Monday, January 17, 2011

Book Review: Franklin and Eleanor - An Extraordinary Marriage

I seem to be on a bit of WWII binge lately (1st Unbroken, then Hotel and now this).  Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage, like Hillenbrand's book, is a biography, but unlike most biographies which center on a single person, this one takes as its main focus:  a marriage.  What a marriage it was, too!  Hazel Rowley takes the reader along on a realistic and startling look at how these two powerful figures negotiated their lives together.

Yes, Rowley covers all the old gossip topics -- the well known affairs, etc., but because she keeps her focus on the marriage, she never throws blame at one or the other.  Instead she helps us understand how this powerful couple moved beyond jealousy to support and cement their relationship.  They accomplished so much together and its difficult to imagine that either would have been nearly as successful without the other. Still, they had such different personalities and temperaments that its quite easy to understand why they also had to find a way to maintain their own independent identities.  By the end of the book, you certainly have an impression of a strong bond that was beneficial to so many.

Their marriage certainly makes you wonder about how society usually handles betrayal and divorce.  Dissolving a union is sometimes inevitable, but there are cases where its easy to see that there might be advantages to maintaining the partnership.  Two people who support and admire each other as these two did, might manage to carve a different sort of marriage that still benefits them and those around them.

The author does a good job of humanizing both figures too.  Using letters and first hand accounts we hear the insecurities of each and can't help but admire how they overcome the various hardships in their lives, emotional and physical.  You get a very clear sense of two people who grow stronger as they overcome their set backs.

As a political history, this book does a great job of documenting the various causes these two championed.  They were ahead of their time (especially Eleanor) in their views on human rights, civil rights, women's rights and labor rights.  They served their country very well and sincerely tried to better the world.  I came away from this book strongly admiring both Eleanor and Franklin.  I've always shared their political views, but the book gave me a greater sense of how far out on a limb they each were, fighting for things we take for granted today.


  1. I read her autobiography but now I'm eager to read this. Thanks for the review!

  2. Definitely worth the read -- it talks about how careful she had to be in her autobiography. Franklin edited the first 2 volumes, but even in the 3rd there was much she couldn't say.

  3. After visiting Hyde Park, NY this summer, I started reading Doris Kearns Goodwin's No Ordinary Time. This books focuses on the home front and thus the Roosevelts from 1940-1945. If you ever get a chance to visit the Roosevelt homes in Hyde Park, I highly recommend it. The rangers love the Roosevelts and it's great to see where they lived.

  4. Thanks for the recommendation Cindy. I'd love to visit Hyde Park one day! Sounds like a great history trip for homeschoolers!