In This Review

The Wars of the Roosevelts: The Ruthless Rise of America’s Greatest Political Family
The Wars of the Roosevelts: The Ruthless Rise of America’s Greatest Political Family
By William J. Mann
Harper, 2016, 624 pp
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Not since the Adamses in the early years of the republic did a family dominate U.S. politics the way the Roosevelts did in the first half of the twentieth century. Mann has written an uneven but ultimately rewarding account of the rise of the rival Roosevelt clans of New York. The Republican Roosevelts of Oyster Bay and the Democratic Roosevelts of Hyde Park were not closely related by blood: Franklin Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt were fifth cousins. Eleanor Roosevelt was, in Mann’s telling, the central figure of the family drama. She was Franklin’s wife and Theodore’s niece; her relationships with both men were difficult, and bad feeling between her and Theodore’s children turned the Roosevelt wars into a gripping national saga. When Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., tried to follow in his father’s footsteps by running for governor of New York in 1924, Eleanor organized and funded a group to drive around the state in a car made to resemble a teapot in an attempt (which she later admitted was unjust) to link him to the Teapot Dome scandal. Mann is better at chronicling the Roosevelts’ love lives and sibling rivalries than at placing this remarkable family in the context of U.S. history, and although Mann’s portrait of Theodore contains recognizable elements, the author’s visceral dislike of the man renders him a one-dimensional villain. Even so, The Wars of the Roosevelts is what Theodore might have called “a ripping read” and deserves a wide audience.