Hazel Rowley has written a good book here, but it seems to me one that didn’t need writing. After having read biographies of both these monumental people, I found little new either in content or approach to freshen my view of them either as individuals or as a couple.
Perhaps the most interesting insight–available to me after my other reading if I’d only been intelligent enough to catch it–in Franklin and Eleanor is the idea that both of them had a penchant for a communal existence. They liked people, and they liked a lot of them around. With their wealth, they were able to support or at least supplement the existence of a good many. Hyde Park turned from a residence into a compound over the years, and the White House collective changed shape with the frequency of an amoeba during the presidency. This condition, it seems to me, was useful in that it provided cover for the many intriguing relationships that developed around the marriage. Franklin had a number of relationships with women, Eleanor a number with both women and men. How many of the relationships were romantic and/or sexual and how meaningful or reciprocal has been always a mystery, and Rowley does nothing to clear that up.
People around the community were extraordinarily respectful of Roosevelt privacy. They kept their mouths shut. They burned letters. Even those who wrote autobiographies didn’t seem to know much and didn’t pretend to know more than they did. Those were the days.
If this is the first book about the Roosevelt’s you have read, it’s a good starting point, but don’t stop. There’s much more to learn.