Book Review: Eleanor: A Spiritual Biography

Eleanor: A Spirtual Biography book cover
Book cover
In his book, Eleanor: A Spiritual Biography, Harold Ivan Smith explores Eleanor Roosevelt's Christian faith through her life experiences during turbulent historical times.

Eleanor Roosevelt's spirituality and personality were shaped by events and people in her life. She suffered major losses early. Both parents died while she was young. Her mother's mother took her in, exposing Roosevelt to religion and a chaotic, dysfunctional home life that she was glad to escape during teen years at Allenswood school in England.

Roosevelt blossomed at Allenswood, under the influence of her mentor Marie Souvestre who encouraged her to think and interact with others with confidence. Roosevelt's many questions where welcomed and she explored what she believed, discovered life and her own spirituality, different than her grandmother's religiosity. After leaving Allenswood, in 1903, Roosevelt was confirmed in the Episcopal Church, and lived a faith modeled after Jesus' teachings to care for "the least of these" for the rest of her life.

Smith examines Roosevelt's faith with thoughtful, well-researched descriptions of what she believed and how she lived during a turbulent economic and political environments. He wrote that she called "attention to injustice and inhumane conditions that diminished beloved children of God." Her bold stances, advocacies and writings made her friends and enemies. Roosevelt was criticized for not being a true Christian according to conservative standards. She was also accused of being an instigator of racial unrest or of being a communist, among other things.

Smith writes that Roosevelt believed Jesus taught tolerance and compassion for others and she
passionately advocated for individuals, organizations and governments to live out these teachings. She lived her faith.
'Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace' -- words she had framed on her bedroom wall. Eleanor's life was prayer in action.
I liked learning more details about Roosevelt's life and work in Smith's easy to read book. Some of the vignettes of the times that tried Roosevelt were shocking. They revealed ugly episodes of racial and religious prejudice that prodded Roosevelt into action. Reading how Roosevelt responded and resisted injustice brought her to life in new ways for me, not just as a major historical figure, but as an example of one who obeyed Jesus' teachings on justice and compassion. Although she has been dead many decades now, the example of her life and faith can continue to inspire today's readers to take seriously Jesus' call to love others.

Disclosure: I received access to an electronic edition of this book for review purposes with the understanding that I would write an independent and honest review.

How about you? Do you have a favorite memory of the Roosevelts or of the times through which they lived? Please leave a comment.


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