Book Reviews

Cece’s Review of: Passionate Mothers, Powerful Sons: The Lives of Jennie Jerome Churchill and Sara Delano Roosevelt

If you love history, then award-winning author Charlotte Gray’s new book is a must read.



And if you’re not a history fan?

Well, I can guarantee you that you will be after you read Passionate Mothers, Powerful Sons. 


Because Gray — the award-winning author of twelve books of history and biography, including such bestsellers as The Massey Murder and The Lives of Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Traill —has the delightful ability to inform and weave in-depth historical scenarios in such a way that her books read like novels as much as they do non-fiction tomes. Rich in detail— and scandal — most especially and particularly in the time frames covered by Passionate Mothers, Powerful Sons, (that is from 1854 to 1941), Gray’s new book is the kind of history that I can promise you was never taught in high school. A story of ambition, romance, politics, back room deals, illicit affairs between some very high profile people, including  that of Jennie Churchill’s with King Edward VII, is the kind of detail that makes history come alive.

For in the telling, Gray provides readers with the privilege of connecting with not only two powerful, well-known, and highly admired leaders, who were the driving forces behind the allies winning WW II, but also their equally powerful and charismatic mothers, Jennie Jerome Churchill and Sara Delano Roosevelt, both of whom held formidable control, to the point of co-dependency, over their sons.

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In fact, these two mothers, although they lived at a time when “women’s lives were shaped by men, and women could not vote,” nonetheless heavily influenced the trajectory of history and rightly earned them their own places in history, albeit not often recognized – which is exactly why Gray’s historical account is both so important and interesting to read.

As Gray recounts, Winston would acknowledge how much energy his mother had exerted on his behalf. “She left no wire unpulled, no stone unturned, no cutlet uncooked.”



As for Sara Roosevelt, in spite of “her ambivalence about both politics and Franklin’s political beliefs, would give rock-solid support to her son even as he pursued a political career.”

While I have read many biographies on Winston Churchill, and to a lesser extent Franklin D. Roosevelt, what is uniquely captivating about Gray’s historical telling is the human foibles that the author includes about all four of these protagonists.

“Her [Jennie’s] son’s biographers (all men) have disparaged Jennie’s flamboyance, as though her eagerness to reinvent herself and have fun was a shameful distraction from her maternal role.”

We learn about the desperate concern and devastation that Sara Roosevelt experiences as she and Franklin’s wife, the esteemed Eleanor (Roosevelt), experience upon hearing the horrifying news that Franklin has been diagnosed with “infantile paralysis”better known as polio, and what effects that would have on his political future, let alone the public’s perception of his ability to lead.

A recent Toronto Star article states that Gray’s hope for her book is that it will encourage readers to reflect on the “breadth of women’s lives.”

Certainly, the author has done her magnificent best to provide us with a richly engaging opportunity to become familiar with and celebrate the lives of Jennie Jerome Churchill and Sara Delano Roosevelt.


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