STARRED REVIEW
April 2015

A charged family rivalry

By Marc Peyser & Timothy Dwyer
Review by
Both born in 1884, Eleanor Roosevelt and Alice Roosevelt Longworth could have been classmates in school. It’s easy to imagine Eleanor sitting up front (or even helping teach the class) and Alice occupying a back-row spot, launching spitballs and making wisecracks.
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Both born in 1884, Eleanor Roosevelt and Alice Roosevelt Longworth could have been classmates in school. It’s easy to imagine Eleanor sitting up front (or even helping teach the class) and Alice occupying a back-row spot, launching spitballs and making wisecracks.

As Hissing Cousins makes clear, the two women from one of America’s foremost families could not have been more different. And that makes for some highly entertaining reading, especially if you like your history sweetened with delicious anecdotes and tasty bon mots.

Eleanor was the niece of Theodore Roosevelt and the wife of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Alice was Theodore’s daughter from his first marriage, fated never to know her mother (who died the day after Alice was born). The first cousins may have been from the same family tree, but complicated circumstances—some political, some personal—pulled them apart as they matured into adulthood. At that point the stage was set, with shy social reformer Eleanor on the side of the Democratic party and attention-loving gadfly Alice casting her lot with the Republicans.

Authors Marc Peyser and Timothy Dwyer have a can’t-miss subject on their hands, and they bring the reader along for an exhilarating ride. Any history lessons, including a brief account of the Teapot Dome scandal, are a bonus, and there’s enough philandering to make the residents of Peyton Place blush.

For better or worse, most of the hissing in Hissing Cousins is done from afar. Face to face, on numerous social occasions, the cousins are all smiles. But as the authors know, where’s the fun—and the book—in that?

 

This article was originally published in the April 2015 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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Hissing Cousins

Hissing Cousins

By Marc Peyser & Timothy Dwyer
Nan A. Talese
ISBN 9780385536011

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