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Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume 3: The War Years and After, 1939-1962 Paperback – 7 Nov 2017
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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
--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."
--Richmond Times-Dispatch "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."
--BookPage "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."
--Publishers Weekly "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.From the Hardcover edition.
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For all intents and purposes, Cook finishes up with FDR's death in 1945 - the remaining 17 years of Eleanor's life are dealt with in a single relatively short epilogue chapter. Yet arguably some of Eleanor's most important work was done in these years, such as her work with the UN, human rights and civil rights, and these were the first years of her life when she stood independent and free to act as she chose, not bound by family ties or political expediency. And bear in mind that the entirety of the rest of the book covers just six years otherwise, from 1939 to 1945. So why skate over 17 years of Eleanor's life in one chapter?
How did Eleanor mourn and move on after FDR's death? You won't find that here. How did she cope with moving out of the White House? What did she do with the apartment she had bought for FDR's retirement? No idea. Cook mentions that in her later years Eleanor was devoted to Dr David Gurewitsch, but who he was and how they met remains a mystery in this book. The death of Eleanor's lifelong secretary and companion Tommy is dealt with in a single sentence. Who was with Eleanor when she died? What did she die of? What was the funeral like? What was the reaction to her death? Nothing. There's enough material here for an entire other volume, but it's as though Cook got bored of her subject mid-way through this book and just couldn't be bothered anymore.
When a woman's biography effectively finishes with the death of her husband, even when she lived close to another two decades after him, it's hard to escape the implication that her only significance came through that husband, rather than her own merits. This seems like a betrayal, almost, of everything Eleanor Roosevelt stood for. Eleanor Roosevelt was standing up for causes, fighting for social justice, for the poor and the oppressed, long before FDR became President. She was so much more than just FDR's wife, America's First Lady. She was important in her own right, earned the respect, authority and affection bestowed on her by her own actions, not's FDR's. This is supposedly a biography of her life, not her marriage, so to effectively stop writing in 1945 and just 'sum up' everything that came after is immensely disappointing.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
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.
BWC is at her best elucidating Eleanor Roosevelt's liberalism and how it informed her actions during the war and up through her(shared) authorship of the Declaration of Human Rights for the UN . After that, what had been an exceptional 3 volume study suddenly becomes a race to the finish as it were . No mention whatsoever is made of ER's strained relationship with JFK before the election of 1960. It is also curious that the author makes no attempt to discuss the nature of what she refers to as ER's "intimate" relationships.
If you read and enjoyed the first two volumes of this biography, I would recommend this third volume with the caveat that the author's coverage of ER's post war years is disappointingly meager and her interesting speculation about ER's mindset is limited to political issues and avoids dealing with Eleanor Roosevelt as a sexual human being