her world, including her Uncle Teddy Roosevelt and her husband, FDR do not come out looking particularly good. And whatever your mother-in-law is like, she is a dream compared to Sarah Delano Roosevelt.

I was struck by how many of the things ER was fighting for (universal healthcare, equal pay for women, peace) are still ongoing battles. Many of the arguments ER made in columns and speeches could be made today and would be just as relevant. Weisen Cook uses many letters and other documents from ER's life to tell her story and then provides a context and a wider view to put those primary documents into perspective.
This biography is engaging and well written and the life it describes is inspiring. There is also a tremendous amount of good advice in this book. Including this offered by ER to women involved in the 1936 political campaign: "You must finish the day's work when the day's work is done. You cannot get discouraged too easily. You have to take defeat over and over again and pick up and go on. Be sure of your facts."

1 comment:

  1. Very nice review and a very impressive subject. I don't read many biographies but you make this one sound interesting and worthwhile.


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