Monday, March 23, 2015

Book Review: "Eleanor Roosevelt, Volume 1, 1884-1933"

Eleanor Roosevelt, Vol 1, 1884-1933Eleanor Roosevelt, Vol 1, 1884-1933 by Blanche Wiesen Cook

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After seeing the PBS series about the Roosevelts, I wanted to find a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt that would tell me about the human being more than the public figure, and this was the book I was looking for. However, though it is well written, extremely well researched, and informative, I have to say it was very hard to get through, and I had to set it aside for a while when I was half way done; I just didn't want to know THAT much about anybody, and Blanche Cook never met a detail she didn't like. She appears to be writing for posterity, which is fine--but I really didn't care that ER had lunch with this one and that one, who was married to some other one, and what organization each one was from, and what they had to eat and every word that was said. It wore me out, quite frankly.

ER herself was clearly an incredible woman, even more so for having overcome so much in her life: her adored father's alcoholism, the early death of both her parents, Franklin's betrayal of her with Lucy Mercer, and having to live in the fishbowl of public life when she very often would have liked to go her own way. She was a woman of great courage, compassion, foresight and dignity. All of that is shown here. The feminist viewpoint suits the subject and Cook brings to life a flesh and blood Eleanor, not just some classroom cut-out.

My favorite chapters were near the end of the book, when she describes ER's close relationships with Earl Miller and Lorena Hickok. Like Janis Joplin, ER seems to have been a woman of prodigious talent but also, a hungry heart.

Even though ER was a mold breaker who showed that a woman's place doesn't have to be in the home, I still found it extremely odd that Cook could go into such teeth-grindingly minute detail about a great many things, but had very little to say about ER's relationships with her five children. Daughter Anna gets a handful of pages, while the sons get barely a mention beyond going off to Groton boarding school at the appointed time. Call me quaint, but I don't think you can know a woman very well without knowing how she is with her children, and Cook barely goes into that at all.

Great subject, tireless biographer, but dear God, I thought I would never get finished with it. (And this is only Volume 1, events through 1933). I'm glad I read it, but I'm glad it's done; I can't really recommend it except to the truly dedicated.

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hedgewitch said...

I have to agree that overwhelming minutia is not the most scintillating way of revealing character, and the book sounds like a plod, however scholarly. This does not sound like one I would finish, myself, but I applaud you for doing so, and wish someone would write a really good bio of this woman--every one I have read seems slanted or superficial.

Lynn said...

I admire you for getting through the whole thing, FB. And how do biographers know every word that was said? I always wonder.

I do want to watch that series on PBS - I missed it, but maybe it's on On Demand. Thanks for reminding me!

Sioux said...

Thankfully, you took the bullet for us. Because you slogged your way through this book, we don't have to.


Mama Zen said...

You finished it!

I have to agree; how could you not cover her relationships with her children?

Sara said...

Even if this isn't a book I might read...although I do like ER...the whole review was worth these words:

"ER seems to have been a woman of prodigious talent but also, a hungry heart."

I think ER would like what you said about her very much.