Reading up on the Roosevelts: Great books about the historic trio

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The lives of three of the most towering figures of the 20th century—and of American history—are on full display in Ken Burns’ latest documentary, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. “No other family has ever touched so many lives,” the documentary tells us, and their stories have become the stuff of legend: Theodore, the sickly child who grows up to become the Rough Rider, storming into the presidency and defining America’s new role both at home and around the world; Franklin, the pampered son of wealth who overcomes crippling disease and rises to lead the nation through two of its greatest calamities; and Eleanor, who triumphs over her own fears and self-doubts to become a champion of the downtrodden, and perhaps the most inspirational woman in our nation’s history.

“It’s Shakespeare,” says biographer Jon Meacham, “to have a single family in which human flaws and virtues are on such vivid display, and the constant struggle between those vices and those virtues to try to do good and to fulfill one’s duty.”

If 14 hours of the Burns documentary has only served to whet your appetite for information about the Roosevelts, here are some books that will allow you to delve even deeper into the history of America’s greatest political family dynasty.

9780385353069_p0_v1_s260x420The Roosevelts: An Intimate History ( Knopf, 2014), by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns

The companion piece to the documentary, this volume is a personal account of three people who overcame obstacles that would have undone less forceful personalities. In its starred review, Publisher’s Weekly calls the book “Impressively thorough . . . Part history, part biography, Ward and Burns strike the perfect balance between information and entertainment, keeping the tone casual yet authoritative.” The book contains 796 photographs, some never seen before, which help document the story of this renowned family.

The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism (Simon & Schuster, 2014), by Doris Kearns Goodwin

The bully pulpitIn the new paperback release of one of the Best Books of the Year (as chosen by the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, USA Today, the Christian Science Monitor, and more), Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Doris Kearns Goodwin tells the story of one of America’s great political friendships that became one of our country’s fiercest political rivalries. In the early 20th century, Roosevelt and Taft wrestled for control for their party, all against a backdrop of reform and progressiveness spurred by some of the greatest journalists ever assembled. The aftermath of their battle would change the direction of American politics forever.

TheSphinxThe Sphinx: Franklin Roosevelt, the Isolationists, and the Road to World War II (W.W. Norton & Company, 2014), by Nicholas Wapshott

Before the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, America was deeply divided between those who wanted to confront fascism overseas, and the Isolationists—those who wanted the country to stay out of the growing World War. In this book, Wapshott details how FDR—nicknamed “the Sphinx” for his cunning, cryptic relationship with the press—pursued a course to convince the United States to reject the Isolationists and become a worldwide leader for freedom and democracy. “Wapshott superbly re-creates the fierce debates of those momentous days, when the fate of the world genuinely did teeter on the brink of catastrophe,” writes author Andrew Roberts (The Storm of War, Masters and Commanders).

The First Lady of Radio: Eleanor Roosevelt’s Historic Broadcasts (The New Press, 2014), by Stephen Drury Smith (editor) and Blanche Wiesen Cook (foreword)

The First Lady of RadioAmong her other accomplishments, Eleanor Roosevelt was a professional radio broadcaster—a career that is almost entirely forgotten against the background of her many great deeds. In fact, as Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941, she was preparing for her weekly Sunday evening radio program. When anxious Americans tuned in for details of the air strike, it was the First Lady’s calm, measured voice that they heard first, reassuring them that the president was addressing the crisis. In this book, some of her greatest broadcasts are transcribed and set into context by Smith, revealing the power and influence of a pioneering First Lady who was also a groundbreaking broadcaster and communicator.

Eleanor and Franklin_TP Mech.inddEleanor and Franklin (W.W. Norton and Company, 2014), by Joseph P. Lash

In this new paperback version of the timeless biography, Lash, secretary and confidant to Eleanor Roosevelt, details the profoundly complex and dynamic relationship between the legendary First Lady and FDR. Based on Eleanor Roosevelt’s own personal papers and covering her life from birth to her husband’s death, the Pulitzer Prize-winning book examines a partnership and its effects on the course of American history. The New York Times calls Eleanor and Franklin “one of the great and moving stories of our time,” and describes the book as “a masterpiece of vivid evocation and sympathetic understanding.”

Michael Ruscoe is a writer, teacher, and musician living in Southern Connecticut. He is the author of the novel, "From the Stray Cat Files: You’ll Do Anything," the anthology, "Baseball: A Treasury of Art and Literature," and numerous educational texts. An instructor at Southern Connecticut State University, Ruscoe is also lead singer and songwriter for the indie band Save the Androids! In his spare time he earns karma for his next life by ardently following the New York Mets. The proud father of two children, Ruscoe also cares for and supports a pair of goldfish, who, in all honesty, are not very good conversationalists.

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