Eleanor Roosevelt Volume 3: The War Years and After 1939-1962-Blanche Wiesen Cook

blanche-wiesen-cook-eventIn this third volume, we catch up with Eleanor in 1939 as German Chancellor Adolf Hitler is making his presence felt in Europe and threatening to turn the continent into a German Reich. Her husband and president, Franklin, finds himself at odds over the growing German menace. ER is right by his side serving as both a voice of reason and cabinet adviser as FDR determines the position of the United States in regards to the looming crisis across the Atlantic.  In this manner the book differs from Volume I and Volume II which focus on her early, the people who formed the core of close friends and FDR’s successful campaign.  The close nexus of friends return and once again we come across Hick, Esther Lape, Elizabeth Read, and Earl Miller.  Like characters in a novel, they all have their roles in her life and each makes their departure from the stage as Eleanor’s life comes full circle.  We also see up close the changes that occur in the relationship between husband and wife and how it shaped the policies of the government.  The stage had been set in volume two and in this volume, it comes to fruition in its entirety. Some of it is good, some bad and even more unfortunate.  But throughout the thick and then, they remained Franklin and Eleanor.

While readers may be tempted to think that Cook has strayed far off course in this third part, that is not the case.  In fact, the volume closes ER’s story appropriately for she was no longer First Lady following FDR’s death in 1945.  Cook does address her life post-Washington but it is clear that her highest moments came occurred during her tenure in the White House.  Nonetheless, this look into FDR’s administration and ER’s role in it, is fascinating and reveals the long process that eventually pulled the United States into the war.  Operating in a male dominated and openly discriminatory social climate, she became a beacon of hope as she wage the war for Jewish refugees, anti-discrimination legislation, ant-lynching legislation and equal rights for America’s women. Sadly, her efforts paid off many years after her death.  Had she lived, I believe she would have been in awe at the election of Barack Obama in 2008.  His election would have been seen by her as a testament to the cause for civil rights and the advancement of America’s African-American citizens who faced discrimination daily in their lives.

Following FDR’s death, she continued to work on behalf of all Americans and never wavered in her crusade for equality for everyone.  In 1962, she was appointed by President Kennedy to be the head of the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women. The appointment spoke volumes about her accomplishments and vision. She remained the chairwoman until the time of her death.  When she died on November 7, 1962, a shining light was extinguished that was one of America’s brightest.  She is no longer with us but her story is through the efforts of Blanche Wiesen Cook.  And through her words, we can relive the life of the pioneering former First Lady.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” – Anna Eleanor Roosevelt

ISBN-10: 0670023957
ISBN-13: 978-0670023950

Eleanor Roosevelt Volume 2: The Defining Years 1933-1938-Blanche Wiesen Cook

e-roosevelt-vol-2In volume I of her three-volume biography of the late Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962), Blanche Wiesen Cook explored the early life of the pioneering First Lady of the United States.  We learned about her family history, both intriguing and tragic, upbringing by close relatives, her marriage to Franklin and his election of the presidency of the country.  The book closes as the family assumes their role as the new occupants of the White House.  In this second volume, their story continues with the new President finding himself embattled on several fronts as the depression rages, Adolf Hitler threatens world peace and domestic social tensions threaten to tear the nation apart.  The First Lady also finds herself fully immersed in ongoing current events that cause concern for citizens across the country.  And it is during this time period, 1933-1938 that she defines herself as she finds her calling as a champion of women’s rights and advocate of equality and well-being for Americans of all ethnic backgrounds.

Towards the end of the first volume, Lorena “Hick” Hickok (1893-1968) enters Roosevelt’s life and becomes a constant companion and according to the letters analyzed by the author, intimate of the First Lady.  Hick would be one of several people to make up her close circle, and all of them are examined in detailed in this excellent continuation.  Tragedy seems to stand out in this volume as several people close to the First Lady die bringing an end to long-term and mutually supportive relationships.  Among these the late aviator, Amelia Earhart (1897-1937). Undeterred, she continues her quest for civil rights and a firm stance by the United States against German aggression.  These stands would cause strain in her relationships with her relationship with Hick being tested on the issue of racial discrimination, a cause which consumed a large portion of the First Lady’s political life.

