The best books on Eleanor Roosevelt, her times, and her column “My Day”

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a cultural historian (degrees in English and American Studies). I taught at the university level for 25 years (Emerson College, principally) and worked 20+ years as an acquisitions editor, in book publishing, at Harvard, at Cambridge University Press, and for a small company I founded, Berkshire House. I was politically sympathetic to Mrs. Roosevelt’s POV before the “My Day” book project came to me, but, coincidentally, her long run as a syndicated columnist interested me also because my first job, fresh out of college, was as a cub reporter for Associated Press. I learned, in a hurry, how to deliver a story on deadline, with all the facts double checked.


I wrote...

My Day: The Best Of Eleanor Roosevelt's Acclaimed Newspaper Columns, 1936-1962

By David Emblidge, Eleanor Roosevelt,

Book cover of My Day: The Best Of Eleanor Roosevelt's Acclaimed Newspaper Columns, 1936-1962

What is my book about?

Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) was intimately involved in the political life of her husband, President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She led women's organizations and youth movements and fought for consumer welfare, civil rights, and improved housing. Under her leadership the United Nations approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, acknowledged as a paramount achievement of the 20th century. Mrs. Roosevelt was named “Woman of the Century” by the National Women's Hall of Fame. Her hugely popular syndicated column “My Day” (1936 to 1962) had millions of readers worldwide. This collection displays her singular wit, elegance, compassion, and insight on everything from perspectives on the New Deal and World War II, to her painstaking diplomacy at the United Nations, to the joys of gardening at her beloved Hyde Park home.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The War Years and After

David Emblidge Why did I love this book?

There are several biographies of Eleanor Roosevelt, but few match this 3-vol. effort for its comprehensiveness and its sensitivity to the inner life of Eleanor (who led an exceedingly public life). All of Mrs. Roosevelt’s accomplishments are covered—with excellent contextand the bonus here is coverage of her private struggles as a shy, “orphaned” child, then as a beloved wife (to a disloyal husband), her failures as a mother, and her apparently quasi-lesbian attraction to another woman, as well as an unusual attachment to her doctor. Not a simple story!

By Blanche Wiesen Cook,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The War Years and After as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One of the New York Times's 100 Notable Books of 2016
One of NPR's 10 Best Books of 2016

"Heartachingly relevant...the Eleanor Roosevelt who inhabits these meticulously crafted pages transcends both first-lady history and the marriage around which Roosevelt scholarship has traditionally pivoted." -- The Wall Street Journal

The final volume in the definitive biography of America's greatest first lady.

"Monumental and inspirational...Cook skillfully narrates the epic history of the war years... [a] grand biography." -- The New York Times Book Review

Historians, politicians, critics, and readers everywhere have praised Blanche Wiesen Cook's biography of Eleanor Roosevelt as the essential…


Book cover of No Ordinary Time: Franklin & Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II

David Emblidge Why did I love this book?

Goodwin is one of our preeminent historians. A great narrator and a researcher par excellence. The details really matter. No other president served the country for four terms; no other president served during both a near-total economic collapse and a devastating global war; and no other president had such an activist, engaged wife. Although the Roosevelts’ marriage was deeply troubled (FDR’s attraction to other women…), they decided to stay together no matter what because they were, in the end, not just a married couple but a political team. Zooming in on the war years (which were FDR’s final years), we see here the creative tension between a president and a first lady, two towers of power, sometimes at odds, but always putting the best interests of the nation first in their thinking. 

By Doris Kearns Goodwin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked No Ordinary Time as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A chronicle of the US and its leaders during the period when modern America was created. It narrates the interrelationships between the inner workings of the Roosevelt White House and the destiny of the US, painting a portrait that fills in a historical gap in the story of America under Roosevelt.


Book cover of The Woman Behind the New Deal

David Emblidge Why did I love this book?

We take Social Security, Unemployment Insurance, and the Minimum Wage for granted; we also take for granted the presence of women in cabinet positions and as heads of regulatory agencies (especially since the Obama and Biden administrations). But in the 1930s, when The Depression began (and lasted for nearly a decade), none of this was present or common. A whole raft of ideas we call “The New Deal” and ascribe, rightly, to FDR’s astute leadership had, in fact, a moving force behind them, and that force was Frances Perkins, a workers’ rights advocate who served as US Secretary of Labor, 1933-1945. The first woman to serve in a presidential cabinet. Thus, a strong parallel to Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady. And, therefore, a good book for broader context on the life and work of Mrs. Roosevelt.

