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on July 19, 2000
No Ordinary Time is a wonderfully well written biography which tells the story of "Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt -- The Home Front in World War II." Doris Kearns Goodwin has made a number of choices to tell her biographical story with deceptive simplicity. I personally don't think the book quite manages to completely encompass "The Home Front in World War II" along the way, and I probably didn't want it to; instead it tells the story of the war through the Roosevelts' fascinating circle of White House "family" members, with broader historical themes touching on that story.
The personal story works. I've never read quite this sort of parallel biography before. In a lot of ways the relationship between FDR and his astonishingly complex, compassionate wife makes a perfect lens through which to view the times. Goodwin has plenty of chances to let Eleanor's various interests touch on different aspects of American life; hardly anything escapes the first lady's list of interests and causes, so there's no strain to include anything, that's for sure.
I sometimes found myself, though, wishing the emphasis was more squarely on biography proper. Four or five times in reading the book, I became momentarily bogged down in passages involving, say, big picture statistics, and wanted to concentrate on the motives and feelings of Eleanor and Franklin again. In particular, Eleanor's various interests often serve to introduce some new social issue, and I wanted to really understand *her* appreciation of things rather than reading a set of statistics she wouldn't have had access to anyway.
Honestly, though, No Ordinary Time breathes life into these people. You come away from the book understanding that they could be huge, monumental figures and yet be complex and flawed and very human at the same time. There's no taking away from the heart of the book. It's told well, and it makes a wonderful, rich, rewarding read.
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on November 23, 2002
This is one of the finest books I have ever read about America's involvement in World War II. Not only has Goodwin thoroughly researched her subject, but she knows how to tell it in an easily readable, "can't put it down" manner. Writing an informative, wonderfully illustrative book about the home front during mankind's biggest, deadliest war is a feat, but making readers feel as if they are actually living and experiencing that time is another accomplishment altogether. Goodwin does this in a book that will be read hundreds of years from now.
Anyone who wishes to get the feel for what it was like during this tumultuous time should buy this book, read it, and then read it again.
Many people of FDR's inner circle are profiled and narrated, including Lucy Mercer, the woman FDR fell in love with and nearly divorced Eleanor over; Missy LeHand, FDR's personal assistant whom many referred to as his "real" wife; as well as Ikes, Morgenthau, Stimson and most importantly, Harry Hopkins.
Goodwin also debunks some myths about the FDR presidency, both good and bad. Some World War II "Did You Know" tidbits covered:
1. Nearly 105,000 refugees from Nazism reached the U.S., more than any other country. Palestine was second with 55,000. No one disputes that the number should have been much, much higher, but today's attitudes would lead people to believe that we turned everyone away. Footnote - during FDR's presidency, only 3 percent of the population was Jewish - but 15 percent of his appointments were Jewish. Our greatest wartime president was no Anti-Semite.
2. The journey of the St. Louis. The author gives adequate attention to one of the great tragedies of the war, and an enormous stain on FDR's legacy.
3. Goodwin thoroughly covers the internment of Japanese-Americans - another enormous stain on FDR's presidency. But what is often ignored is the overwhelming pressure on FDR from a tremendous number of people to confine anyone even remotely related to the Japanese. This should not have mattered to FDR, and tragically, it did. One can only wonder if this was part of FDR's dealmaking mentality to accomplish many of his goals to prepare for and wage war. Quite possibly, if he didn't go along with this tragic idea, he many not have received cooperation on many of his other initiatives. People also tend to forget that this was all out war following a tragic, unprovoked attack. Many of the same things are happening to people of Arab decent following the 9/11 attacks, and the Bush administration doesn't hesitate to throw the rule book or Constitution out the window with people of Arab decent, all in the name of fighting terrorism. Rooting out sympathizers and spies was a principle reason in confining the Japanese. This is not a justification for internment, merely part of the reason.
4. Eleanor played a big role in trying to convince Congress to pass legislation that allowed British children to come to the U.S. so they could be out of harm's way during the bombing of Britian. William Schulte of Indiana tried to get the provision expanded to include all European children under 16 - including German Jewish children. The provision never made it to the Senate floor for a vote.
Goodwin also covers FDR's reasoning and motives behind lend-lease, the brilliant idea to provide war matériel to the Allies when they couldn't afford it. Even Stalin said that lend-lease was one of the biggest factors in winning the war.
In short, this is one of the most informative and educational books written yet about what the home front was like, and the thinking and wisdom that went into many of the decisions about the war. It also offers many wonderful insights into FDR and Eleanor, and their complex relationship that was really more of a partnership.
This brilliant tome belongs on any World War II bookshelf. I'd give it six stars if I could.
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Of the making of books on Franklin Delano and Eleanor Roosevelt there is not end. By any standard they remain two of the most remarkable people to have inhabited the White House, he as one of greatest presidents ever and she as without any serious competition the greatest first lady. Together, they forged a partnership without parallel in the nation's history.

