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No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II Paperback – Illustrated, October 1, 1995
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From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
- Item Weight : 2.23 pounds
- Paperback : 768 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0684804484
- ISBN-13 : 978-0684804484
- Publisher : Simon & Schuster; 1st Edition (October 1, 1995)
- Product Dimensions : 6.13 x 1.6 x 9.25 inches
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #13,584 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The writing is magnificent, and somehow Goodwin manages to bring us up close and personal with the Roosevelts while simultaneously coloring in all of the contextual detail of a world at war. It is really quite fascinating to think of the sheer scale at which world leaders were forced to think at the time. The petty disputes we seem to be obsessed with today quickly recede into irrelevance by comparison.
Several things struck me quite intensely. The first is the discovery of just how divided the US was on the brink of entering the war. It is easy, and perhaps tempting, to believe that our politics have never been more divided than they are today, but that is not an entirely accurate assessment.
While that may or may not be reassuring to anyone, it is a source of optimism if you follow the story through. Wherever you sit on the political spectrum today, the story of Wendell Wilke’s support for conscription and for the support of Great Britain, which he had to assume would cost him the election, was truly indicative of one of those great moments in American history when a single powerful individual put the interests of his country and his conscience above his or her own.
The second thing that struck me was a reminder of just how fragile history is. While we tend to look back in time through the perception that history was somehow fated, it never is. A change in direction one degree one way or the other and history would have followed a completely different path. And, more often than not, the path that it did follow was not of any one person’s design or choice.
It is not, however, a path defined by sheer happenstance. One unexpected result of the book, for me, is a greater appreciation of the civic duty each of us shares. We must vote. We must speak. We must get involved. While I often feel that my own voice is lost in the sea of shouting that is political discourse today, Kearns gave me a greater appreciation of how history really works. It’s not my voice that matters. But it is my voice, in a chorus with others, which can change history. And for that awakening I am truly grateful.
The great strength of democracy is that government leaders ultimately hold no power without the support of the people. But which is the chicken and which is the egg? While Roosevelt consciously waited for the support of the American citizenry before escalating the US commitment to war, it is also clear that he was very deliberately shaping that support toward his own agenda. While that deceptive use of government power may be justified by the fact that his was the just agenda, what if it wasn’t?
World War II was the medium for vast social, economic, and migratory change in America. Some of it, particularly relating to the treatment of people of color and gender norms didn’t go far enough and there is much work to be done yet today.
Some of it went too far. Before the war America was built on a foundation of small business. The war launched the rise of the large corporate institution and the military-industrial complex. It’s a particularly important development because of the power of the state to shape opinion and policy. He/she who controls the political process, which is clearly in the hands of the people and the institutions who control our wealth today, controls, to a large extent, public opinion. It’s not, in other words, a fair fight between opposing ideologies. The money, in this case, has the upper hand.
There is little question that the dog-eat-dog, me-centric way of life we know today would have been unrecognizable, and greatly disappointing, to the Roosevelts. They spoke openly about a post-war America in which the right to make a decent living, access to health care, and the integration of the rights of labor and management, would be firmly established. It is a we-centric perspective that is foreign to the individualistic ideology of our current political leadership.
It’s a long book. But it’s not repetitive. And while it felt like an accomplishment when I turned the last page, it was a feeling of great satisfaction. This is my first book by Kearns but she is truly one of the great historians and the great writers of our era.
In the end, it is a period of American history that we should all study. Not just because it was an important era in history but because it has so much to teach us, both good and bad, about the America we live in today and where we should go from here.
This book is not an exhaustive biography of Franklin and/or Eleanor Roosevelt. Nor is it a sequential, detailed account of the accomplishments of the 32nd President’s administration. No, there are plenty of books out there for you if that is what you are wanting. This book, instead, tells a magnificent story of the President and the First Lady as they guided the United States of America through its most tumultuous time of the 20th century.
This book really does have a little bit of “everything”, though. We start the narrative on May 9th, 1940. This was eight months after World War II began, but I believe the author starts the story here - as Hitler is simultaneously invading Belgium, Holland, Luxembourg, and France, because this is the time when most in the USA realized that, sooner or later, this would be America’s war as well. So we do hear about events of the conflict in Europe and in Asia, but we’re also exposed to other troubles on the home front - some related to the war, others not so much. We’re also allowed to peer into the private lives of Franklin and Eleanor, and we learn much about these two great individuals, and how they were able to lift the U.S.A out of the Great Depression into arguably the greatest time the country has ever had when forced to rise to such an enormous occasion.
