Sunday, November 4, 2007

Eleanor Roosevelt

Freedman, Russell. 1993. Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery. New York: Clarion Books. ISBN 0899198627

Plot summary
Russell Freedman takes the reader into the life of Eleanor Roosevelt. He not only gives the facts of her remarkable life, but he gives the reader the story of her life. Eleanor comes alive in this book and is seen as one of the most remarkable women of her time. Freedman begins before Eleanor's birth and chronicles her education, her courtship and marriage to Franklin D. Roosevelt, the birth of her children, her activism, and her role in the political arena of the United States.

Critical analysis

I enjoyed reading this book because I felt transported into Eleanor's life. I've always admired Eleanor Roosevelt, and I feel that Russell Freedman creates a vivid picture of her through an objective point of view. She comes to life in this book instead of a one-dimensional caricature of someone in history. Freedman incorporates narrative with historical facts. One example is when Freedman writes, "Although FDR listened to his wife, he was keenly attuned to what he believed was politically possible" (116). Eleanor and Franklin had a partnership and Freeman relates to the reader how strong their relationship was in spite of their differences.

There are eleven chapters in this book and each chapter gives the reader another layer of who this woman truly was. Almost each chapter begins with an epigram quoting Eleanor. Included within the text are pictures, mostly gathered from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, that show Eleanor throughout her life. There are other pictures to supplement the time period, such as the picture of Polish Jews being marched off to death camps (130). I found the pictures captivating and a visual support of the text. I also enjoyed the sixteen page photo album at the back of the book that contained pictures from Eleanor's childhood through the 1960s. Following the photo album is a section about Eleanor's cottage, Val-Kill. Freedman explains that the cottage is open to the public and gives contact information to find out more. Freedman then gives a list of "Books about and by Eleanor Roosevelt" (189) for readers interested in reading more about Eleanor.

Each chapter follows a chronological order to explain what Eleanor's life was like at that particular time with the exception of Chapter One, the shortest chapter. Chapter One gives an overview of her life focusing mostly on her time as First Lady. Freedman gives a concluding paragraph stating, "For thirty years...Eleanor Roosevelt was the most famous and at times the most influential woman in the world. And yet those who knew her best were most impressed by her simplicity, by her total lack of self-importance" (3). Chapter Two then goes back to her childhood and begins the story of Eleanor's life.

Through Freedman's book, we learn what a strong and influential person Eleanor was. "Eleanor replied that she was sorry if her activities offended anyone, but she was determined to pursue her interests and express her beliefs. 'Everyone must live their own life in their own way and not according to anybody else's ideas,' she told a press conference" (111).

This book includes and index and can be read for research purposes. However, I recommend reading this for pleasure to learn more about Eleanor Roosevelt.

Review excerpts
PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY: "This impeccably researched, highly readable study of one of this country's greatest First Ladies is nonfiction at its best."

SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL: "Fans of Eleanor Roosevelt will enjoy this detailed anecdotal record of her life, while those unfamiliar with her life will count themselves among her admirers by the end ."

*Read Freedman's biography on Franklin Roosevelt to get a more complete picture of this influential duo.
*Create a fact or fiction game with questions based on Eleanor's life. This game can be used as an introductory assignment before reading the book or as a closing assignment to check for reading comprehension and recall.

*Read other books about Eleanor Roosevelt:
Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt, Vol. 1: 1884-1933. ISBN 0140094601
Cook, Blanche Wiesen. Eleanor Roosevelt, Vol. 2: 1933-1938. ISBN 0670844985
Gerber, Robin. Leadership the Eleanor Roosevelt Way. ISBN 0735203245
Wigal, Donald. The Wisdom of Eleanor Roosevelt. ISBN 0806524782

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