Monday, March 12, 2012

Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage

Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage
By Hazel Rowley

Book review by Richard L. Weaver II

I had no idea what a terrific book this was until I gave it to my 98-year-old father-in-law.  Not only does Edgar Willis know history, but he lived through the Roosevelt era and even had the opportunity to shake Eleanor’s hand at one point.  His impression of her was extremely positive.  She wanted to know where Edgar was from, and Edgar remembered that she was very tall (5 feet 11 inches).

Edgar was thoroughly pleased with Rowley’s book (as most of the reviewers at were).  First, he thought Rowley’s writing was smooth, flawless, and engaging.  Edgar, having written a number of books himself (including several college textbooks), is a language guru.  By that I simply mean that one of the first things he looks for in another’s writing, is that author’s language: grammar, sentence construction, word choice, and vividness (or verbal flourishes).  He was very impressed.

Although this book is nonfiction, it is written much like a novel.  Edgar began reading it not thinking that he was even going to spend time with it), and he was quickly caught up in it.  I have brought him a number of books, and because he has several available to read, often he chooses to read those he already has rather than take on a new one.  This book by Rowley was truly an exception.  (He gives me back many that I offer him to read.)

Edgar wrote the book Civilian in an Ill-Fitting Uniform: A Memoir of World War II (And Then Some Publishing, 2009), and for that book he did a great deal of research and reading of history books.  For this reason, he was able to find several minor historical inaccuracies in Rowley’s book.  It should be clear, however, that Edgar is an expert on this period of history; thus, it is unlikely that most readers would be as astute, perceptive, and historically knowledgeable as he is.  (As an aside, he relished sharing those inaccuracies with my wife and myself as he cradled the book in his lap.)

Another element that both Edgar and I like in the nonfiction books we choose to read is the resources authors use.  The substance or text takes up 302 pages.  There are 8 pages of black and white pictures (19 pictures total).  There are 24 pages of notes — a total of 302 references (average of one note per page).  Also, her sources are outstanding.  She has really done her homework, and not only are her comments throughout the book well documented, but she has uncovered a number of sources that previous writers about the Roosevelt’s have either missed or not used.

One of the remarks Edgar made about the book, just after reading it and as he embraced it in his hands, is that he learned a number of new details about the Roosevelts that he did not know before.  For those who know little, they will learn a great deal.  It is not just about the Roosevelts, too.  One of the things you learn is the history of the time and the way the president and his wife impacted that history.  Thus, if you are a history buff, this is a great read.

One other positive aspect of the book is how well Rowley describes the relationship that Franklin and Eleanor had.  Not only does Rowley beautifully explain their humanity and their strengths and weaknesses, but you also get a clear picture of how the two respected each other, grew as a couple throughout their lives, and experienced an unusual and unconventional marriage.  

Dr. Wayne S. Swift wrote the following as a portion of his short review of this book at “Cutting through myths and unfair characterizations, [Rowley] confidently portrays a much stronger and more flexible marriage than previous biographers had dared to see. I love and admire the authority and courage with which [Rowley] guides [readers] through [the Roosevelt’s] complex and fascinating world.”

Because of her engaging writing style, thorough documentation, and ability to bring Franklin and Eleanor’s relationship to light in a resonant, meaningful, and interesting manner, I give Rowley’s wonderful  book the full five stars it so richly deserves.

1 comment:

  1. Maximillion Ryan IIIMarch 12, 2012 at 8:50 AM

    Another one to add to my collection!


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