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Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage Hardcover – October 26, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"In my view, the Roosevelts' bond was political in every sense of the word," writes Rowley, who also argues that despite the difficulties in their marriage, Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt always genuinely loved each other. And the difficulties in the marriage were many: Franklin's domineering mother; his flirtatiousness with attractive women; Eleanor's long, maddening retreats into self-righteous silence whenever she was hurt or angry. After 11 years of marriage, Eleanor offered Franklin a divorce upon discovering his affair with her social secretary, Lucy Mercer (she, not Eleanor, would be with FDR when he died). But after he was struck by polio in 1921, she tolerated Franklin's long romance with his secretary, Missy LeHand, while FDR allowed Eleanor her romantic relationships with her chauffeur, Earl Miller, and journalist Lorena Hickok. Despite Rowley's (Christina Stead) cheerleading that the cousins' conflicts brought out their courage and radicalism, and that they loved with a generosity of spirit that withstood betrayal, FDR emerges as a narcissist while Eleanor carved a spectacular life for herself out of a flawed marriage. While much of this story is familiar, the book is nonetheless an engrossing account of an unusual pairing of two extraordinary people. 8 pages of b&w illus. (Nov.) (c)
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From Booklist

The literature on the lives of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt is vast as well as deep. Most of us are familiar with the basic facts of the seemingly practical partnership that forged an entirely new model for America’s first couple. Everyone agrees that their individual and joint contributions to the social, political, and cultural landscape of twentieth-century America are immeasurable, but most believe their personal achievements exacted an excruciatingly high personal cost. Rowley, refreshingly, disagrees as she paints a compulsively readable portrait of a vibrant partnership and a successful, albeit unconventional, marriage that nevertheless suited the ambitions and the temperaments of each partner. There are no good or bad guys in this glimpse into the intimate spousal accord that bound the Roosevelts together; both Franklin and Eleanor emerge as willing participants in an unorthodox covenant that defied societal norms and expectations in favor of a productive and mutually beneficial working partnership built on friendship, mutual admiration, and abiding intellectual respect. It might not be everyone’s idea of an ideal marriage, but it seemed to work for them, so why argue? --Margaret Flanagan

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (October 26, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374158576
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374158576
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (126 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #283,680 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Hazel Rowley, brought up in England and Australia, lives in New York City. Her new book, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: An Extraordinary Marriage, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, was named among the 2010 TEN BEST BOOKS (Maureen Corrigan, Fresh Air, NPR).

Rowley moved to Paris for two years to write Tête-à-Tête: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre (Harper Collins, 2005). A Washington Post Best Book for 2005, the book has been translated into thirteen languages. In Brazil it was a bestseller, and in France the prestigious literary magazine Lire named it "the best literary biography of 2006."

Rowley wrote Richard Wright: The Life and Times (Henry Holt, 2001) while she was affiliated with the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro American Studies at Harvard. The book had cover reviews in the New York Times and Washington Post and was listed among the 2001 Washington Post Book World Raves. It was re-issued by Chicago University Press in 2008.

Christina Stead: A Biography (Heinemann, 1993) won Australia's most prestigious prize, the National Book Award for Nonfiction. Published in the US by Henry Holt and in the UK by Secker & Warburg, it received glowing reviews from the likes of Doris Lessing, James Wood, and Lorna Sage (TLS),and was named as a New York Times Notable Book. It was re-issued in 2007 by Miegunyah Press, Melbourne, Australia.

Hazel Rowley has appeared four times in The Best Australian Essays. She has published articles in Partisan Review, Mississippi Quarterly, Antioch Review, Contemporary Literature, Prose Studies, Auto/Biography Studies, Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Southerly and Westerly, and reviews books for The Times Literary Supplement, The London Times Higher Education Supplement, Boston Globe, Washington Post, The Nation, and L.A. Times.

A passionate speaker, she has appeared at numerous book festivals and literary events in the US, Canada, UK, France, and Australia.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

89 of 91 people found the following review helpful By Ellen Reibel on November 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I confess I approached Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage with trepidation. Not another book about the Roosevelts, I thought. But Rowley's perfectly paced one volume account of two larger-than-life figures stunningly demonstrates that not only is there room for another book, there is a need for this book.