In a sense, the book is deceptively delimited. Goodwin ostensibly deals with the Roosevelts and the Home Front during WW II, but in fact this is more like a joint biography of the two. She freely shifts the narrative from the years of 1939-45 to any point in the lives of the two, whether to dwell on their first meeting, to the time in which Franklin was afflicted with polio and his attempted recovery, to Eleanor's upbringing and the sufferings she experienced with alcoholics, to Franklin's adulterous affair that effectively ended his and Eleanor's marriage if not their partnership. So the book ends up as a wide-ranging exploration of the lives of the two main characters, as well the major figures in their lives, whether in the war years or not.

Franklin emerges in the book as what he certainly was: one of the truly great presidents in American history (even his detractors need recall that Ronald Reagan called him the greatest president). Virtually every poll of scholars since his lifetime has placed him among our three greatest presidents, but even that can overlook the fact that no president in our history faced more challenges than did Roosevelt, and few dealt with them so successfully. Goodwin is brilliant at showing both Franklin's great strengths as both president and a human being, as well as his weaknesses. As she demonstrates, perhaps no president had a greater sense of what could actually be achieved politically at any moment, as opposed to what ought to be achieved. He was the great master of compromise, at crafting seemingly impossible solutions to intractable problems. Could any other president have conceived the land-lease program that may have been as essential in determining the outcome of WW II? As she quotes Churchill as saying, no other individual of his age thought so globally and comprehensibly as he. And has there ever been a president who generated such confidence in the people as a whole. Whatever his moral shortcomings, his leadership qualities were beyond parallel, and surely no president spoke so brilliantly and directly to the hearts of Americans. Sometimes we don't get the leaders we deserve, but the ones we need.

But despite Roosevelt's brilliance as a political leader, Goodwin does not spare in presenting him warts and all. She shows him as someone seemingly incapable of intimacy, despite the hordes of people he needed to surround him at all times. He possessed a host of admirable qualities, but he could also be disappointing, such as his behavior towards Missy Lehand after her debilitating stroke. He is also presented as someone who detested the dirty business of firing someone, someone who would go to the greatest lengths to avoid anything unpleasant, someone who, in fact, comes across as the pampered child he had been. He emerges both as someone worthy of the greatest admiration despite some very real emotional shortcomings.

Much the same is true of Eleanor, who while coming across as the nearest thing to a saint as we are ever likely to see in our country, was deeply lacking in a host of human qualities. Goodwin shows her as alternatingly scolding, insensitive of Franklin's momentary needs, as unaffectionate and fearful of sex, as unspontaneous and lacking in humor, as lacking in confidence, and unforgiving of Franklin's unfaithfulness with Lucy Mercer. At the same time, did any American ever have a better heart where the downtrodden and needy were concerned, or any American have some unselfish concern with social and political justice? Throughout the book, Franklin and Eleanor emerge as so admirable in part because they are also so human. These are not marble statues, but they are nonetheless all the more remarkable for all that.

Any presidency contains a host of supporting characters, but this was especially so in the Roosevelt administration, largely because of Franklin's need to be surrounded by others. Probably no presidency saw so many people living in the White House as the Roosevelt years. Consequently, the book provides mini-biographies of a score of characters, whether the uber-secretary Missy Lehand, the remarkably gifted though gravely ill Harry Hopkins, the Roosevelt children, Eleanor's friend (and perhaps lover) Hick, or Eleanor's friend Joe Lash. There are also wonderful portraits of such important individuals as Winston Churchill, whose friendship with Roosevelt was one of the reasons for the close cooperation between the U.S. and Britain during the war.

