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Elect Eleanor in '52!

Eleanor vs. Ike: A Novel - Robin Gerber

Robin Gerber's alternate history novel is based on an intriguing premise: as he takes the stage to accept the Democratic presidential nomination in 1952, Adlai Stevenson suffers a fatal heart attack. Facing a fractious convention and a politically formidable Republican nominee, the party's leaders turn to Eleanor Roosevelt and ask her to serve as their standard-bearer. After reluctantly accepting the offer, Roosevelt begins a spirited campaign with the help of a rising young campaign manager and the devotion of her many passionate supporters. Yet in addition to her long odds and a nationally popular opponent, she must also undertake an additional challenge that no nominee before her has ever had to address: that of convincing Americans that the nation is indeed ready for a female president.

Like science fiction in general, alternate history is a genre dominated by the interests and attitudes of men. Because of this, many scenarios focus on wars or the decisions made by political leaders. This is what makes Gerber's book so refreshingly different. Her focus on Eleanor Roosevelt offers a nice change of pace, supplying an imaginative speculation of the type that distinguishes the best works of the genre. Having written a previous, non-fiction book on Roosevelt, Leadership the Eleanor Roosevelt Way, she has an easy familiarity with the particulars of her life, which allows Gerber to develop her into a well-defined character. Yet this book is about more than just Eleanor Roosevelt. Published in 2008, it advances a none-too-subtle argument that the time has come for a woman to be elected president - a point that Gerber makes explicit in the novel with a chance encounter between Roosevelt and a young Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Though such a detail may date the novel somewhat, Gerber's novel transcends this point to offer a dramatic narrative of a election that might have been. Based as much as possible on the words and actions of the people at the times, it does not sacrifice plausibility in speculating on what a Eleanor Roosevelt candidacy might have looked like, nor does it sacrifice readability to offer a dry recitation of details. Though some of her other characters are not as well defined as her central protagonist, Gerber has written an enjoyable book that is well worth the time of fans of political novels and alternate history tales.