Rowley's triumph is her impartiality. Most Roosevelt biographies deal with either FDR or ER, but even those which limn both lives tend to champion one and demonize the other. Rowley's account is perhaps the first that is truly evenhanded. She celebrates the strengths and achievements of both partners in the greatest political marriage of modern times, perhaps of all times, and brings sympathy and understanding to the faults and weaknesses of each.

Rowley, the author of Tete-a-Tete, the acclaimed dual biography of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul-Sarte, is a gifted observer of relationships. In fact, Franklin and Eleanor is not so much a dual biography as a dazzling dissection of an unconventional marriage. That is the real originality of the book.

Their union broke rules. Each led an independent life. From the very beginning, these two distant cousins were temperamentally incompatible and politically and publicly attuned. Alone, each of them would have been effective. Together they were glorious. More than that, as Rowley makes clear, without each other they would not have become the Franklin and Eleanor who transformed and dominated the twentieth century. Without Franklin, Eleanor might have lived out her life as a dutiful wife and mother rather than a force for justice and equality. Without Eleanor, FDR would have been a successful politician rather than a great statesman. But each of them pushed the other to new heights.
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32 of 32 people found the following review helpful By James Hiller VINE VOICE on December 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Am I embarrassed to admit that I saw this book as a local bookstore on the table, and passed it up originally? Yes! I'm an unoffical scholar of our 32nd president and his wife, and admire their work and lives almost as I do this president: Lincoln, Life-Size.

The Roosevelts have a lure over me that I can't quite explain. Perhaps their persistent progressivism, that is so missing in our country today, refreshes. Whatever the case, when I saw the cover of the book on the table, I went over and leafed through a couple of pages ... and then walked on. Why? I thought, "Who needs to read another book on the Roosevelt marriage? Hasn't that been written about before?". The answer is yes, and no. Hazel Rowley's new book is a fresh look at this great couple, and a read that was well-worth my time.

First let me say that this book doesn't uncover any major new revelations. What Crowley has brilliant done is nuanced the current knowledge of the Roosevelts and added much dynamics and commentary to what we already know. For example, any Roosevelt reader knows about the infamous Mercer affair. Covered in this book, Mercer strives to paint a picture of Eleanor after the affair as not distant or unkind, but still caring of her husband. Crowley publishes excerpts of letters between the two that suggest just as much. In fact, when FDR contracts polio, it is Eleanor that nurses her husband, and even sleeps in the window bed beside him.

Crowley also strives to dismantle the common conception of the battle between Sara Roosevelt and Eleanor. While certainly conflicts existed between the two, they were mutually fond of each other.
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46 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Wayne S. Swift on November 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Wow! As a Roosevelt scholar, I kept saying to myself, "I didn't know that!" Hazel Rowley is a gifted, generous yet economical writer. In only 302 novelistic pages she vividly depicts the forty year Roosevelt marriage and the whole community of friends, advisors, and lovers they created around them. As you zip through the years in a narrative that never bogs down, you will be amazed by the depth of her research. Missy LeHand, Lucy Mercer Rutherford, Daisy Suckley, Earl Miller, Lorena Hickock, and Louis Howe are fully realized here and placed securely in the context of a loving Roosevelt partnership. Cutting through myths and unfair characterizations, she confidently portrays a much stronger and more flexible marriage than previous biographers had dared to see. I love and admire the authority and courage with which she guides us through this complex and fascinating world.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Diana Bryce on February 5, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Despite being an avid republican with rather unfavorable lifelong impressions of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, I decided to give this book a go and I'm so glad I did. Here's why. It reads like a great romantic novel with rich characters, lush settings, intrigue, suspense and great passions. It provides the most pleasureable history lessons on the everyday life of blue bloods in the early twentieth century and depression and wartime area politics. It greatly changed my set opinions of Franklin and Eleanor, somewhat in a negative direction, but mostly positively. For instance, for the first time I could appreciate how intense Franklin's charm must have been because of the godlike devotion it inspired in all those close to him. As for Eleanor, I learned that she was so much more than the homely, socialist I'd pictured. In fact, she was a surprisingly complex woman with her own beauty when all facets were looked at.
Thank you, Hazel Rowley, for broadening my outlook in such an enjoyable way.
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