Because the basic subject matter is one of our greatest presidents during a period of great crisis, there is an inescapable political element to the book, but the actual tone of the book focuses more on the personalities rather than the issues. I do not find the book the least less successful for that. In fact, I think this book is a wonderful corrective for other biographies that focus more on the New Deal and WW II years as a succession of debates on issues or military crises. I would place this fine book on any short list of books to read about Roosevelt and presidential leadership during the war years.
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HALL OF FAMEon July 12, 2000
Once again Doris Kearns Goodwin pulls the elusive hare from the historical hat! I have been a fan of hers since reading "Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream" well over twenty years ago, and after all this time and reading a number of her books, I never cease to wonder at her incredible creative abilities, at her sheer profundity with language, nuance, and always choosing the right word to cast her narrative into exactly the right mode and string the reader along the trail of her entertaining and informative story line. This time out she tackles the single most fascinating period of modern American history, those critical years between the onset of the Depression and the end of World War Two.
Here she has chosen to thread her way through both the public and private lives and times of the Roosevelts in the throes of their four successive administrations between 1932 and 1945, in the throes of what was undoubtedly the most momentous and critical period in modern American history. Her powerful prose style lends itself magnificently to the task at hand in terms of describing the principals and the social surround masterfully, and the reader is swept into the waves and eddies of the period, sitting in the catbird's seat as Goodwin describes both the intricacies of FDR's administration and their uneasy, unconventional, and unusual marriage. This is an extremely well researched, insightful and thoughtful study of two enormously complex people at the peaks of the intellectual, social, and political powers, in the midst of a socio-political maelstrom of historical proportions.
As described by Goodwin, both Eleanor and FDR become figures of almost Biblical proportions; modern titans committed both to the nation as well as to each other. Yet these two were in many ways living separate lies, and one marvels and the degree of maturity, selflessness, and composure each had to face the issues of both their public and private obligations in the manner they apparently did. Her emerging portrait of FDR is that of a brilliant, charismatic, endlessly witty and wise patrician who steeled himself to the notion of "noblesse oblige", while Eleanor is painted in what is in many ways a much more sympathetic light, as a long-suffering, patient, loving and ultimately independent woman no longer content to stand quietly in the shadows.
This is a very comprehensive, compassionate, and compelling historical biography of the Roosevelts in the context of their times, and is an admirable addition to the growing body of scholarly yet popular works so many recently active American historians like Goodwin, Ambrose, David Kennedy, James Patterson, and Taylor Branch have contributed to our understanding of the United States in the 20th century. I really enjoyed reading this magnificent book by Ms. Goodwin, and recommend it for your history bookshelf. Enjoy!
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on November 5, 2006
This book at 626 pages is so rich in detail that readers may think they are reading "War And Peace." This is half history, and half biography of the Roosevelts. Wartime conversations, weapons production, historic meetings, the leaders, their families, and personal anecdotes are all here. You learn that Stalin was an enigma to FDR. That Churchill and FDR were truly kindred spirits. On the homefront numerous changes happened that transformed the USA permanently. Ex: The large scale moving from rural communities to urban manufacturing areas. Women {Rosy the riveter} moved in huge numbers into the work force. The service sector of the economy grew to help them. As in day care, take out food, and laundries. The reader may truly be stunned at just how unprepared the USA was before

