As a history nerd, current government and politics student, and aspiring diplomat, Eleanor Roosevelt is one of my heroes. The fact that it took me over a month to read this set of advice from Roosevelt is not evidence that this book isn’t worth your time. I just had a 10 page paper on Ebola and a final due, along with crippling bout of anxiety where all I wanted to do was sit on my couch with my cats and watch Game of Thrones during that time. In fact, given this current political climate, I would argue this book is more important than ever.

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If You Ask Me: Essential Advice from Eleanor Rooseveltby Eleanor Roosevelt and Mary Jo BinkerDates Read: October 4 – November 5, 2018Publisher: Atria Books (October 9, 2018)Number of Pages: 272Courtesy: Netgalley

Experience the timeless wit and wisdom of Eleanor Roosevelt in this annotated collection of candid advice columns that she wrote for more than twenty years.

In 1941, Eleanor Roosevelt embarked on a new career as an advice columnist. She had already transformed the role of first lady with her regular press conferences, her activism on behalf of women, minorities, and youth, her lecture tours, and her syndicated newspaper column. When Ladies Home Journal offered her an advice column, she embraced it as yet another way for her to connect with the public.

Over the twenty years that Eleanor wrote her advice column, no question was too trivial and no topic was out of bounds.  Covering a wide variety of topics—everything from war, peace, and politics to love, marriage, religion, and popular culture—these columns reveal Eleanor Roosevelt’s warmth, humanity, and timeless relevance.

Things I liked

  • The more things change, the more they stay the same. Things that people were worrying about 80 years ago – money, marriage, war, jobs – are the same things we are worrying about in 2018. Roosevelt’s advice is as applicable today at it was in the 1940s/50s.
  • The book, edited by Mary Jo Binker, is organized by topic rather than date/column, so all of Roosevelt’s relevant advice on a particular issue is presented together. 
  • Binker does a great job of giving historical context to certain sets of questions. As a history major a decade removed from American History 101, a gentle reminder of happenings during that time period was much appreciated.
  • Roosevelt is smart, sassy, and incredibly funny. But she is also incredibly honest and forthright, and doesn’t pull any punches.
  • It’s apparent that Roosevelt was largely respected by her readers, and it is equally apparent that she took great care in thoughtfully responding to them. Even to the most mundane of questions.

and things I didn’t

  • There was some repetitiveness/significant similarity in the questions asked and the advice given. 20-30 pages could probably have been cut out without losing any significant questions/advice.
  • Roosevelt’s advice on depression, which essentially boils down to “get up, go to work, and keep busy and all will be well” is a not a good look. However, it was likely the prevailing opinion at the time. A note that there has been significant advances in the treatment for mental health issues in the 60+ years since her advice columns would not have been out of place.

favorite quotes

Tolerance is an ugly word.

– Eleanor Roosevelt

Governments do not become corrupt unless their citizens have allowed low standards to exist.

– Eleanor Roosevelt

This is your life, not someone else’s, and our own feeling is what is important, not what the rest of the world says.

– Eleanor Roosevelt

I enjoyed this collection Roosevelt’s advice columns and I am looking forward to reading more about her in the new year. I picked up Blanche Wiesen Cook’s 3 volume biography of Roosevelt at the Friends of the Library Book Store recently, so I am very looking forward to reading that in 2019. 

What other books on Eleanor Roosevelt would you recommend?

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