The Roosevelts were arguably the most powerful and accomplished of American families. There was Teddy Roosevelt, the Rough Rider, a president remembered for his trust-busting and land conservation efforts. Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency began during the Great Depression and ended with World War II. Then there was Eleanor Roosevelt, an independent, energetic first lady who became a role model for women. The lives and relationships of these American icons are examined in detail in William J. Mann’s new book, The Wars of the Roosevelts.
This exhaustively researched group biography explores the fascinating Roosevelt family tree: Teddy and FDR were fifth cousins. Franklin and Eleanor were fifth cousins, once removed. Teddy, Eleanor’s uncle, walked his niece down the aisle when she married Franklin.
While there was love, there was also war. Mann writes that the Roosevelts were ambitious and competitive, leading to some bad blood. Teddy was frail and asthmatic as a boy, and brother Elliott was better looking and more athletic. Through hard work and perseverance, Teddy grew to be a sportsman and soldier, while Elliott succumbed to alcoholism and fathered a son out of wedlock. He was hidden away in a sanitarium so Teddy could begin his political ascent free of scandal. When Elliott Roosevelt died at age 34, his daughter, Eleanor, was left with his broken legacy and an illegitimate brother, Elliott Roosevelt Mann, whom she refused to meet.
Eleanor’s remarkable life continued with her marriage to FDR and his rise to the White House. But she also faced additional challenges with her husband’s remoteness and clandestine affairs.
The Wars of the Roosevelts offers a glimpse into the secret lives of a family, which by all appearances seemed happy and successful. Unlike other biographies of the Roosevelts, which focus on their political accomplishments, this book looks closely at the family’s complex, often messy relationships, making it even more impressive that they went so far, considering all the baggage they carried.