the start of the war. When the readers are done, they will realize that very title is a huge "understatement."
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on November 20, 2002
Although I am an avid history reader, I'd recommend Goodwin's "No Ordinary Time," to most readers. Goodwin does not write in the typical non-fiction writing-style by not continually delivering fact after fact. She will dig into the story, isn't afraid to offer opinions from other historians, will often share a first-person quote from letters, interviews, etc.; and will not shy from surmising her own hypotheses on the subject matter.
Although the book solely focuses on the Roosevelts during World War II with only passing mention to the New Deal and the Depression, the main body of the text is on the relationship between FDR and Eleanor and their concerted effort to win the war while bettering the American way of life at the same time. With Franklin, Goodwin examines his determination to beat fascism, both before the United States' involvement and after Germany declared war on the US. Key players such as Harry Hopkins, Henry Stimson, George Marshall, Winston Churchill and others make continual appearances in the book.
Looking at Eleanor, Goodwin concentrates on her work with the OCD and her persistence at improving civil rights and women's issues. Goodwin does not shy from entering family business, and writes at length about FDR and Eleanor's unconventional relationship, their troubles with their parents, children and in-laws and FDR's early-marriage affair. Goodwin even tackles the controversial topic of Eleanor's alleged alternative lifestyle in very good taste by not gossiping but delivering factual information without jumping to conclusions.
Missing from the book is any military view of the war so it helps to know some of the background of the WWII military theaters but is not necessary to still enjoy "No Ordinary Time." (I'd recommend Robert Leckie's "Delivered From Evil" for that aspect). The diplomacy view is also lacking as, for example, Goodwin spends more time on the controversy of Eleanor not going to the Tehran Conference, than the actual issues at the conference itself.
That said, I still enjoyed this Pulitzer Prize-winning book and was quite impressed with the amount of information I learned on one of America's greatest president's and the effort this nation put forth on the home front to win the war.
- In case any readers of "No Ordinary Time," become interested in the colorful Winston Churchill, I highly recommend William Raymond Manchester's "The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Alone 1932-1940." Although it covers Churchill before the war, it is written in much the same fashion of Goodwin's book in that it covers both the daily life as well as the international issues. Sadly, Manchester passed on before finishing his third installment in this incredible series.
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VINE VOICEon February 28, 2000
Goodwin manages to pull off a delicate balancing act in No Ordinary Time. She spends a great portion of the book discussing the consequences of the large issues (race relations, labor/production struggles, military preparedness) facing the country during this period. Yet, she also spends as much time noting the personal issues, like Franklin and Eleanor's struggles with their marriage and the tragic travails of Missy LeHand. The result of this balancing act is a wonderfully complete depiction that gives one an appreciation of not only the complexities of the time, but also of the incredible intelligence and character of the Roosevelts. The comprehensive nature of the book makes it difficult to imagine that a better book on the Roosevelt presidency during World War II can be written.
A reader may get a little lost trying to keep track of all the names, especially when they appear only once every fifty or one hundred pages. Fortunately, the index in the back is very useful for finding the first appearance and description of these characters. Still, this minor drawback does not offset the powerful lessons that the book teaches. For those who equate government with partisan bickering and gridlock, it is heartening to know that such conditions existed during World War II, yet were overcome with persistence and ingenuity. For those who did not live thorough those times, it gives a vivid portrayal of the sacrifices and challenges that all Americans endured. Finally, it shows that Roosevelt's belief that people will respond successfully when given a challenge and the freedom to rise to that challenge is true. These are all powerful lessons that not only illuminate our past, but give us a guideline for our future. Ultimately, that is the mark of a successful historical book. Goodwin should be (and has rightfully been) commended for making such a book.
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on October 13, 2013
"No Ordinary Time" by Doris Goodwin takes the reader on an "insiders" journey through the White House of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt during World War II. Although Goodwin does narrate a history of the war and its impact on the United States, her focus is on the personal and private lives of FDR and Eleanor as they grappled with their own issues, emotions, relationships, challenges, friends, relatives, and -- of course -- each other, during the years 1939 to 1945.

Goodwin exhaustively researched and compiled this work, which won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1995. She draws on official (if obscure) records (such as the White House butler's daily guest register); correspondence between FDR, Eleanor and their friends, family, political figures, and others; the diaries of many friends, staff, cabinet members, and military leaders; their biographies and autobiographies; contemporary newspaper accounts; and many personal interviews. Essentially, Goodwin has patched together what a "fly on the wall" might have seen and heard over those years.

The subtitle "The Home Front in World War II," refers mostly to the "Roosevelt" home front during the war, including in the White House, at FDR's Hyde Park family estate, as well as at other locales in which FDR or Eleanor spent significant time (including Warm Springs, Georgia; "Shangri-La," i.e., the current Camp David presidential retreat; or even Eleanor's New York apartments). Goodwin follows the Roosevelts on their travels, including FDR's key summit meetings with Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin, recounting the private bickering and jealousies among family and staff which was occasioned by them.

