Friday, 23 January 2009

“Too Close To The Sun”, by Curtis Roosevelt (PublicAffairs)

Roosevelt-TooCloseToTheSunGrowing up in the shadow of FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt

Following his parents’ divorce, three-year-old Curtis Roosevelt, his sister and his mother moved in with the newly-elected president and first lady, splitting their time between the White House and the Roosevelt estate, Hyde Park, in the Hudson Valley.

After a quick introduction to Franklin Roosevelt, and his struggle with polio and election as president, what follows is an endearing memoir of Curtis’ formative years. Curtis explains how this period informed much of his character and affected the rest of his life. It is certainly honest, with the author unafraid to draw on memories of his less flattering moments: “My early surroundings provided not only excitement and comfort but also a reality-rejecting sense of specialness, which did not stand me in good stead as I grew older.”

While the author (obviously) discusses his parents, his mother’s remarriage and so forth, by far the most interesting chapters and episodes in the book at those that involve FDR or Eleanor Roosevelt. A unique look at America’s 32nd president, from about three-feet off the ground. We see a softer, more playful side of the only man to hold the office of president for 12 years. What was also rather fascinating, was the period detail of how the wealthy elite in America lived during the depression years and after. It’s not difficult to see why Curtis might have some re-entry issues upon returning to “real life”: the servants, the huge estates, and the arms-length child rearing style of the Roosevelt clan.

The book is written in a plain-spoken, accessible and inviting manner. The reminiscences of FDR are still tinged with the awe and affection Curtis clearly felt for his grandfather, offering insight and observations that are quite apart from the academic tomes that seem to be churned out on a monthly basis. Sprinkled with amusing anecdotes (usually in the form of Curtis’ various faux-pas), Too Close To The Sun is an easy read, and one that should appeal to anyone interested in the presidency of FDR and also those interested in knowing more about society in that time.

A book that is well worth reading.

Also try: Roy Jenkins’ Franklin Delano Roosevelt (2005); Conrad Black’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom (2005); H.W. Brands’ Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (2008)

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