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Hissing Cousins: The Lifelong Rivalry of Eleanor Roosevelt and Alice Roosevelt Longworth Paperback – March 8 2016
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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, Alice’s first cousin Eleanor moved into the White House as First Lady. The two women had been born eight months and twenty blocks apart in New York City, spent much of their childhoods together, and were far more alike than most historians acknowledge. But their politics and personalities couldn’t have been more distinct.
Democratic icon Eleanor was committed to social justice and hated the limelight; Republican Alice was an opponent of big government who gained notoriety for her cutting remarks. The cousins liked to play up their rivalry—in the 1930s they even wrote opposing syndicated newspaper columns and embarked on competing nationwide speaking tours. When the family business is politics, winning trumps everything. Lively, intimate, and stylishly written, Hissing Cousins is a double biography of two extraordinary women whose entwined lives give us a sweeping look at the twentieth century in America.
“Juicy. . . . Truly pleasurable. . . . Hard to put down.” —The Daily Beast
“A compelling drama. . . . The research is thorough and the prose is stylishly authoritative.” —The Christian Science Monitor
“Encapsulate[s] the sweeping saga of the Roosevelt family.” —Chicago Tribune
“Moving. . . . Chronicl[es] the childhood losses each endured, and the rich web of family in which they were raised.” —The Boston Globe
“Ripping but poignant.” —Time
“Peyser and Dwyer tell the cousins’ story with insight, humor, empathy and wisdom. . . . A welcome and absorbing addition to the ever-growing canon of Rooseveltiana.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch
“An insightful look at two remarkable Roosevelt women. . . . Hissing Cousins unravels the Machiavellian question that would haunt both women in their path to power: is it better to be clever, or is it better to be good?” —The Guardian (London)
“A brilliant idea for a book, brilliantly executed. . . . A powerful and entertaining portrait of an important and overlooked American relationship.” —Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
“Just delicious—sharp, touching, funny, and wise. Marc Peyser and Timothy Dwyer have brought to life a pair of the great women of the twentieth century, in all their human flaws and glory.” —Evan Thomas, author of Ike’s Bluff: President Eisenhower’s Secret Battle to Save the World
“This is the beautifully-rendered and absorbing story of the seventy-year family rivalry between two of the most compelling women of the twentieth century—one Democrat, one Republican, both fascinating.” —Jonathan Alter, author of The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope
“For much of the twentieth century Eleanor Roosevelt and Alice Longworth defined what it meant to be an influential woman in politics. . . . This part of the grand Roosevelt family saga has rarely been told, and never better.” —H. W. Brands, author of Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt
“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
“Marc Peyser and Timothy Dwyer have a can’t-miss subject on their hands, and they bring the reader along for an exhilarating ride.” —BookPage
“Peyser and Dwyer’s detailed and witty double biography is hard to put down, a fascinating look at an era and two exceptionally strong, intelligent women.” —Booklist (starred)
About the Author
Timothy Dwyer was raised on Long Island’s Eaton’s Neck, swimming distance from Theodore Roosevelt’s homestead at Sagamore Hill. He studied history and politics at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and at the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium. His work has appeared in Time, Washingtonian, and online at The Atlantic. He is the chief executive officer of The School Choice Group, an education advisory company.
- Publisher : Anchor; Reprint edition (March 8 2016)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 352 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1101971622
- ISBN-13 : 978-1101971628
- Item weight : 318 g
- Dimensions : 13.26 x 2.03 x 20.22 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: #856,613 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top review from Canada
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Marc Peyser goes under the skin of the relationships between the two cousins, with each other, with each girl's pain of growing up losing one parent in early childhood and living with one parent who didn't seem to appreciate her, with being public figures on opposite sides of the political fence, with being a Roosevelt woman in the first half of the 20th century. His thesis statement is that they were more alike than either would admit, and that, for all the bruising each did to the other - and each knew where the other would feel it most - they were always there for each other when the world bruised them.
Top reviews from other countries
In 1884, the year Alice and Eleanor Roosevelt were born, their family already ranked among the grandest of American bloodlines. Although they were wealthy and well connected their lives were tinged with sorrow: Alice's mother died shortly after her birth, while Eleanor's father's emotional problems and addictions led to the failure of his marriage and his early death. Our mental images of the two cousins in their childhood and teenage years depict Alice as the beautiful and self-confident Presidential daughter and Eleanor as a rather mousy do-gooder. The real story is more complex: Alice desperately needed her father's approval and resented Eleanor, who sometimes seemed to be closer to Theodore Roosevelt's idea of the perfect daughter. Both married men who seemed set for brilliant political futures and both were disappointed when their husbands proved unfaithful. Eventually both suffered setbacks: Alice's husband losing political power and Eleanor's losing his physical health. Eleanor, of course, helped revive her husband's career and saw him elected President four times, allowing her to make the position of First Lady more powerful than ever before. Alice's husband's death left her free to become the doyenne of the Republican Party and one of the most powerful (though unofficial) political presences in Washington DC for decades, while Eleanor's career soared to new international heights during her own widowhood.
I've read quite a bit about both Eleanor Roosevelt and Alice Roosevelt Longworth, but I found much that was new and surprising to me in Hissing Cousins. Eleanor wasn't quite the meek little mouse who offered her husband his freedom after discovering his affair with her secretary, and Alice wasn't always waspish and unforgiving. Despite their political differences, the two cousins remained friends and associates throughout their lives. Both had difficulties with their children and grandchildren, both had sometimes ill-advised friendships, and both gained and maintained great political power despite never running for election.
Hissing Cousins is an enjoyable read. Peyser and Dwyer have keen eyes for good anecdotes and enjoy inserting bits of humor here and there, especially in their footnotes. Their research is impeccable but their writing is often informal and almost chatty. That's as it should be, since Alice Longworth was one of the great conversationalists while Eleanor Roosevelt disliked much of the pomp and circumstance that came with her positions.