Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Pulitzer Prize–winning classic about the relationship between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt, and how it shaped the nation while steering it through the Great Depression and the outset of World War II.
With an extraordinary collection of details, Goodwin masterfully weaves together a striking number of story lines—Eleanor and Franklin’s marriage and remarkable partnership, Eleanor’s life as First Lady, and FDR’s White House and its impact on America as well as on a world at war. Goodwin effectively melds these details and stories into an unforgettable and intimate portrait of Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt and of the time during which a new, modern America was born.
Reading Group Guide
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Goodwin characterizes FDR as a brilliant, energetic, cheerful man who rarely folded under pressure or displayed his innermost feelings. How might the elements of FDR's character and of his time have blended to create a man so successful in marshaling America's forces to defeat the Axis powers? Compare FDR to other wartime presidents such as Lincoln and Nixon. Why is FDR's place in history so secure?
With deft ability, Goodwin brings Eleanor Roosevelt to life. Who was she and what were her concerns? How did she alter America's conception of the role of First Lady? What innovative and lasting contributions did she make to the civil rights movement and to women? Why was she called, during her last years, "the greatest woman in the world"? Compare Eleanor to other prominent First Ladies, such as Jacqueline Kennedy and Hillary Clinton.
Franklin and Eleanor had a very unconventional marriage, even by today's standards. What bound them? What kept them from living more completely as man and wife? What helped to make them such an extraordinary team? How did the combination of their characters serve to create such a remarkable and successful partnership?
Both Franklin and Eleanor found other people to fill the needs they could not seem to satisfy in one another. Eleanor at various times turned to her daughter, Anna, to Lorena Hickok, and to Joe Lash for her personal needs. What did these three people contribute to Eleanor's life that Franklin either could not or would not? At various times, Franklin relied on Lucy Mercer Rutherfurd, Missy LeHand, and Princess Martha of Norway for companionship. What did these women offer him that Eleanor did not? What are the various portraits that emerge of these important characters?
Who are the other people, either personal or political, that populated the Roosevelt years, such as Harry Hopkins and Frances Perkins? What were their roles in FDR's life and his presidency?
What characterized the celebrated and remarkable friendship that grew between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill? How did this friendship affect the war's outcome? What was their relationship to Stalin, and how did the three of them function as a united group that served to change the world?
When Eleanor came back from visiting the front, she fell into a deep depression. Goodwin writes, "Nothing in her previous experience had prepared her for the misery she encountered in the hospitals: the mangled bodies, the stomachs ripped by shells, the amputated limbs, the crushed spirits. Only a few photographs of dead American soldiers had appeared in magazines and newspapers since the war began. The Office of War Information, established by Roosevelt, had so sanitized the war experience that few people on the home front understood what the war was really about." What purpose did it serve to keep Americans from truly witnessing the horrors of war? Do you think if Americans had seen, as Eleanor did, the firsthand horrors of war, they would have continued to support the war effort?
In an effort to help European Jews, Roosevelt requested a new war-powers bill that would have given him power to suspend laws that were hampering "the free movement of persons, property, and information." Had it passed, it might have helped open the gates of immigration to Jewish refugees. "Once this was made clear, the bill had no chance," Goodwin writes. "The powerful conservative coalition strengthened immeasurably by the by-elections crushed it." Newsweek observed, "The ugly truth is that anti-Semitism was a definite factor in the bitter opposition to the president's request." Do you think FDR could have done more for the Jews? How as a nation do we reconcile such a horrible fact?
At the end of No Ordinary Time, Goodwin recaps Franklin's presidential career, underscoring his successes as well as his failures. For example, Roosevelt's success in mobilizing the nation was extraordinary However, his forcible relocation of Japanese-Americans during the war was certainly a failure of vision. What are FDR's other successes and failures?
After the war, America emerged as a different, modern nation. Goodwin writes "No segment of American society had been left untouched." Discuss the many strides that were made, as well as the fundamental changes that occurred. For example, as a result of the war, numerous advancements were made on behalf of African-Americans. Additionally, many women continued to work outside the home after the war was over, forever changing the domestic front.
It was truly amazing how America, a nation completely unprepared for war, rose up to become an unprecedented leader in war production. "The figures are all so astronomical that they cease to mean very much," historian Bruce Catton wrote. "The total is simply beyond the compass of one's understanding. Here was displayed a strength greater even than cocky Americans in the old days of unlimited selfconfidence had supposed; strength to which nothing-literally nothing, in the physical sense-was any longer impossible." What does this reveal about America and the spirit of the American people?
Would a presidency like FDR's be possible today? How would the contemporary American public view a relationship such as FDR had with Missy LeHand? How might we as a nation react to a man handicapped as FDR was?
What is the legacy left to us by Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt? Count the ways in which we are indebted to them. How might they feel about contemporary America and its role in the world today? How does it differ from their America? How is it the same?
Recommended Readings The Greatest of Friends: Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, Keith Alldritt It All Adds Up: From the Dim Past to the Uncertain Future, Saul Bellow Washington Goes to War, David Brinkley FDR's Fireside Chats, Russell D. Buhite And David W.Levy, eds. Roosevelt: The Lion and the Fox, James Macgregor Burns The Roosevelts: An American Saga, Peter Collier The Inheritance, Samuel Freedman Dunkirk: The Complete Story of the First Step in the Defeat of Hitler, Norman Gelb This Is My Story, Eleanor Roosevelt A Rendezvous with Destiny: The Roosevelts of the White House , Elliott Roosevelt The Age of Roosevelt, Vol. I, Arthur M. Schlesinger. Jr. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany , William L. Shirer
Doris Kearns Goodwin’s work for President Johnson launched her career as a presidential historian. Her first book was Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream. She followed up with the Pulitzer Prize–winning No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Homefront in World War II. She earned the Lincoln Prize for Team of Rivals, in part the basis for Steven Spielberg’s film Lincoln, and the Carnegie Medal for The Bully Pulpit, about the friendship between Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. Her last book, Leadership: In Turbulent Times was the inspiration for the History Channel docuseries on Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt, which she executive produced.