As FDR's Secretary of Labor, Perkins always features in New Deal studies and memoirs, but this painstaking biography, based on her papers and oral histories, is the first. A New Englander and a devoted Mount Holyoke graduate, she deliberately cultivated a motherly appearance; two limitations on her public life were her unstable husband and her discomfort with the press. Perkins added political sophistication to her settlement house/consumer league background through work with and for New York State Governor Al Smith, a magnetic figure here. Her Washington tenure involved nudging FDR toward unemployment insurance and other innovations while coping with right-wing efforts to deport ""alien radicals"" like longshore leader Harry Bridges. Perkins was appalled by NRA chief Johnson's enthusiasm for Mussolini, shrank from compulsory labor arbitration, and opposed an industrial draft during WW II. Her outlook was one of Christian community, though she complained once during the New Deal that ""the poor aren't grateful in the long run, and quarrels come up."" Martin does full justice to Perkins' abilities as administrator, legislative guide and public spokesman; his own rather wide-eyed view of the Roosevelt administration does not seriously handicap this valuable book.