Title: Franklin and Lucy
Author: Joseph E. Persico
Page # : 370
Date Published: 2008
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Joseph E. Persico’s biography Franklin & Lucy offers thorough look into the President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s relationships with various women over the course of his life. While the book focuses primarily on Lucy Rutherford, FDR’s most famous mistress, Eleanor Roosevelt, FDR’s mother and several other influential women in his life play a role as well.
My strong interest in FDR and his administration drew me to this biography. I had only read textbook accounts and seen museum exhibitions, all only praising FDR and presenting the strictly business side of him, but Franklin and Lucy explores the entirely personal side of his life. It made me understand him more as a person by brushing away the legendary status so as to see the relatable man behind the official pomp.
The book moves mainly in chronological order, following the course of FDR’s life from young college boy, to married man, to Assistant Secretary of the Navy and eventually president. While Persico mentions important events from his political life, such as the the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, and the Yalta conference, it all falls away under the focus on his personal thoughts, emotions and reactions, all described by exhaustively researched accounts of encounters with the president from family, friends and colleagues.
The primary relationship the book explores is that between FDR and Lucy Rutherford, a woman from a formerly high society family, but who had retained the charm, beauty and wit to attract the then-assistant secretary Roosevelt. The discovery of their relationship led to the break in Franklin and Eleanor’s marriage, from which Eleanor would never truly recover. While Lucy always covertly maintains a presence in Franklin’s life, attending his inaugurations, visiting him at the White House and joining him for weekends at Hyde Park, the family estate, Perisco also writes at length about the many other remarkable women in Franklin’s life. Eleanor’s transformation from timid housewife to energetic trailblazer is documented in this book (along with research into her supposed lovers), as well as the formidable bond between FDR and his domineering mother Sara Delano Roosevelt. Along with these principal figures, the work included includes Margaret Suckley and Missy LeHand, two women who joined the long list of those vying for the president’s attention, respect and affection.
Persico is to be lauded for gathering such a mass of accounts. Franklin and Lucy includes material from Roosevelt’s children Anna, Curtis and Franklin Jr, letters between the FDR and Lucy, and choice quotes from Eleanor Roosevelt’s memoirs that cast considerable light on her feelings about FDR and the women he attracted. In addition to his depiction of the president’s affairs, he provides a thorough portrayal of FDR’s struggle with polio, a facet of his life often brushed over in official annals. The intimate accounts of his dependency on others for bathing, speeches or even getting into bed and his lifelong hope to have his mobility restored add so much humanity to FDR’s character. These struggles make me respect him, and perhaps even look at his affairs with a more understanding eye.
My one criticism was that this book wasn’t a page-turner; I put it down frequently. However the subject and detail kept me interested as I ploughed forward, trying to understand this famous man better.
All in all, Joseph Perisco presents a well researched biography that made me feel that I had really learned great deal, not just about the former president but also the whole cast of people that made up the inner circle in his life.
Review by Anne Donnelly, A&S '17