Guessably, Roosevelt biographer Lash was entrusted with Eleanor Roosevelt's letters to her other friends in order, as FDR, Jr., writes in the foreword, to place her relationship with Lorena Hickok ""into context."" That context is at once a book twice as long as it should be and an indispensable companion to Lash's Eleanor and Franklin: Eleanor, it appears, endured her loveless marriage and achieved an individual identity by making herself indispensable to needful others. If anything, the intensity of the Hickok-ER attachment is confirmed: of the many letters here, no others are as impassioned, nor do others make reference to physical endearments. But as Lash sensibly concludes, ""Who is to say. . . ?"" The narrative begins with ER's childhood--tracing the roots of her insecurity and her craving for appreciation. (Tender, strong-minded schoolmistress Mlle. Souvestre looms larger than ever as mentor, role-model, lesbian.) Then comes the well-known turning point: the Lucy Mercer affair--after which Eleanor vows to serve her family and otherwise go her own way. Publicly, the story is familiar. Privately, ER-ally Louis Howe (in keeping FDR from do-nothing invalidism) was also her comforter and booster. . . and charge. Her first venture into politics was instigated by ""new friends"" Esther Everett Lape and Elizabeth Read, two professional women who shared a ""Boston marriage"" (in a Greenwich Village building where ER would for years keep an apartment). Another pair of ""lifelong companions,"" political-aide Nancy Cook and educator Marion Dickerman, lured her into Democratic Party affairs and into teaching; the three built and long shared Vail-Kill cottage, ER's refuge (from her mother-in-law, but also from Franklin) at Hyde Park. Then there was virile, vulnerable young bodyguard Earl Miller: Lash intimates an affair (or at least a longing); Miller persuasively denies it. More to the point were her domestic attentions to him: ""I've even learned to feel a twinge of confidence in a kitchen."" In Hick, she found someone with a childhood as miserable as hers: that, verifiably, was the initial basis of their friendship. But as ER the ""person"" developed into ER the ""personage,"" Hick (whose terms those were) resented the manifold claims upon her--while ER's apprehension ""that Hick's possessiveness would limit her autonomy and independence subsided, and so did her dread of becoming First Lady."" In her fifties and sixties, she conquered her childhood fears--of public speaking, of diving. Yet there always had to be someone to minister to--and the last of those charges here (there will be a second volume) is young, foundering Youth Congress activist Joseph Lash. We are also told, in FDR, Jr.'s foreword, of FBI documents alleging that FDR had serviceman Lash shipped overseas--but the chapter in which these appear has been withheld from advance reviewers. Such tacky sensationalism aside--a personal story of rich, rare dimension.