The New York Times bestseller from prizewinning author David Michaelis presents a “stunning” (The Wall Street Journal) breakthrough portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt, America’s longest-serving First Lady, an avatar of democracy whose ever-expanding agency as diplomat, activist, and humanitarian made her one of the world’s most widely admired and influential women.
In the first single-volume cradle-to-grave portrait in six decades, acclaimed biographer David Michaelis delivers a stunning account of Eleanor Roosevelt’s remarkable life of transformation. An orphaned niece of President Theodore Roosevelt, she converted her Gilded Age childhood of denial and secrecy into an irreconcilable marriage with her ambitious fifth cousin Franklin. Despite their inability to make each other happy, Franklin Roosevelt transformed Eleanor from a settlement house volunteer on New York’s Lower East Side into a matching partner in New York’s most important power couple in a generation.
When Eleanor discovered Franklin’s betrayal with her younger, prettier, social secretary, Lucy Mercer, she offered a divorce and vowed to face herself honestly. Here is an Eleanor both more vulnerable and more aggressive, more psychologically aware and sexually adaptable than we knew. She came to accept her FDR’s bond with his executive assistant, Missy LeHand; she allowed her children to live their own lives, as she never could; and she explored her sexual attraction to women, among them a star female reporter on FDR’s first presidential campaign, and younger men.
Eleanor needed emotional connection. She pursued deeper relationships wherever she could find them. Throughout her life and travels, there was always another person or place she wanted to heal. As FDR struggled to recover from polio, Eleanor became a voice for the voiceless, her husband’s proxy in the White House. Later, she would be the architect of international human rights and world citizen of the Atomic Age, urging Americans to cope with the anxiety of global annihilation by cultivating a “world mind.” She insisted that we cannot live for ourselves alone but must learn to live together or we will die together.
This “absolutely spellbinding,” (The Washington Post) “complex and sensitive portrait” (The Guardian) is not just a comprehensive biography of a major American figure, but the story of an American ideal: how our freedom is always a choice. Eleanor rediscovers a model of what is noble and evergreen in the American character, a model we need today more than ever.
Biographer Michaelis (Schulz and Peanuts) presents a compulsively readable and exhaustively researched portrait of one of the most admired women of the 20th century. The model of the modern activist First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt lost both parents by the time she was 10 and bounced between relatives' homes and boarding schools. She learned self-reliance and developed a curiosity about the world, according to Michaelis, but craved love. She thought she found it in her 1905 marriage to Franklin Roosevelt (a distant cousin), but gradually had to accept a political partnership in lieu of the romance of the soul she wanted. Propelled to exercise her intellect and fulfill her desire for public service, Roosevelt worked with the Red Cross, the League of Women Voters, the Democratic Party, and the United Nations. As First Lady, she earned money from "writing, speaking, broadcasting, and endorsing" (though she donated most of it to charities) and campaigned for civil rights. These and other activities brought her into contact with people who provided the love and intimacy Franklin couldn't, including New York State Trooper Earl Miller, journalist Lorena Hickok, political activist (and future biographer) Joe Lash, and physician David Gurewitsch. Michaelis's clear-eyed but sympathetic portrayal, enhanced by a crisp writing style, brings Roosevelt's personality and achievements into sharp focus. This jam-packed biography is a must-read for 20th-century history buffs.