As war threatens to erupt in Europe and the old standing tradition of segregation and Jim Crow is challenged domestically, the First Lady continues her transformation into one of the finest women in American history.  Her beliefs and crusades were not without opposition and the behind-the-scenes battles and power plays are exposed revealing the reluctance to act and sometimes treasonous actions of members of the State Department and of FDR’s own cabinet.  The first couple’s personal lives would also be tested with three children in doomed marriages and emergency surgeries for various ailments.  But throughout all of it, the pioneering First Lady never wavers in her campaigns cementing her legacy as one of a kind.

The aggression of Nazi Germany fueled by the maniacal Adolf Hitler (1889-1945), put the world on notice that a new empire was strengthening in Europe.  The Nuremberg Laws combined with Kristallnacht, blatant discrimination and humiliation of Europe’s Jewish citizens, laid the foundation for the First Lady’s campaign for American intervention and support for refugees fleeing the Nazi menace.  FDR and other leaders were not strong advocates of intervention and their sluggishness to fully act served as chord of discontent in the Roosevelt household.  The cause for Jewish civil rights in Germany and other European nations, supplemented the strengthening civil rights movement here in the United States with regards to racial prejudice against African-Americans and other minorities through unconstitutional legislation and the violent practice of lynching, against which, the pioneering First Lady spearheaded a campaign.  Her actions at the conference in Birmingham, then controlled the infamous Bull Conner and his police department, is one of the shining moments in the book for at the time she took a stand not just for herself but for all Americans.   And today as we deal with social issues that serve to undermine the tremendous progress this nation has made, we can look back at her action and remind ourselves that regression and submission are not options.

A great biography has the ability to remain unbiased, delivering the facts whether they are positive or negative. Cook does a great job of showing the moments where Roosevelt’s actions were questionable.  A native of the South, we see through the author’s words, the continuous effort on Roosevelt’s part to remove herself from her southern upbringing prone to deep-seated racial bigotry.  And at several points in the book, ER herself makes strides to remind herself of the insensitivity that can accompany words.

The third volume of this excellent biography is slated for release on November 1, 2016 and can be ordered in advance on Amazon.com.   Based off of what I have read so far, the  best is yet to come as we see the outbreak of World War II, FDR’s untimely death and the later years of Anna Eleanor Roosevelt.

ISBN-10: 0140178945
ISBN-13: 978-0140178944


Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume I, 1884-1933-Blanche Wiesen Cook

e-roosevelt-vol-1The President of the United States has what many consider to be the toughest job in the nation.  Tasked with the impossible feat of making everyone happy at all times while often performing highly unpopular actions, the President often goes through a transformation while in office that results in deep reflection later in life. Standing next to each President in modern times, is the first lady who in her own right, has evolved into a major presence with a voice of her own.  This November will mark the end of the Obama administration and as they prepare to leave the White House, I firmly believe the first lady can look back without regret as having served the nation as one of the finest America has seen.   She follows a long line of pioneering first women to have occupied the White House, adding  a touch of grace and class to what used to be a strictly supplementary role. But many  years before Michelle Obama, there was another first lady, who stands out as one of American’s greatest historical figures and whose legacy continues today, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962).

In the first of this three-volume biography, Blanche Wiesen Cook explores Roosevelt’s early life, highlighting the complex family tree and the success and tragedy that surrounded the famed family.  As a niece to the legendary Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt(1858-1919), she was introduced to politics at a young age and following her marriage to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, she would remain a political and cultural icon for the rest of her life.  Drawing on correspondence that survived throughout the years and the recollections given by those who knew her, Cook’s biography is an intimate account of a woman who never stopped in her effort to change America.

As the reader makes their way through the book, the information learned will be eye-opening and intriguing. The events that unfold in the book seem by today’s standards mind-boggling, but in Roosevelt’s time, America was far different place and as Eleanor’s life comes alive in this brilliant biography, we are transported back in time to when America was struggling with very grave social issues.   But throughout all of this, we see the transformation of a young woman into a grown woman with power and a voice of her own as the most dynamic and controversial first lady of her time.  An aviator, friend of Amelia Earhart, mother of six children, teacher, writer and pioneer of women’s and civil rights, she battled wars on many fronts refusing to give up her causes and surrender her beliefs.

The book ends as she finally makes it to the White House and becomes fully immersed in the Washington, D.C. political culture. Her friendship with Lorena Hickok begins to develop and it would continue for many years to come.  FDR is also facing his own challenges but his toughest test from out of Berlin and Tokyo have yet to come.  It is in the second part, a review of which is forthcoming, that Franklin and Eleanor continue their odyssey as the new and engaging first couple of the United States of America.

ISBN-10: 0140094601
ISBN-13: 978-0140094602