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Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume 3: The War Years and After, 1939-1962 Hardcover – November 1, 2016
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“[T]he completion of Blanche Wiesen Cook’s monumental and inspirational life of Eleanor Roosevelt [series] is a notable event. . . . Volume 3 continues the story of Eleanor’s ‘journey to greatness.’ Keeping the focus on her actions and reactions, Cook skillfully narrates the epic history of the war years.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“A monumental biography [and] an exhilarating story, as well as undeniably melancholy one. In her relentless efforts to push American democracy to fulfill its promises, Eleanor Roosevelt was ahead of her time. As we ponder our curdled political culture . . . it’s not at all clear that we have yet caught up to her.”
—Maureen Corrigan, NPR’s Fresh Air
“More than a presidential spouse, however, or feminist icon, the Eleanor Roosevelt who inhabits these meticulously crafted pages transcends both first-lady history and the marriage around which Roosevelt scholarship has traditionally pivoted.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“The final installment in Blanche Wiesen Cook’s trilogy of biographies of Eleanor Roosevelt . . . finds the first lady increasingly comfortable in her own skin. . . . As these remarkable volumes chronicle, Roosevelt found her voice and her calling as an advocate—for peace, women’s rights, and the disadvantaged.”
—O, the Oprah Magazine
“[R]eads like the great history that it is . . . The monumental achievement of this current volume . . . is the rich depiction of the period’s contextual history.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“In the third and final volume of Blanche Wiesen Cook’s magisterial biography of ER . . . [Cook’s] perspective, through ER’s eyes, is vigorous and fresh, the comparisons with our own darkening world subtle and yet potent.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“[A] sweeping and detailed look at the first lady about whom more books have been written than any other, with the exception of Jacqueline Kennedy. . . . Today, she is acclaimed not only as an inspirational first lady of the United States but also of the world—and as one of the 20th century’s great humanitarians. Cook’s trilogy, and this volume in particular, eloquently defines her legacy and its continuing relevance.”
“Magisterial . . . Cook captures the headlong energy of those years perfectly. Readers will encounter in these pages an intimate, touchingly human Eleanor Roosevelt—an icon they can both admire and genuinely like.”
—Christian Science Monitor
“[E]xhaustively researched and beautifully written . . . gives us a sympathetic but very human portrait of this ‘First Lady of the World’. . . . Anyone interested in the life of this towering figure in 20th-century history will want to read this book.”
“Illuminating . . . A magnificent capstone to Cook’s decades-long evaluation of Eleanor Roosevelt.”
—BBC.com’s Between the Lines
“[F]ascinating reading, and . . . highlights for students of history how the world has changed since [Eleanor Roosevelt]’s time. And how it has not.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“Outstanding . . . A winning concluding volume in a series that does for Eleanor Roosevelt what Robert Caro has done for Lyndon Johnson.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Superb . . . Cook skillfully weaves her subject’s active and emotional life among friends and family members into the depiction of her public role.”
“Highly readable and richly detailed . . . Cook succeeds in demonstrating how Eleanor’s political ideas regarding human rights, economic insecurity, and the plight of refugees echo today.”
About the Author
Blanche Wiesen Cook is a distinguished professor of history at John Jay College and Graduate Center, City University of New York. In addition to her biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, her other books include The Declassified Eisenhower and Crystal Eastman on Women and Revolution. She was featured on air in Ken Burns’s recent documentary, The Roosevelts.
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Volume 3 is subtitled The War Years And After, but the vast bulk of the 570 pages (plus nearly one hundred pages of bibliography and notes) deals with the period from 1939 to 1945. The story begins with President Roosevelt and his First Lady confronting a new political reality: a Congress which was much less favorable to New Deal and other progressive ideas than its predecessors in the 1930s had been. The threat of war in Europe and Asia had led to an increase in isolationism and anti-immigrant sentiment inside the US. The first third to half of the book deals with Eleanor's efforts to deal with these new challenges, often in meticulous detail, so that some chapters are almost day by day accounts of her activities. Meanwhile, of course, the President was juggling his domestic duties with the increasingly ominous foreign problems, running for an unprecedented third term in 1940, seeking ways to aid the forces fighting fascism without causing political rebellion in Congress, and then eventually having to lead the US into open conflict in December, 1941.
During World War II Eleanor continued to play a dual role: she was her husband's ambassador, traveling far and wide across the planet while at the same time working endlessly to convince the President to adopt her own political agenda. This inevitably strained what was already a complex relationship. Cook doesn't spend a great deal of time on Eleanor's personal relationships, but she says enough for her readers to recognize that the First Lady had many close friends of both sexes with whom she had strong emotional connections. Nor does Cook spend much time analyzing the Roosevelt marriage, though she does (seemingly out of necessity rather than with real interest) deal with the President's female friendships, culminating with Eleanor's discovery of his meetings with his old flame Lucy Mercer Rutherford.
After her husband's death Eleanor famously told reporters that her "story was over," but she went on to help establish and serve as US representative to the United Nations, among other things helping to create the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and continued to speak out on issues of concern to her until her death in 1962. The period from 1945 to 1962 is relegated to a thirty page Epilogue, which makes me wonder whether Cook originally planned to write a fourth volume but either changed her mind or was dissuaded. The Epilogue does give a fairly good, if truncated, summary of Eleanor's activities, though I would have liked to have read more about her political activities in the 1950s and 1960s supporting progressive candidates like Adlai Stevenson.
Whether or not you are, like Cook, a strong admirer of Eleanor Roosevelt, you will find this volume, like the earlier two, to be an interesting and perceptive study of one of the United States' most complex First Ladies.
But the book is filled with the most amazing high quantity and low quality of high school-level writing about the times themselves. Non sequiturs and simple inaccuracies abound. Empty phrases are repeated--when I read "heart and hearth" for the third time within a few pages, I felt like throwing the book at the wall.And the book ends so abruptly. it is as though the author simply got tired of her subject and wanted to get the whole project off her desk and into the hands of a seemingly indifferent publisher.
Buy the book and read it. You will learn a lot but be prepared for a great deal of useless and poorly written verbiage. Does no publisher have books properly edited anymore?