A lively and provocative double biography of first cousins Eleanor Roosevelt and Alice Roosevelt Longworth, two extraordinary women whose tangled lives provide a sweeping look at the 20th century.
When Theodore Roosevelt became president in 1901, his beautiful and flamboyant daughter was transformed into "Princess Alice", arguably the century's first global celebrity. Thirty-two years later, her first cousin Eleanor moved into the White House as First Lady. Born eight months and 20 blocks apart from each other in New York City, Eleanor and Alice spent a large part of their childhoods together and were far more alike than most historians acknowledge.
But their politics and temperaments couldn't have been more distinct. Do-gooder Eleanor was committed to social justice but hated the limelight; acid-tongued Alice, who became the wife of philandering Republican congressman Nicholas Longworth, was an opponent of big government who gained notoriety for her cutting remarks (she famously quipped that dour President Coolidge "looked like he was weaned on a pickle"). While Eleanor revolutionized the role of First Lady with her outspoken passion for human rights, Alice made the most of her insider connections to influence politics, including doing as much to defeat the League of Nations as anyone in elective office.
The cousins themselves liked to play up their oil-and-water relationship. "When I think of Frank and Eleanor in the White House I could grind my teeth to powder and blow them out my nose," Alice once said. In the 1930s they even wrote opposing syndicated newspaper columns and embarked on competing nationwide speaking tours. Blood may be thicker than water, but when the family business is politics, winning trumps everything.
©2015 Marc Peyser and Timothy Dwyer (P)2015 Random House Audio
"This is a brilliant idea for a book, brilliantly executed. With verve and insight, Marc Peyser and Timothy Dwyer have written a powerful and entertaining portrait of an important and overlooked American relationship. By charting the turbulent connection between Eleanor Roosevelt and Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Peyser and Dwyer take us inside a momentous family during momentous hours. A terrific read!" (Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power)
"Marc Peyser and Timothy Dwyer have hit upon a most ingenious angle on the endlessly revelatory Roosevelt family, yielding a vivid, occasionally mind-boggling view of the conflicting impulses in our national character. Their portrait of these first cousins at odds is one of the most entertaining accounts of serious history I've read, eliciting laughter, groans, and ultimately a certain panoramic comprehension." (Diane McWhorter, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama, the Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution)
"Hissing Cousins is just delicious - sharp, touching, funny, and wise. Marc Peyser and Timothy Dwyer have brought to life a pair of the great women of the 20th century, in all their human flaws and glory." (Evan Thomas, author of Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World)
I think I have read too much about Eleanor and the Roosevelts in general over the years--enough in fact to last me a lifetime. The most recent depiction of Eleanor in the excellent bio Truman by David McCullough really squelched it for me when it comes to hearing more on this subject for a while.
But, more than the subject matter, I am swearing off any narration done by Suzanne Toren. I have gone from feeling neutral about her reading voice and style to prickly--to where I find myself now--despising. I can't bare one more minute of listening. Others have found this book a delight--I can't join them. Tedious is all I can say.
I enjoy biographies and this was another well written one. The authors did a good job of organizing the abundant information about two very interesting women. Both Eleanor and Alice had their good traits and bad. I will say I still admire Eleanor much more than Alice. Despite Alice's intelligence and opportunities she still seemed to live her life as a "spoiled brat".
Suzanne Toren does a mediocre job as narrator. I don't really care for her interpretations (I have listened to several books read by her) but not enough to NOT listen to this book. I think I would have enjoyed it a bit more if it had been read by a different person.
I am an avid eclectic reader.
I have read a great deal about these two women. I have read more about Eleanor as she is one of my Heroes. The authors point out that as cousins both women were friendly but in their politics they were enemies. Alice was a republican and Eleanor a democrat. Alice was famous as the key Washington hostess and Eleanor first as the spokesperson for FDR and then as a humanitarian. Both women wrote a newspaper column, My Day and What Alice Thinks. Both women had philandering husbands; both offered a divorce; both men refused. Unusual for their era both women had more money, and influence than their husbands.
There is no new information in this book; other authors over the years have covered this information and more. What the authors did was present it in a unique way, in fact a most inventive delightful way. The writing is often oddly anachronistic and there are a surprising number of mistakes, for example, the authors confused FDR’S youngest son, John, with his oldest son James. The authors claim that they pronounced their names differently but they both said “Rose-vult.”
The book presents itself in a gossipy style; overall it is an easy interesting read about two great women of the 20th century. I wish the authors had stayed focus on the dual biography of the two women and stop wandering so much into the lives of TR and FDR. For people like me who are knowledgeable about these two women the book is an easy read to refresh the facts, but for someone that has no knowledge of the two it makes a great introduction into the lives of these two women. Suzanne Toren narrated the book.
I didn't know much about Alice, so I appreciated this chance to learn more. Now that I have these facts on hand, I find myself loving Eleanor even more than I used to. Compared to Alice, or just about anyone else, Eleanor was a saint.
Too many from which to choose.
Same answer as above.
The Roosevelt women, warts and all.
Well written and good narration.
Reading allows me to travel through time; to visit the world's unique and stunning places. To become somebody I am not... It is glorious.
A few months ago I watched the documentary "The Roosevelts" and once again was awed by all that Teddy and Franklin did for our country. I also remembered why I have always admired Eleanor. I didn't know anything about Alice and was surprised by the things that I learned about the "feud" she had with Eleanor. It seemed so trivial and silly. So, I picked up this book. It too, reminded me of my love of Eleanor. And although at times I feel the portrayal of Alice may be a bit biased (against her and for Eleanor), I did not change my mind about whose side I would take. Alice still seems to me to be silly, spoiled and judgmental. But the fact that she had so many friends allows me to realize that there must be more depth to her than this book illustrates.
I will continue to love Eleanor. And maybe one day I will grow to like Alice. For now, at least, I feel as though my mind is open to the possibility that she is a better person than she was in my preconceptions. Maybe even a better person than she seems to be in this book.
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