No Ordinary Time Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt

We will focus on Dorothy Kearns Gooodwin’s Pulitzer Prize winning “No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II” (available from your local library or from for $13.64 + shipping) with special emphasis on FDR’s “Economic Bill of Rights” from his 1944 “State of the Union” Speech, given 10 months before his re-election for a fourth term and a mere 15 months before he died in office –

1. The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the nation;

2. The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

3. The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

4. The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

5. The right of every family to a decent home;

6. The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

7. The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

8. The right to a good education.
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No Ordinary Time Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt

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by VictoriaNortonStrong » Thu Jul 02, 2009 10:21 pm
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I recommend "No Ordinary Time Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II" by Dorothy Kearns Goodwin (available from your local library or from in paperback for $14.78 new or $2.59 used + shipping).
NY Times Book Review – 19 September 1994

BOOKS OF THE TIMES; A Monumental Presidency and the Telling Details
By CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPT – NY Times Senior Daily Book Review Editor 1969-1995

No Ordinary Time Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II By Doris Kearns Goodwin Illustrated. 759 pages. Simon & Schuster. $30.

When most of us who were alive during World War II recall what the home front was like, we think of gas rationing and air-raid drills and what we were doing when the news of Pearl Harbor was announced. But Doris Kearns Goodwin ("Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream" and "The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys") is after something grander in her enthralling new history, "No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II."

Here she recounts the war years, 1940 through 1945, from the perspective of the American Presidency. She tells how Franklin Delano Roosevelt coaxed an isolationist, Depression-ridden nation first into supplying arms to England in that country's lonely battle against Nazi Germany and then into taking up arms itself, and how his command of the home front transformed the United States into a mighty industrial power.

At the same time, Mrs. Goodwin has something more intimate in mind than even our personal memories of the war years. She sets out to tell her history through the lives of the Roosevelts and those who occupied the White House with them at a time when that building functioned more as a dormitory for famous personages than the President's official residence. And the details of these people's passionate relations -- their friendships and loves, rivalries and jealousies -- are what make "No Ordinary Time" seem so fresh and alive.

Mrs. Goodwin sets her tone at the outset with a description of how Roosevelt used to put himself to sleep at night in the tension-filled war years by recalling himself as a boy at his home in Hyde Park, N.Y., riding his sled down a hill and climbing up to the top again. In a note at the end of the book describing her prodigious research, including interviews with 86 people who knew the Roosevelts and their extended family, Mrs. Goodwin explains how she learned about the President's nightly ritual from one of his daughters-in-law.

The author goes on to chastise those historians who fabricate their details instead of doing the necessary research to dig up real ones, and calls such a shift from nonfiction to fiction "a betrayal of the historian's trust." But her point has already been made by the fact that the story she has told is as compelling as fiction yet retains the weight of authenticity.

The important question remains: Is history really explained by personal details about Eleanor's ambivalent feelings toward her husband and about Missie LeHand's almost pathological devotion as an amanuensis to the President and about Roosevelt's own mercurial personality -- one would almost call these items gossip. Do such details really account for the period's great events, like the forging of America into an industrial arsenal or the waging of war against the Axis?

The answer suggested by Mrs. Goodwin is that almost everything that happened depended on the Roosevelts' characters. In one fascinating passage she describes how the President all alone dreamed up the idea of lend-lease as if there were nothing more to that method of supplying materiel to the Allies than Dutchess County neighbors bartering farm supplies with each other.

In her account of diplomatic dealings among the great powers, she shows how Roosevelt and Stalin ganged up on Churchill at the Teheran Conference in 1943 and teased him into going along with the cross-channel invasion of Europe he instinctively opposed, an indignity that Churchill would not have tolerated without the residue of deep affection he held for his close friend Roosevelt.

In fact, as Mrs. Goodwin tells it, so completely did the President dominate events during the war that whatever affected his mood was felt by the whole country. So it mattered mightily that those who were close to him could keep him relaxed and on an even keel. And it mattered too that Eleanor opposed him. For by her contrariness, which stemmed from their conflicted marriage, she too made history.

In any case, Mrs. Goodwin's narrative remains seamless despite the way it threads back and forth between the personal turmoil of the characters and the remarkable advances the country underwent in its industrial production, its racial relations and the role of its women.

Many of these changes came about because of Eleanor, at least in Mrs. Goodwin's view, and reading about her role as First Lady makes you realize that there's nothing new about Hillary Rodham Clinton under the sun; Eleanor Roosevelt blazed a trail that the present First Lady has barely placed a running shoe upon.

Reading "No Ordinary Time" makes you realize too what a majestic Presidency Franklin Roosevelt's remains. It had its flaws, among which Mrs. Goodwin numbers chiefly its failure to do more for European Jews and its inability to stem the tide of hostility toward Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor. And it functioned at a time when the press not only refused to invade the private lives of the first family but also assiduously protected the President from ever being depicted as the crippled man he was.

Still, the way Mrs. Goodwin has pulled her myriad facts together serves to reinforce one's sense of a monumental Presidency. Scanning the vast bibliography, which was also part of her research, one comes upon a book title like Robert E. Sherwood's "Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History" and wonders whether a similar work could be written about any subsequent Presidents and their personal advisers. Truman and Acheson, maybe. Kennedy and Sorensen, just possibly. But Eisenhower and Adams? Johnson and Fortas? Nixon and Haldeman? Carter and Lance? Reagan and Regan? Bush and Baker? The notion grows increasingly outlandish.

Or maybe it's that familiarity breeds contempt, and we require the passage of time to exalt our Presidencies. If that's the case, then Mrs. Goodwin has pulled off the double trick of making Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt seem so monumental as to have come from a very distant past, and at the same time so vital as to have been alive only yesterday.

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