No Ordinary Time Book Summary, by Doris Kearns Goodwin

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Overview

No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin is a unique blend of history and biography, exploring the leadership and personal relationships of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) and his wife, Eleanor. The book also explores how they, and their inner circle, managed crisis after crisis during World War II. FDR’s leadership skills helped him to improve society in the United States despite the challenges that came with war.

In May of 1940, Hitler attacked Western Europe. However, the Roosevelts were too busy with pulling the US out of a great depression to worry about that at the time. They made history and changed how people viewed their government by redefining what it meant to be president. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt used her influence as first lady to make an impact on politics in America like no other first lady has done before or since then.

In the US, Franklin D. Roosevelt took action to help protect people from powerful companies during a severe economic crisis. He introduced reforms and pensions to prevent exploitation of the weak, poor and elderly. These included a minimum wage, maximum work week hours and social security benefits for senior citizens.

There was no guarantee that the progress made by FDR in his second term would continue. It was unprecedented for a president to run for a third term, and if he lost or did not run again, it could have been bad news for the future of America’s democracy. People also had concerns about what would happen after World War II ended. There were worries that Western Europe might fall under tyranny and the U.S.’s freedom would be threatened because of this war.

Eleanor was an effective and tireless advocate for the poor, needy, and vulnerable. She often influenced FDR in important political decisions. He had a strict mother who raised him to be precocious at a young age. His mother also wanted him to present a cheerful outward appearance and never show vulnerability or intense emotion. Eleanor’s father died when she was young; she received affection only from her alcoholic father before he died. Her intellectual pursuits inspired her passion for activism that led to reform in society. The couple admired each other’s intellects but found it difficult to connect with each other on an emotional level because they were both uncomfortable with sexuality and kept their inner thoughts about themselves private from one another like Roosevelt’s mother did with him as well as his wife after his death.

Eleanor had a special role in U.S. history because of the affair her husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, had with another woman named Lucy Mercer. Eleanor was hired to be FDR’s social secretary in 1914 and an affair began between Lucy and FDR that year as well. Lucy provided all the things for FDR that Eleanor could not—she gave him love and affection; she made him feel important; she helped him escape from his depression when he was unable to do so himself; she satisfied his sexual needs; and most importantly, she didn’t criticize or judge him or make demands on him like Eleanor did. In 1918, when FDR returned home after being away during World War I, Eleanor discovered letters written by Lucy among his belongings which revealed the affair between them. The discovery caused a “difficult period” in their relationship but they managed to redefine it without destroying each other’s lives (they both remained faithful). They were still companions who supported each other’s professional endeavors but they would never share an intimate relationship again nor live together under one roof like a typical husband/wife would have done at that time period (the 1920s).

No Ordinary Time Book Summary, by Doris Kearns Goodwin

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