Friday, September 30, 2011

Review: Eleanor Roosevelt's Life of Soul Searching and Self Discovery by Ann Atkins

Reviewed by Connie

Published: 2011

It's about: This "Flash History" publication purports to give a condensed version of Eleanor Roosevelt's remarkable life, from childhood to First Lady to UN delegate and negotiator.

I thought: In a word -- disappointing. However, no book is wholly without its merits, so allow me to list those before enumerating my disappointments. Atkins succeeds to some degree in portraying Eleanor's insecurities, highlighting the fact that her journey to greatness was just that -- a journey -- and that she did not spring from the womb a fully-developed, confident, outspoken advocate of human rights. This is to the book's credit. Plus, Atkins resists the urge to gloss over some of Eleanor's early views that contradict her later ones, including even slightly Anti-Semitic comments from a young Eleanor's personal letter. But the book's greatest strengths lie in the occasional personal anecdote from Eleanor's life and, above all, the excerpts from Eleanor's journals and other writings. They are well-selected and often very moving. Indeed, Eleanor's skill with prose is a welcome relief from the generally low quality of writing throughout the rest of the book.

Which leads me to my disappointments. My first impression upon reading even the first few lines was, What terrible editing. Surely this book has never seen an editor's desk. Compounded with a page design that was obviously done by someone (not all too apt) in Microsoft Word, it is difficult to look beyond these basic and glaring deficiencies to judge the text of itself. Unfortunately, once I did, my disappointment was hardly abated. The quality of writing is generally sub-standard, even for a younger audience, to which this book is presumably aimed. It is also written in present tense, which reads awkwardly in a biography. Then throw in some ill-placed authorial opinions and judgments on some historical figures, and the picture of this book isn't too pretty.

Verdict: Though I appreciate the aim and research of the book, unfortunately I have to put this one in the rubbish bin.

Reading Recommendations: I will be looking for a more complete biography on this incredible woman, and I would suggest that you forego this one and look for another along with me.

Warnings: None

Favorite excerpts:
"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do." (Eleanor Roosevelt)

What I'm reading next: The Literary Ladies' Guide to the Writing Life by Nava Atlas

*I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review