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David Michaelis gives the world a deeply compelling–and timely–look at a unique figure in American political–and humanitarian–history. The story of Eleanor\’s amazing life, in the author\’s deft hands, reveals how difficult it was for even this child of the very uppermost strata in American society (Teddy Roosevelt was her uncle) to emerge as an independent woman, not a mere wife. Do not be daunted by this book\’s length, as its 548 pages fly by, given both the unbelievably rich life ER led and Michaelis\’s skill in making this a highly personal account of her unending life of both public accomplishment and personal emotional turmoil. The word \”indefatigable\” was never more accurately applied than to this human dynamo; during the first five years of FDR\’s presidency, she drove over 150,000 miles (!) to see just how America was suffering during the Great Depression–mostly at the wheel herself and with only a Smith & Wesson .22 as protection. In 1935, she began writing her syndicated column \”My Day\”–producing about 600 words a day, six days a week, for nearly all of the remaining years right up until her death. The author carefully avoids plowing the well-worn ground of FDR\’s political history, focusing on ER as a woman who overcame the the strictures of her time. She died in 1962, just before the term \”feminist\” came into vogue. But this biography shows how Eleanor was a true path breaker in a world relatively hostile to any signs of real independence in a woman, especially the wife of a beloved public figure. The story of both her emergence as her own public figure and her struggles to access an inner emotional life separate from her husband unfolds briskly in the author\’s hands. Michaelis presents her romantic and indeed physical attachments to several women with a rare combination of candor and discretion. Perhaps the most revealing story told here, unknown to even many Roosevelt scholars, was her late-in-life passionate love for a Jewish Holocaust refugee doctor fifteen years her junior. While he showed her great affection and admiration for the last 16 years of ER\’s life, the love itself was sadly unrequited. But the doctor remained her constant companion during the last splendid chapter of ER\’s life, when her foundational work with the UN\’s Human Rights Commission gave her worldwide recognition and indeed adulation as a true humanitarian. This book may be the life of someone who was born in the late 19th Century and died nearly 60 years ago. But the chaotic times we as Americans are experiencing today makes this a beautiful reminder of what our country once was–and can become again–utterly timely. If one doubts this, may I offer one quotation from Page 439 of \”Eleanor\”: \”The idea of superiority of one race over another must not continue within our own country, nor must it grow up in our dealings with the rest of the world.\” Thank you, Mr. Michaelis, for restoring Eleanor Roosevelt to her deserved high place in the affections of those generations born too late to experience her warmth directly.
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This book opened my eyes to an American history that I, a baby boomer, never learned in school. I cannot view our country as I did before. Eleanor Roosevelt was truly a great woman, who evolved as a result of her life\’s experiences. Perhaps all history should be seen from the perspective of women, rather than the vain, amoral, pompous, money-mad politicians who create so much of the chaos humanity suffers–by acting in their narrow minded self interest. How great would our country be if we strove to do our best, instead of elevating to public office our worst?
Audiobook Eleanor by David Michaelis
Eleanor Roosevelt is arguably the greatest first lady in American history. The tall (nearly six feet) and shy Eleanor was born in 1884. Her mother was a reclusive and snobbish woman who called Eleanor granny and gave the little and homely girl very little love. She did love her dissolute father Elliot who was an alcoholic, adulterer and dissolute younger brother of Teddy Roosevelt. Eleanor grew up raised by family members following her parents early deaths. She studied at the famous Allenswood School in England led by Frenchwoman Madam Souvestre. Eleanor learned independence from this experience and though she did not go to college she was well read and socially involved with aiding the poor in New York City. She wed Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1905. He served in the New York State Senate and served as undersecretary of the Navy in the Woodrow Wilson administration. During this time Eleanor was raising the couple\’s six children and working at serving refreshments to service personnel. Eleanor learned of Franklin\’s sexual affair with Lucy Mercer who had been Eleanor\’s secretary. She stood by FDR when he lost his Vice Presidential run in 1920; suffered crippling polio in 1921 and was nursed by Eleanor. Eleanor and FDR\’s mother Sarah had a jealousy over who could best serve FDR\’s needs. Eleanor was a tireless First Lady from 1933=1945 Eleanor traveled thousands of miles to help the poor, African Americans, the unemployed and others during the Great Depression. Mrs. Roosevelt traveled widely for the Red Cross during World War II visiting battle zones and comforting the wounded. She also wrote her famous My Day newspaper column and several books. Eleanor was a quiet woman who stood by FDR despite a coldness in the marriage. After his death she served as US Ambassador to the United States, served on the NACP Board, advised politicians such as JFK and was an active progressive leader in this nation. She had a loving relationship with Lorena Hickcock a journalist and other women and men. This is a fine one volume biography which reads well and though not as comprehensive as Cook\’s three volume work on Eleanor Roosevelt is an excellent treatment of a good and complex woman.
Audio Eleanor narrated by Gabra Zackman
The \”Eleanor\” of the title is, of course, Eleanor Roosevelt. She had most difficult early years and went on to live a truly remarkable life. How did Eleanor go from a child so alone in the world, an orphan at an early age whose mother ridiculed her and whose father loved her but suffered from alcoholism and an inability to cope with life, to a most admired woman? What was it like to be sent to school in England? What did it mean to have an uncle who was larger than life and a president? To fall in love with an ambitious, pampered cousin who could not be faithful and who also had serious health challenges? How did Eleanor go from an insecure young woman to a woman who was among the most admired in the world, a surrogate for Franklin and a first lady throughout WWII? Who did she lean on and love once she knew that Franklin had affections elsewhere? All of these questions come under the scrutiny of Mr. Michaelis who has written an engaging and very readable biography of Eleanor. It covers her whole life and finds the sweet space between a serious biography and an absorbing read. I recommend it highly.