We do get thrown bits of information of their lives before 1940, but not much. Readers wanting, for example, a comprehensive understanding of Roosevelt’s “New Deal” should probably look elsewhere. When Goodwin takes us back in time, she does this so the reader can better understand the present. We see, for example, that these fifth cousins were actually born into a life of privilege, yet were attracted to each other because the other one had characteristics that they each sorely lacked. We also see Franklin’s over protective mother who smothered him with far too much attention. She never could really “let him go”, which actually damaged Franklin and Eleanor’s marriage to a degree.
This story is just as much about Eleanor as it is about Franklin. As First Lady of the United States, she’s not at all content to simply being a hostess of the White House and giving cocktail parties. No, the woman had an incredible progressive spirit, and she uses her title to travel the country pointing out all of the injustices and doing everything in her power to bring the issues to the front of everyone’s mind, including her husband’s. Her pet cause is Civil Rights for the African-American community, a cause that greatly needed more support. It really is amazingly heart breaking to read about the injustices that still existed in the 1940s around race relations.
Eleanor travels abroad as well, visiting soldiers close to the battle lines and in the hospitals, bringing comfort wherever she can. The woman has such a tireless disposition, that she manages to wear out and exhaust the military brass as they escort her around their destinations. Even they can’t keep up with the First Lady. At one point, the author mentions that the President and the First Lady were a great team because Franklin was good at accomplishing what could be done, whereas Eleanor devoted her attention to what should be done. The two, oddly, don’t always go hand in hand.
Sadly, it’s the actual relationship between husband and wife that makes this tale a bit sad. We’re left with the impression that these two really did need one another, but they didn’t necessarily want one another. They had one of those marriages that probably would have failed if these two people would have lived sixty years in the future. It seems as though, early on in their marriage, their romantic devotion dies. At one point, around 1918, Eleanor discovers her husband had been having an affair with Lucy Mercer. This news devastated her, as it should. What Eleanor did not know is that Franklin continued to have clandestine meetings with Ms. Mercer while President, even up until his death in 1945 (although many doubt that the relationships was anything more than a deep friendship). Such a relationship was possible because, well, Eleanor was never home. She was always out, on the road doing whatever she could for the cause. Truth be told, there seemed to be a lot of deep emotional attachments that both of them shared with other people. There’s even a hint that Eleanor was involved in a lesbian relationship with journalist Lorena Hickok. Although this was always speculative, most would agree that Hickok definitely did have romantic feelings for Eleanor, we just will never know whether or not such feelings were ever reciprocated.
So great leaders of a great country, they definitely were. As a leader of a normal household as husband and wife, not as much. We read a bit about the five Roosevelt children, and we’re left with the impression that growing up was a bit hard from an emotional perspective. None of the kids would live up to their parent’s legend, and between the five of them, they ended up with 19 marriages amongst them. Even when Eleanor is home in the White House, she and Franklin have separate bedrooms, and Franklin seems more chummy with selected members of his female staff (many reside in the White House as well), than the First Lady.
But these two soldiers lumber on, working tirelessly to the point of exhaustion. Oddly, FDR is nearly at death’s door as early as 1944, yet he still manages to win a fourth term as President. Not sure if that could happen in the 21st century with the internet and cable news. Sadly, Roosevelt finally does succumb to death a mere month from the allies victory in Europe, and it’s truly sad that he doesn’t live long enough to see one of his greatest triumphs of rallying a nation to defeat an evil deranged dictator.
I simply loved this book. Not once did I feel overwhelmed with detail about politics, policies, elections, or war time strategy. Doris Kearns Goodwin keeps things very simple, very concise, yet manages to be very thorough as well. I can’t seemed to ever recall when 600+ pages went by so quickly. A truly remarkable book about two of our greatest leaders that led the country during the most unordinary times of our nation’s history. Thank God.
Literally, Thank God.
Top reviews from other countries
Goodwin demonstrates just how entwined were the endeavours of the soldiers at the battlefront and the domestic workers at home, how much the eventual Allied victory relied on the immense manufacturing capability of the American economy. The Allies didn't win World War II through superior soldiering or strategy; the Axis powers were simply swamped by the overwhelming might of the American military-industrial complex. And all of these efforts, of industry and business and economics and labour, were all guided and shaped by the hand of Franklin Roosevelt, with Eleanor at his side serving as his eyes and ears where the crippled Roosevelt could not go, forging a independent role for herself and revolutionising the role of First Lady.
It must surely be one of the great what-ifs of history - what if Franklin Roosevelt had not been at the helm during World War II? Would another President have supported the Allies the way he did? Would another President have come up with lend-lease? Would another President have forged quite the same relationship with Churchill or Stalin? Would another President have had a wife quite as remarkable as Eleanor Roosevelt, to serve as his social conscience and moral arbiter? It is of course impossible to say, but reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's remarkable book, one can only be thankful that such an extraordinary couple as Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt were in the White House at this most crucial of times.