Thursday, July 9, 2015

No Ordinary Time, Doris Kearns Goodwin

No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II

Doris Kearns Goodwin        

Category: Biography
Synopsis: Kearns Goodwin looks at Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt’s life together and in politics.
Pages: 636
Date finished: 10 January 2015

Rating: ****

I think you would just have to call this one of, if not the, definitive book on Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. I’d wanted to read something by Doris Kearns Goodwin for awhile now (well, I’d read her Wait Till Next Year years ago, but I don’t really remember it), and I have a fondness for World War II history, so this is the book I settled on. I’d have to say it is very comprehensive, almost tediously so in parts. It’s well-researched, well-written, and well-documented.

Unfortunately, I read this after watching the spectacular Ken Burns 14-hour series The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. Kearns Goodwin was one of the Roosevelt authors whose expertise was used in the documentary. She’s so delightfully plain and straightforward, I fell in love with her while watching the series, and it moved this book up my TBR list. But No Ordinary Time not being my first major introduction into the Roosevelts, much of the 636 pages slogged. I felt like I really didn’t learn much that I hadn’t learned from the documentary or other books—all of them produced since Kearns Goodwin’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, I must add.

The one thing I did learn was just how progressive Eleanor’s political beliefs were. Her ideals were liberal in every sense of the word. I kept thinking how remarkable that must have been in the 1940s, because it seemed to me that the laws and policies she fervently wanted enacted were way ahead of her time. She was concerned with race and class at a time long before the Civil Rights movement and public welfare. In fact, as liberal as FDR was, she was way to the left of him. The things she believed in are common core ideals for today’s Democratic party, but they made Eleanor stand out.

And yet, I found I didn’t care much for Eleanor. Part of the draw of this book for me was to finally read something that showed Eleanor in context of her husband’s presidency, and I have to say, had she been my first lady, I’d not have the patience President Roosevelt had with her. Case in point, when Franklin was concerned with little more than keeping America out of the second World War, or helping Britain build munitions, or feeling the burden of being a Commander-in-Chief in the greatest war of our time, Eleanor was pressuring him to fix the racial divide so that a better, fairer system would be in place when the black soldiers came home. Of course, this is a compassionate stance, one few had at the time, but she didn’t seem to understand that if Franklin’s priority wasn’t in fighting and winning the war, there’d be no black soldiers coming home, or indeed, nothing for black soldiers to come home to. I found Eleanor’s single-mindedness maddening.

Overall, though, I would recommend this book. It was thoroughly researched and, I think, fair, in its portrayal of both Roosevelts, the Roosevelt administration, and the home front during the war. If, however, you’ve read many other books about the couple or watched the Burns miniseries, the information here will be very familiar. Which, I suppose, means it’s accurate.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Yes. If you have the stamina.

You might also enjoy:
FDR’s Funeral Train

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