Having already devoted more than 1,200 pages to the extraordinary life of Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) in two previous installments, the skilled biographer offers the final volume.
Although the third book focuses on the period from 1939 to 1945, Cook (History/John Jay Coll., Graduate Center, CUNY; Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume 2, The Defining Years, 1933-1938, 1999, etc.) also covers the remainder of Roosevelt's meaningful accomplishments and personal relationships until her death in 1962. No hagiographer, the author presents Roosevelt's strained personal relationships, occasional passive-aggressive behavior, moral equivocations due to electoral politics, and other less-than-admirable qualities. Overall, though, Cook shows Roosevelt as empathetic to the less fortunate in both America and overseas, relentlessly optimistic about eventually achieving world peace, courageous in the face of personal danger, and almost superhumanly energetic until her final year. What may resonate most for contemporary readers is Roosevelt's crusade for greater racial harmony. She did not merely offer lip service to racial equality; she modeled it in her friendships and in the issues she promoted to Congress and her husband, despite widespread discrimination against blacks that showed no signs of abating. Cook notes that while outlining the current volume, she chose to develop the metatheme of the first lady obsessing about "race and rescue." Because most of the narrative unfolds during World War II, Cook amply examines Eleanor's efforts to influence the decisions of her husband. The president and Eleanor had to negotiate a rocky personal relationship due to his philandering and her unusual romantic liaisons, but as partners in politics, the mutual respect between them never wavered. The final pages about Eleanor’s postwar activities seem overly telescoped, but that’s a minor quibble in this outstanding work of biography. Cook makes a strong case that her subject is the most influential first lady in American history and even the most influential woman in world affairs since at least 1900.
A winning concluding volume in a series that does for Eleanor Roosevelt what Robert Caro has done for Lyndon Johnson.