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With its gripping tale of a privileged ugly duckling turned socially conscious swan with the help of strong female friends--many of whom were lesbians and one of whom was probably her lover--the first volume of Blanche Wiesen Cook's biography of Eleanor Roosevelt won awards and made headlines. That book followed its subject from her birth in 1884 through her husband Franklin's election to the presidency in 1933. Volume 2, which chronicles Roosevelt's first six years as America's most controversial first lady (Hillary Clinton doesn't even come close), maps her contributions to the New Deal, which Cook convincingly argues was primarily the fulfillment of a political agenda promoted by female reformers as early as 1912. Eleanor's turbulent relationship with journalist Lorena Hickok gets more space here than it probably deserves, and the story isn't as inherently exciting as the first volume's drama of a woman's coming of age. Nonetheless, Cook's subtle analyses of everything from Roosevelt's exceedingly complex marriage to her role as warm-up act for the New Deal's most radical programs are bracingly intelligent, her evocation of a remarkable personality rivetingly vivid. Eleanor emerges as neither the liberals' saint nor the conservatives' Satan, but an entirely human bundle of contradictions: warm-hearted, yet ice-cold when hurt; happiest in the public arena, yet needing the comfort of private relationships. --Wendy Smith [via]