By Kirstin Downey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Woman Behind the New Deal as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

“Kirstin Downey’s lively, substantive and—dare I say—inspiring new biography of Perkins . . . not only illuminates Perkins’ career but also deepens the known contradictions of Roosevelt’s character.” —Maureen Corrigan, NPR Fresh Air
 
One of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s closest friends and the first female secretary of labor, Perkins capitalized on the president’s political savvy and popularity to enact most of the Depression-era programs that are today considered essential parts of the country’s social safety network.


Book cover of This Fabulous Century 1940 - 1950, Vol 5

David Emblidge Why did I love this book?

Because it focuses on the most important decade in Mrs. Roosevelt's life—covering the war years and her initial years of work as a US representative at the United Nations. Photos!! Reading about history is one thing. Seeing images of the people and technology that made history happen is something else. Large format, b&w, with good running text that uses countless anecdotes to tell the story of a century that truly transformed the world, from a time of kerosene lamps, horses and buggies, to men on the Moon. Eleanor Roosevelt’s life (1884-1962) parallels this illustrated history series (1870-1970) almost exactly. Excellent companions for my book.

Book cover of A People's History of the United States

David Emblidge Why did I love this book?

The late Howard Zinn is a historian-hero to many readers and a historian who drove the truck off the road (the left side of the road…) to others. A controversial best-selling book, widely adopted as a high school or college level textbook. Zinn, certainly a leftist, and something of a Marxist, writes about America from the bottom up, not the top down. This is not a history of what great men did; rather, it’s about the energies (for better or worse) that drive citizen action to create, or force, social, cultural and economic change. Mrs. Roosevelt might have been uncomfortable with Zinn’s tone (she came, of course, from the patrician class herself), but her sympathies definitely lay with the working class, and with any underrepresented minority having trouble securing its legitimate rights. She would have welcomed Zinn to her Hyde Park home, and, over tea and biscuits, they would have argued all night, emerging in the morning as fast friends.

By Howard Zinn,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked A People's History of the United States as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

THE CLASSIC NATIONAL BESTSELLER

"A wonderful, splendid book—a book that should be read by every American, student or otherwise, who wants to understand his country, its true history, and its hope for the future." –Howard Fast

Historian Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States chronicles American history from the bottom up, throwing out the official narrative taught in schools—with its emphasis on great men in high places—to focus on the street, the home, and the workplace.

Known for its lively, clear prose as well as its scholarly research, itis the only volume to tell America's story from the…


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Book cover of Leora's Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II

Joy Neal Kidney Author Of What Leora Never Knew: A Granddaughter's Quest for Answers

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm the oldest granddaughter of Leora, who lost three sons during WWII. To learn what happened to them, I studied casualty and missing aircraft reports, missions reports, and read unit histories. I’ve corresponded with veterans who knew one of the brothers, who witnessed the bomber hit the water off New Guinea, and who accompanied one brother’s body home. I’m still in contact with the family members of two crew members on the bomber. The companion book, Leora’s Letters, is the family story of the five Wilson brothers who served, but only two came home.

Joy's book list on research of World War II casualties

What is my book about?

The day the second atomic bomb was dropped, Clabe and Leora Wilson’s postman brought a telegram to their acreage near Perry, Iowa. One son was already in the U.S. Navy before Pearl Harbor had been attacked. Four more sons worked with their father, tenant farmers near Minburn until, one by one; all five sons were serving their country in the military–two in the Navy and three as Army Air Force pilots.

Only two sons came home.

Leora’s Letters is the compelling true account of a woman whose most tender hopes were disrupted by great losses. Yet she lived out four…

By Joy Neal Kidney, Robin Grunder,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Leora's Letters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The day the second atomic bomb was dropped, Clabe and Leora Wilson’s postman brought a telegram to their acreage near Perry, Iowa. One son was already in the U.S. Navy before Pearl Harbor had been attacked. Four more sons worked with their father, tenant farmers near Minburn until, one by one, all five sons were serving their country in the military. The oldest son re-enlisted in the Navy. The younger three became U.S. Army Air Force pilots. As the family optimist, Leora wrote hundreds of letters, among all her regular chores, dispensing news and keeping up the morale of the…


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