Franklin and Eleanor : an extraordinary marriage

by Hazel Rowley

Hardcover, 2010




New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010.


Hazel Rowley describes the remarkable courage and lack of convention--private and public--that kept FDR and Eleanor together. She reveals a partnership that was both supportive and daring--a partnership that they created according to their own ambitions and needs.

Media reviews

The Roosevelts' nonconformist love lives, as well as their expansive impulses to turn the White House into a World War II-era hippie crash pad, have been recounted by other superb biographers, notably Blanche Wiesen Cook and Doris Kearns Goodwin. What distinguishes Rowley's chronicle is her focus on the evolution of the Roosevelt marriage from a standard-issue high-society alliance of its day to a ... what? We don't even have a term for such an unconventional relationship — certainly "open marriage" sounds too naughty, although "open" is what the Roosevelts clearly became.

User reviews

LibraryThing member ReadingFanatic09
As a former history major, one might assume that I frequently pick up nonfiction to read for fun. Not all. Actually, there are very few nonfiction books that I have picked up for fun. I think something about the plethora of history reading as an undergrad might have disillusioned me a bit on nonfiction reading. But I digress. I picked this book up on a whim and did not once regret it--start to finish.

In this book, Rowley takes on the Roosevelt marriage: it's ups and downs and all the eccentricities in between. The Roosevelt marriage has taken on a shroud of mystery over the years that many have attempted to uncover. Rowley does a fantastic job not (blatantly) "taking a side" in the discussion of the relationship that FDR and Eleanor had. Their marriage was definitely non-traditional and what we know about them is today (still) clouded and incomplete. Rowley, I think, would lead us to believe that such a mystery was intentional. The conventions of yesterday and today would still look down upon a marriage such as Eleanor and FDR had. They weren't the perfect couple, as many want to believe, but they had a successful marriage built on mutual trust and understanding. Rowley takes the reader from the very beginnings of their relationship through the end, with FDR's death and Truman's swearing in.

Rowley's writing makes this read like a novel. It is enjoyable and fast-paced--not a dull moment (which, I suppose, one might expect when talking about the Roosevelt marriage). This is probably the first time that a non-fiction biography has actually moved me to tears. I would definitely recommend this book to history fanatics, mild history fans, WWII fans, avid readers...everyone!
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LibraryThing member hemlokgang
I just devoured this book. I am not an historian, so I cannot debate the veracity of the facts. However, assuming this story sprung from research with integrity, it was a fascinating read. Indeed, a remarkable relationship existed between Franklin & Eleanor. It was based on acceptance of one another which stemmed from them being accepting of people in general. Superficial traits and public opinion had little to do with their loyalties, although they did require secrecy to live as their true selves. I like the idea that they both retained their humanity, the good, the bad, and the ugly, despite their public lives. Who are we to judge? As seems to be true for many memorable leaders, it seemes to me that the children probably suffered more than either parent. In this case, both parents were great leaders, so I would be interested to learn more about the impact their life choices had on their five children. Most interesting to me: their love of communal living combined with their fierce independence and their personal insecurities.… (more)
LibraryThing member Chris_El
As an Anglophile one must acknowledge that FDR was one of the greatest friends of England prior to and during our (the American) time fighting WWII. He skirted the law of the land to give as much as possible to help England before we entered the war. Finishing the book on the story of FDR and Eleanor's romance I am filled with sadness for them. Eleanor found out after he passed away that one of the women he had an affair with after they married was visiting him the day he died and her family and White House staff hid that visit and several previous from her. For many years this story (and other indiscretions) were hidden by people in the know. Eleanor had several affairs herself. The two of them were affectionate to each other and frequently made a good team but love was lost somewhere in the first decade of their marriage.

The author makes it clear that Eleanor and others journals, letters, and interviews were often scrubbed to present the truth as they wished it to be presented. Eleanor wrote a long three volume autobiography but was very circumspect in protecting the FDR's and her personal legacy. The history of her and FDR's affairs are frequently preserved in their love letters to their lovers and some tell all testimony years after FDR passed away. They both achieved greatness but never contentment in love with each other. A sad indictment on a life lived less fully than it should be. I am a bit jealous of his large collection of books and living room filled with shelves full of books but hope for more faithful fulfilled living in my personal love life.

The author briefly mentions the falsehood that Charles Lindbergh was an anti-Semite Nazi sympathizer which is not accurate. She does not mention one of FDR's first public embarrassment with the Air Mail situation in 1934 choosing instead to identify the court packing effort to grow the Supreme Court as his first great set back as president. Towards the end of the book the author went from telling the story of the relationship of FDR and Eleanor to the story of their deeds and legacy. Not a bad end but I feel like she started to soon as the last few years together could have been fleshed out more.

I feel I must add that though I felt the author approved and admired Eleanor she was very fair with both FDR and Eleanor to record both their good qualities and bad and let their story tell the story of who they were. Stylistically well written and put together with a smooth flow to the story.
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