Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume Two, 1933-1938

Blanche Wiesen Cook, Author Viking Books $34.95 (686p) ISBN 978-0-670-84498-2

When it appeared in 1992, the first volume of Cook's exhaustive, provocative biography of Eleanor Roosevelt radically redefined popular and critical perceptions of her subject's private life and elucidated the enormous role she played in the nation's public life. In this second of three installments--which opens with the Roosevelts' move to Washington to begin FDR's first administration and ends with Kristalnacht and the inevitability of a European war--Cook again proves herself a masterful researcher, historian and writer. With a steely command of facts and a meticulous eye for detail, she demonstrates how the president and First Lady--despite profoundly differing visions that often broke into public disagreement--entered into a delicate, mutually beneficial relationship based on trust, advisement and political action. By explicitly placing ER's political concerns--about human rights, the role of women, racial justice and social welfare--at the center of the narrative, Cook gives us a new, revealing lens through which to view U.S. foreign, domestic and social policy. The book's power resides in its author's ability to synthesize massive amounts of personal and historical material and to present it in graceful prose conveying the import and magnitude of her primary topic: the role that gender, sexuality and personal relationships played in the unfolding of a new vision for the U.S. and the world. This alone would make an important addition to the historical record. But Cook's ability to tease out nuance and illuminate complex, often enigmatic relationships (primarily the Roosevelts' genuinely loving, yet nonsexual marriage and Eleanor's intensely committed, sexual relationship with Lorena Hickock), and to place them in the broader sphere of public policy raises the book to an extraordinarily high level of scholarship. Cook is unafraid to take on difficult issues--in particular ER's own ""reverberating silence"" on the situation of Jews under Hitler and the administration's sadly conflicted stand on such racial issues as lynching--thus rendering the biography not simply a riveting read but also a profoundly moving and wise account of how history has been shaped by the intricacies of the human heart, mind and spirit. Photos not seen by PW. Agent, Charlotte Sheedy. 10-city author tour. (July)