The book's focus is more heavily weighted toward Eleanor, her causes and crusades, and how she overcame perceived inadequacies (such as her "unfortunate" chin) and social awkwardness to become an American legend. The reader will gain an intimate, comprehensive appreciation of this First Lady, whose unprecedented participation in her husband's presidency was not nearly repeated until Hilary Clinton held that title in the 1990s. Goodwin also, very candidly, includes information on what can only be described as Eleanor's "romantic" relationships with several women who are obviously, if not explicitly, portrayed as lesbians; and at least one gentleman, her biographer, Joe Lash.

As to the president, Goodwin gives almost painful detail on how FDR adapted to and overcame his own very real physical handicap, paralysis due to polio. The former president's personal struggles with policy and political issues are, of course, covered. But Goodwin also recounts what is usually left out of most history books -- FDR's close, quirky, and evidently romantic relationships with a number of women during his White House years. These include his personal secretary Marguerite "Missy" Lehand, Crown Princess Martha of Norway, and, of course, his pre-polio mistress Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd, who was with him at Warm Springs at the time of his death (and subsequently made a hasty departure).

Although Goodwin touches on the degree to which both FDR and Eleanor may have been physically involved with the objects of their affection, she takes a final position of "it's not likely" or "I don't know" when it comes to the ultimate questions. In this respect, her credibility as an historian, in my estimation, suffers somewhat, as the circumstantial evidence she recounts (including her observation that FDR was not rendered impotent by his paralysis) strongly suggests a different conclusion. This sort of "glossing over" what may be a bit of tarnish on the Roosevelts' otherwise sterling gilding was repeated in her discussion of FDR's order to place Japanese Americans into concentration camps early in the war; his performance vis-à-vis Joseph Stalin at the Yalta conference; his handling of racial issues during the war; and other actions (or non-actions) for which FDR has been criticized by historians. By expressing her own (often speculative) point of view, most often in a positive way, regarding the shortcomings of both FDR and Eleanor, Goodwin reveals a strong bias in support of both Roosevelts, at times giving the impression of being an "apologist" for them.

There is not much "new" history related here in terms of the major events of World War II. There is a great deal of personal history, though, in terms of Franklin and Eleanor themselves, and their closest relatives, especially FDR's mother, Sara Delano Roosevelt; and their daughter, Anne Roosevelt Boettiger. Their relationships with other key staff members and world figures is thorough. Goodwin's portrayal of a sickly, often weak and exhausted Harry Hopkins -- FDR's closest "kitchen cabinet" member -- will leave the reader wondering how Hopkins even made it through the war.

My three-star rating is rather low for a Pulitzer-winner. The reasons are my above criticisms of Goodwin's objectivity; that, although Goodwin did include a long list of sources for her material, she would have done better to use footnotes or endnotes referenced in the text; her lapse into referring to key personages by their first names (making it difficult to remember, after 600 pages or so, who she was talking about); and because the narrative, at times, becomes tedious in its detail. On the other hand, despite the book's now 18-year shelf life, because the events it narrates are nearing the century-old mark, it is still current and topical.

