I finished this wonderful book yesterday morning. Here are three reasons why I gave it five stars:
1. The quality, depth and breadth of Smith’s research. There are 21 pages of Notes citing quotations included from other works and a biography that includes well over 200 titles (I didn’t count more than the first few pages and it’s 12 pages long). I did not know how prolific an author Eleanor herself was. She wrote two columns – “My Day”, a syndicated newspaper column which ran from December 30, 1935 to September 26, 1962 (just six weeks before she died), and “If You Ask Me”, a monthly column published (first in Ladies’ Home Journal and then in McCall’s) from May 1941 until November 1962. Smith includes material from both of these sources as well; they are fascinating as both historical and spiritual documents. I highly recommend this “best of” collection of My Day columns; I’m sure you’ll find at least a few familiar lines on those pages.
2. The writing. In spite of all the facts and quotations, it reads like a story. Smith begins with a chapter about what religion meant to Eleanor, then tells her story, starting with childhood (a chapter most appropriately titled “A Childhood from Hell”) and continuing through her marriage (the chapter on their pre-White House years is titled “Challenged and Betrayed”) to widowhood. Smith has separated material on the Jews (WWII, the Holocaust, founding of Israel), civil rights and religious diversity into their own chapters, which makes for compelling – and disturbingly uncomfortable – reading.
3. The story itself. I’m embarrassed how little I really knew about Eleanor prior to reading this book. She was a remarkable woman who contributed much to our country and the world. I’m grateful to (finally) understand her contribution.
Smith closes the book with these words that Eleanor wrote in 1933, in It’s Up to the Women (her first published book)
I think we shall have fulfilled our mission well if when our time comes to give up active work in the world we can say we never saw a wrong without trying to right it; we never intentionally left unhappiness where a little effort would have turned it into happiness, and we were more critical of ourselves than we were of others.
He concludes “Without a doubt, Eleanor fulfilled her mission.” and I wholeheartedly agree.
Check out Carole’s blog to read others’ Three on Thursday posts.
P.S. when I added the Goodreads link, I realized I’d forgotten to mention that the only thing missing from the book was photographs. I guess Smith knows we can find those all over the place! That My Day compilation I mentioned above includes some nice ones.