The extraordinary couple who shaped modern America

Posted: July 17, 2014 in Book review
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No ordinary time (2)No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt

Two extraordinary people, a pivotal point in history and an expert storyteller combine to deliver a riveting account of the convulsive forces that created modern America.

If you haven’t read this book yet, you should, and even if you have it’s one to consider reading again, it’s so good.

From the New Deal to the dark days of the Second World War, Doris Kearns Goodwin takes us to the heart of the White House and the tensions, rivalries and conflicts among key players of the period.

From her painstaking research we get fully-fleshed characters wrestling with enormous issues while trying to balance swift action with political expediency. Isolationism, deep-seated racism, poverty and rigid social strictures are shown as part of the fabric of life in the US in the pre-war period.

FDR had the foresight to see what was coming, even when advisers counselled against getting involved, but shifting the nation’s mindset and the economy to a war footing was an enormous risk and a huge challenge. Pearl Harbor was a defining moment; public opinion rapidly came around, but FDR was on board long before that.

His relationship with Churchill and their mutual admiration is closely chronicled and a delight to read. Amid the anecdotes there are several ‘what if’ moments that make you wonder how the world might be had they not seen eye to eye on key positions.

But it’s the intricacy of the relationship between Franklin and Eleanor that holds center stage – it’s both touching and tragic. They’re a couple with a deep, yet unfulfilled, love for each other who share a profound mutual respect and eagerness to please, but whose marriage is mired in melancholy.

Goodwin gives us the ultimate insider’s view of the relationship with multiple perspectives on the hurts, the jealousies, the slights and the misunderstandings. We see the intermingling of their public and private lives, their faults and their frailties, their insecurities and their ambitions.

They emerge as different halves of a complementary whole – an extraordinary couple from an extraordinary time who unleashed changes which continue to reverberate and shape the world in which we live.

 

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