Don't let my "three-star" rating stop you from reading this book. "No Ordinary Time" is a very worthwhile read for anybody who would like to "get to know" the Roosevelts, or who is interested in a more intimate understanding of what they were like as people. It is an "enriching" private recounting which complements the well-known world events of those times.
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on April 21, 2000
No Ordinary Time presents a compelling social history of both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt and the development of American society during the war years. Both are exposed for their flaws and both are extolled for their virtues. Doris Kearns Goodwin interweaves an impressive array of primary resource material in chronicalling international and domestic developments. For example, the emotional ups and downs of the Allied war effort are counterposed with excerpts from the diary of Nazi propaganda leader Joseph Goebbels. The progressive views and policies of the Roosevelt administration are aptly pitted with letters to the White House demonstrating the stubborn racism and apathy of many in WWII American society. In the end, Goodwin paints an illustrative picture of both the Roosevelts and their time -- with wonderful accounts of events and attitudes that will surprise a number of readers.
Because of Goodwin's approach, the book is equally valuable for what is says about the Roosevelts as what it says about American society during WWII. The Roosevelt marraige is displayed in all its beauty and ugliness. Goodwin aptly demonstrates the irony of the live of the Roosevelts: while they strove ceaselessly to improve the lives of every Amercian, they often manipulated and harmed the very people closest to them, especially each other.
At the same time, through splendid research and organization, Goodwin follows America's attitudes on such varied subjects as race, gender equality, labor relations, politics, and the war production effort. No item of domestic concern seems overlooked. In her portrayal of domestic developments, Goodwin chronicles the true beginning of modern American society. And once again, as with her descriptions of the Roosevelts, Goodwin does not hesitate to present American society in all its glory and shame. The wonders of American ingenuity and dedication are countered with the ugliness of the Japanese-American internments and racial biases.
Goodwin's account is simply a unique piece of history. While most authors would be unable to portray either the Roosevelts or American society in such brilliant detail, Goodwin pulls both off together in a seemless and impressive account. It is no wonder that this book won the Pulitzer Prize.
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on April 24, 2006
My parents and their generation grew up during the Depression and WWII, and said that Franklin Roosevelt was the difference with his upbeat attitude and sound leadership, giving the country the confidence needed to overcome all obstacles. He was not afraid to lead and take chances, they told me, and was for them the most revered patriot in the history of our country.

I finally decided to read a book that might give me some perspective on this. Were my parents right in their assessment, or was this mythological thinking, making something better in retrospect than it was in real time?

So I turned to this carefully researched and crafted, and Pulitzer Prize winning account of that time, "No Ordinary Time". The book found FDR to be complex, charming, hard-to-know, optimistic, resilient, crafty, and ruthless when necessary; in other words, FDR was a master politician. His vision and timing were impeccable and he was fearless, as he navigated the stormiest waters of the 20th century. I found him, by this book's account, to justify the admiration of my parents, even with 60 to 70 years perspective.

Doris Kearns Goodwin gives us a stroll through his life, stopping here and there to go into the history of an event or the background of a key person. It was a little bit soap opera with the various relationships FDR and Eleanor had, not only with each other, but with others they loved. She and Franklin had parted intimate ways just after WWI because of an extended affair FDR had with a certain Lucy Mercer, and so they both sought intimacy elsewhere. It seems that none of the relationships were sexual, including, of course, the one between FDR and Eleanor; and at least one was a lesbian affair. FDR and Eleanor truly loved each other, but it's a mystery how they kept their marriage going. Their relationship is one of the most important mysteries of American political history, as they both put together patched-up personal lives to compensate for the failed marriage.

All of this proves that the President and his First Lady were very human and depended on each other. For the crippled Franklin, Eleanor was his eyes and ears to what was really going on throughout the country; and for Eleanor, it was a way of pressing for her social concerns. In fact, her efforts sowed some of the seeds that fomented the Civil Rights movement in the 60's.

Franklin was very good at keeping his own counsel, and hardly ever showed his hand until he announced a decision. Also, he took chances, especially in supplying England early in the war when our resources at home were almost completely decimated by the Depression. He was able to pump up production of war materials in the US to record levels, by navigating the tricky waters between unions and big business. (In fact, the book says that our production, more than our military manpower, was the reason we won the War.) He was able to bring out our best. He was also adept at dealing with our allies, notably the great but high-strung Churchill, and the mysterious and deadly Stalin.

Eleanor was also truly remarkable. She was tireless in her liberal causes for the under-classes (women, minorities, the poor) and set a standard for First Ladies that has never been equaled. She was better with crowds, making speeches, than one-on-one, and had a more difficult time with personal relationships. She did not seem to be able to reveal her true self even to those closest to her. That said, you couldn't help but be impressed with her tireless drive and dedication. The Presidency would not have been as successful if not for her.

I can't imagine the amount of research that went into this book. Doris Kearns Goodwin deserved the Pulitzer Prize for it. It was a great read about a great subject.

FDR and Eleanor were no ordinary couple!
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