Mrs. R: The Story of Eleanor Roosevelt

“The result is a piece of intelligent and readable, journalism.” – The New York Times

“Mrs. R.” is a clear objective year-by-year account of the life of one of the world’s most famous women. Enjoy a biography by a writer who knew Eleanor Roosevelt and was able to interview her contemporaries.

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The writer, Alfred Steinberg, is well known for his  biographies of Harry S. Truman, Lyndon B. Johnson, Eleanor Roosevelt and Sam Rayburn. He also wrote more than 200 magazine articles, as well as book reviews and features for the Washington Post, the New York Times, Reader’s Digest, the Saturday Evening Post, Harper’s, Collier’s, and American Heritage.

This was the first full-length biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, based upon her personal papers, when published in 1958. Previously known only through her own three-volume autobiography, Mrs. Roosevelt had remained something of a mystery and a legend, beloved by millions and disliked by some.

Over 4,000 of her personal letters and other private papers at the Hyde Park memorial library were studied by the author. He has woven all known sources of information into an extremely lively story, with the warmth and mastery of a fine novelist.

Here is the lonely childhood, disrupted by the death of loved ones, the shy emergence into wealthy society, the court-ship by Franklin under the possessive authority of his mother, the day-to-day events of Campobello and polio, the young wife’s reluctant participation in politics as the “eyes, ears and legs” of the man of destiny.

The reader will also see how the programs of the New Deal developed during the Depression, and how the Roosevelts worked together to repeal the Neutrality Acts in order to aid Great Britain at the start of World War II.

Eleanor Roosevelt became one of the world’s great travelers in her search for pertinent information concerning the state of all nations. Always the champion of the underdog, she gradually evolved into a figure alone and apart. Neither her husband’s death nor her own advancing age cut down the influence of this notable woman upon notable events.

An Excerpt from a Review by Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., The New York Times, October 12, 1958.

First Lady of the World

Mrs. R.: The Story of Eleanor Roosevelt. By Alfred Steinberg. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Mr. Steinberg has gone through the Roosevelt literature and talked with many survivors of the Roosevelt era. He was also, he states, permitted to examine “the personal papers, record books and voluminous correspondence of Mrs. Roosevelt.” (Unfortunately “Mrs. R.” contains no footnotes, and one cannot usually distinguish between what is quoted from a document and what has popped up in someone’s recollection.) He begins with the troubled childhood, describes the reluctant emergence of the shy and awkward girl and follows through the transformation into the capable but somewhat gushing matron and finally into the incomparable First Lady of the World.The story is told briskly and sympathetically but not. altogether uncritically; on such matters as the Roosevelts as parents, Mr. Steinberg writes with candor. The result is a piece of intelligent and readable, journalism. …

…I think,too, that Mrs Roosevelt who emerges from this book as a somewhat blander character than she really is. Mr, Steinberg quotes from one of her letters to President Truman. “There are two things which I wish to avoid above all else,” Mrs, Roosevelt wrote, “one, war; two, a Republican victory.” These two wishes express succinctly the different aspects of Mrs. Roosevelt’s personality: on the one hand, the luminous idealist, yearning for the good, the true and the beautiful; on the other, the old pro, filled with canny and salty realism. Mr. Steinberg does more Justice to the first than to the second.

Benjamin Franklin, the First Civilized American by Phillips Russell

Let it be said at once that this book, whatever its de­fects, is absorbingly interesting.

The author, obviously, is thoroughly acquainted with Franklin literature and has had access to a great mass of unpublished material. But in a sense it is not a biography. Rather it is a picture, an excellent pen-picture, which even with its exaggerated light and shade may well give one a better understanding of the fascinating personality of America’s first diplomat, inventor and man of letters to say nothing of the many other things he was “first” in.

Franklin was essentially an unconventional character. He was never content to accept things as they were and always examined everything with his keen intelligence and more often than not, apparently, succeeded in rearranging facts in such new forms that they astounded the people of his generation. Many of his inventions, his humorous, semiphilosophical treatises, his excursions into common-sense diplomacy and his positive genius for publicity estab­lished precedents, whose originality it is hard now for us to realize, since they are very part and parcel of our present day American life.

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Thus the author makes a charge that Franklin’s popular “Poor Richard” maxims, the result of his hard work and somewhat unsuccessful early career, “well nigh drove out from the spirit of the American people all tendency to a love for leisure and a cultivation of the graceful arts, made it its literature didactic, and its arts timid.” In fact, “it established a rock of philosophic materialism.” This may, in a measure, be true, but one suspects that his maxims were a symptom rather than a cause. Certainly Franklin, as the author is careful to point out, was not entirely success­ful in following his own precepts, or even the thirteen prin­ciples of the art of virtue, which it is suggested were per­haps inspired by Franklin’s hottest appreciation of his own defects.

But Franklin’s frailties as set forth by the author are very human. Certainly they do not seriously impair the true measure of his greatness or achievement. If he was fond of women, he was frank about it and if his whimsical humor was sometimes broad, it was more often than not, utilized to further the essentials of Franklin’s philosophy to “do good.” When one realizes how unbelievably limited were the intellectual resources in the colonies when Franklin began his career as a printer’s apprentice in Boston, the story of his rise to such heights as a world figure in the most cultured center of Europe has more the quality of romance than reality. During his ten-year stay in Paris he became the idol of the intellectuals. His face in bronze and marble was everywhere and his fame was only shared with Voltaire. The two met as guests of honor at a meeting of the French Academy of Sciences where they embraced one another at the insistent demand of the members. Yet with all this honor he remained the same whimsical, tolerant spirit, making love to many younger women, carrying on his experiments, running hs own interpretative printing press at Passy and wheedling millions of francs out of the French Government for the benefit of his native land.

Over half this book is devoted to Franklin’s earlier life and struggles. The real achievements of his career are sketched, sometimes summarily, in the later chapters, yet it is a merit of this book that the author manages in good measure to reveal the fundamental reasons for his rise to a position as one of the great men of his times.

Publishers have brought the book out in a most attractive form. The illustrations are well chosen and in many cases new and include reproductions of a number of interesting letters.

From a review in The Michigan Alumnus, Volume 33, 1927.

(Publisher’s Note: The first text which the reader will see is “A Prefactory Catechism,” a term we don’t see too often. Essentially it is four pages of questions and answers about the basic facts of Franklin’s life. Don’t let unusual feature stop you from enjoying the book. The writer makes Franklin and his times come alive in the chapters which follow.)