I am having a bit of a kick in American History/Politics just now starting with a new book called Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Political Life by Robert Dallek. We remember Roosevelt not only as a great President but also as a much loved and admired man with a wife who was equally admired. The author, History Professor at Boston University, has previously written, a long time ago, Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy 1932 – 1945, as well as books about John F.Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Nixon and Kissinger. This latest book does focus more on the details of Roosevelt’s various campaigns for re-election and his mastery of consensus politics. He did, after all, serve an unprecedented four terms and died in office.
There is a new historical fiction book, not before time, about Eleanor Roosevelt and her loving relationship with journalist Lorena Hickok who became a White House fixture, known often as 'First Friend'. Franklin D. was so admired and revered by the media and by historians that no-one was willing to acknowledge this relationship, just as photographers kindly never showed Franklin’s paralysed legs. Tabloid gossip is how historians thought about Eleanor and Hick’s romance. Amy Bloom has written a fine fictionalised account of this long affair. It is called White Houses.
Remember Dickens’ (male) biographers never mentioned his mistress Nelly Ternan who remained unknown until Claire Tomalin published that terrific book The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens. There is an amusing remark quoted in Dallek’s book “Eleanor didn’t know how to be spontaneous – but then you can’t teach spontaneous can you?”
Prolific author Richard Aldous has written a revealing biography of the man known as Court Historian for the Kennedy years, especially for his famous book A Thousand Days, who was a brilliant writer and American historian. This is the story of an exciting intellectual life . It is called Schlesinger: The Imperial Historian. Don’t miss it. I am enjoying it now.
Daughter Jane is still working up on the Thai-Burma Border with the Karen Women’s Organisation. She is always looking for suitable material for the Personal Development School started years ago in the displaced person’s camp. Recently she asked for Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls 1 and 2. 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women. Lindy has already mentioned these large hardback books sitting in the treasure trove of Children's books she keeps in the far left of the shop. The books compiled by Francesca Cavallo and Elena Favilli not only succinctly tell the story of important and famous women but the single page story is in clear simple English with a striking original illustration on each facing page. Perfect for primary school libraries or special schools.
I’ve just finished, with much pleasure, Donna Leon’s 27th book in the Commissario Brunetti series set in Venice. It is called The Temptation of Forgiveness and in it Brunetti does indeed think about advising the culprit how to avoid prosecution. Donna Leon is not losing her touch, for this is indeed a very complicated fraud and Brunetti has not been reading his Latin classics too much but he has come to acknowledge how very complicated life has become.
A few months ago a friend insisted on lending me some old DVD’s which included not only Brideshead Revisited (which I mentioned last month) but also Becket and The Lion in Winter in both of which Peter O’Toole played Henry II. I was so intriqued by these that I decided to read about Henry’s mother, the amazing Eleanor of Aquitaine who not only married the King of France(Louis VII) but also Henry II of England, was the mother of Richard the Lionheart and of King John and managed to live to eighty two when she was indeed the King Pin!
So I am reading Eleanor of Aquitaine: By The Wrath of God, Queen of England by Alison Weir. There is also a book by leading medieval historian, Desmond Seward, called Eleanor of Aquitaine: Mother Queen of the Middle Ages which I have on order.
Looking at Abbey’s website I can also see many books about Eleanor, including the trilogy written by Elizabeth Chadwick beginning The Summer Queen, then The Winter Crown and finally The Autumn Throne. Find them in Historical Fiction.
An amusing piece of trivia… I looked up Henry II who is described as red-haired, freckled, short and sturdy with bow legs from riding his horse so much. Ah yes! Just like Peter O-Toole!
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