Too Close to the Sun: Growing Up in the Shadow of My Grandparents, Franklin and Eleanor

Curtis Roosevelt, the grandson of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, has written a highly personal account of his life around the First Family. Growing up in such rarified atmosphere cannot have been easy. That Curtis holds such vivid memories of early childhood is nothing short of amazing. Out of those recollections he has crafted a brutally honest tale of growing up in and out of the White House. More than an intimate account of a famous family, the book is a disquisition on the strangeness, delight, and pains of being a quiet and dreamy boy in the midst of incessant activity.

Too Close to the Sun is clearly meant to set the family record straight in a way that outsiders cannot fully appreciate. Some of it is so personal that it can make the reader uncomfortable. Nonetheless, Curtis provides a fascinating glimpse into the characters of his grandparents, Franklin and Eleanor; his mother, Anna; FDR’s mother, Sarah; and a host of other characters around the sainted couple. He is remarkably gentle, fair, and unsparing in his assessments of them. He offers a wonderfully frank and refreshing take on class privilege, including the awkwardness of the rich and famous around issues such as race.

FDR comes across as an idealized father figure (as Curtis readily admits), but as marvelous in person as his admirers would imagine. In Curtis’s unstinting portrait of her, Eleanor doesn’t lose any of her sheen despite being a woman of great reserve and emotional distance. Curtis is sensitive to the burdens and struggles of being a public woman in those times.

I was disappointed that the story did not continue after the war.  Though Curtis spent a great deal of time with Eleanor, he chose to end his tale at the moment of FDR’s death. I hope he produces a sequel in which Eleanor is the centerpiece for all she achieved after her life in the White House.

Reviewed by Richard Walker

Richard Walker is the director of the Living New Deal.

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