... the first major single-volume biography in more than half a century, and a terrific resource for people who aren’t ready to tackle Blanche Wiesen Cook’s heroic three-volume work. At more than 700 pages it’s hardly a quick read, but it’s a great resource for people who don’t know a whole lot about her ... Eleanor’s own romantic life gets thorough treatment, given that much or all of it seemed to involve crushes rather than consummation.
Michaelis details innumerable stories of people and events in Eleanor’s life, from her years as the increasingly engaged first lady to her roles in Democratic Party politics to her work as a newspaper columnist and speaker after Franklin’s death in 1945 ... Much of Eleanor will be familiar to many readers, but Michaelis’s rendering is especially bright and a pleasure to read. Few other books reveal the fascinating inner journey that transformed Eleanor from an emotionally choked-off young woman into a mature leader who inspired millions.
... an excellent single-volume biography of America’s greatest first lady ... Nothing about Eleanor is staid or plodding. Michaelis, the author of wonderful biographies of Charles Schulz and N.C. Wyeth, writes beautiful nonfiction prose ... Wherever the intrepid Eleanor travels, Michaelis offers vivid descriptions of topography, wardrobe, weather conditions and societal moods as if an understudy for Charles Dickens. While Michaelis’s style is sometimes florid, his uncanny ability to nail down the atmospherics of a particular place and time with consummate grace is engaging ... The last chapters of Eleanor, when the Swiss physician David Gurewitsch enters the narrative as a love interest, are absolutely spellbinding.
... both compelling and comprehensive, making use of previously untapped archival sources and interviews ... a fast-moving, engrossing narrative ... Michaelis never neglects the politics and history that marked the life of this remarkable, fascinating woman. At the same time, his impeccable storytelling and seamless integration of dialogue and quotations allow him to create an intimate, lively and emotional portrait that unfolds like a good novel. The book is also meticulously sourced, with nearly 100 pages of notes and a 30-page bibliography that’s of interest to historians as well as general readers ... One of the pleasures of this biography is Michaelis’ firm grasp of the material and his ability to sprinkle the text with anecdotes and tidbits that capture Roosevelt’s personality, complex private relationships and public accomplishments ... As America faces another challenging period in its history, there may be no better time for readers to turn to the life of one of our nation’s truly great leaders for inspiration.
Reading her story, the overriding question for readers in our fraught times might well be: Where did Eleanor get her grit? But Michaelis seems more preoccupied with her needs, as, trapped in a passionless marriage, she chased affection wherever she could find it, whether in her love affair with journalist Lorena Hickok or her close and at times passionate friendships ... Michaelis does a credible job at re-creating the traumatic history that the Roosevelts both endured and shaped, but his informal style presents challenges. He has a maddening habit of presenting a character without introduction, then explaining who they are several pages later. Characters appear, then leave the narrative with the briefest of explanations. Keep your smartphone handy ... Perhaps there is too much of Eleanor Roosevelt’s life to get it all in one book — it took Blanche Wiesen Cook three volumes to cover it ... Michaelis’ zeal for his subject is apparent, but in the end the mystery of what made this astounding woman persist remains elusive.
To fully portray someone whose circumstances and courageous attitude put her on the world stage with some of the best-known figures in the politics and government of her times cannot be an easy task, but in this lengthy exploration, Michaelis allows us to see Eleanor’s public face and her private moments outside the box of her fame. From her own writings and a mountain of other important sources, he paints her as human, female and, at times, vulnerable and sad. As Michaelis notes, even towards the end, 'Her happiest days now involved winning fights.' It is Eleanor’s fighting spirit that may reemerge to inspire a new generation.
Michaelis clarifies and repositions Eleanor Roosevelt’s extensively scrutinized, unique, and exceptional life in ways that emphasize just how profoundly relevant her epic struggles and achievements are in this time of political reckoning and quest for genuine social justice. With judicious use of newly accessible sources, sure command of the complexities of the Roosevelt clan, and acute sensitivity to the contrast between Eleanor’s public persona and inner self, Michaelis provides a fresh and heart-wrenching perspective on her anguished childhood; her husband’s betrayals; her mother-in-law’s dominance; her six pregnancies in rapid succession and the death of an infant son; her reluctant but ultimately passionate embrace of the demands of political life; her transformation and elevation of the role of First Lady; her blind spots; and her frequently self-wounding love for women and men. Michaelis meticulously chronicles Eleanor’s failings and triumphs within the gripping context of her overt and covert advocacy on behalf of the overlooked and the oppressed during the Great Depression, both world wars, the Cold War, and the civil rights movement. Solid details and astute distillation ensure that readers absorb and appreciate the full impact of Eleanor’s suffering, prodigious work, and gender-leaping, world-altering accomplishments as an activist, adviser, world-traveling investigator and envoy of mercy, human-rights commissioner, syndicated columnist and writer, radio and TV host, and global conscience.
... comprehensive ... The accomplishments of Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) were widespread and substantial, and her trailblazing actions in support of social justice and global peace resonate powerfully in our current moment ... In the most expansive one-volume portrait to date, Michaelis offers a fresh perspective on some well-worn territory ... The author paints a compelling portrait of Eleanor’s life as an evolving journey of transformation, lingering on the significant episodes to shed nuance on her circumstances and the players involved ... As in his acclaimed biography of Charles Schulz, Michaelis displays his nimble storytelling skills, smoothly tracking Eleanor’s ascension from wife and mother to her powerfully influential and controversial role as first lady and continued leadership and activist efforts beyond. Throughout, the author lucidly illuminates the essence of her thinking and objectives ... A well-documented and enlightened portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt for our times.
... a compulsively readable and exhaustively researched portrait of one of the most admired women of the 20th century ... Michaelis’s clear-eyed but sympathetic portrayal, enhanced by a crisp writing style, brings Roosevelt’s personality and achievements into sharp focus. This jam-packed biography is a must-read for 20th-century history buffs.