On Dupont Circle by James Srodes centers around the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, and what became a circle of influential friends. Washington’s Dupont Circle neighborhood became the gathering place for young politically-minded progressives with the election President Woodrow Wilson – the great hope of the progressive movement. Think a hopey, changey campaign a century before Obama made it cool. And so the progressives came. Seeking government jobs, to lobby pet issues, or as writers of emerging magazines – but regardless, all of them looking to find their place and make their mark on history.
While this is heavily detailed, at moments almost too much so, all these stories are wrapped up together beautifully as a package.
I pulled a few themes from the book based on my own interests, to come to a short list of who should read this. If: 1. You are interested in how the world as we know it today go here, especially with regard to foreign policy issues America (and Britain) face. For example, how were empires broken up, the Middle East was divided, and who drew these maps that have cause wars ever since? 2. You are a bleeding heart liberal and want to better understand the Progressive movement, and where today’s liberal ideals were first whispered. 3. You want to hear read about some amazing women who did amazing work to change the world, and alter the lives of those who came after them, in a time when women were never expected to hold a job, voice or influence on society and politics. A small part of the book, but truly worth it to meet fascinating women the world should know more about, including a new hero of mine.
Starting with the first, the way the world is now is because of the young American and British men who came together through one Dupont Circle dining room table in early 1900s. Finding roles in government, law, journalism where their opinions were sought out they were able to put into action during the Paris Peace Conference all the ideas they had for a new world order during the First World War. Discussions had in a dining room just off Dupont Circle at the break out of war, through the very end.
“What is important to us today is how firmly they stayed constant to an overarching vision of a strong America that would guarantee social justice at home, install democracy in other nations and, above all, try to foster a world where peace — not war — was the norm.”
These men, and yes, a few women, played crucial rules in international policy and foreign relations from the outset of war in Europe, were key players in the Versailles Treaty, national leaders during the Second World War, and the treaty process. This includes the development of State Department, as we know it today, the CIA, and the redrawing of national lines, from breaking apart the Ottoman Empire, to the initial decisions and drawing of Israel, and of course, the redrawing of lines in Europe. Additionally, the reparations to be paid by the Central Powers to the Allied Powers were a huge contributing factor to the global spread of the Great Depression. How did the world end up as it is today? Much of the global, and regional battles that have happened since World War II can be traced back to this time, and this group – along with like-minded colleagues they met along the way.
If you consider yourself a Democrat, this is also the history of the party. The two parties were so similar in the early part of the 20th century Franklin Roosevelt actually sat around waiting to see which party would provide him the best chance at a nomination or a shot at Vice President. It’s also an interesting look at how progressive beliefs were initially tied to both parties, especially as both seem to have forgotten them today.
Textbooks cover the big names, national and military leaders. There are so many truly important people involved in government, war, peace and economics that are never mentioned in a text book. They can be found in books like this though. And this book includes the work and influence of some amazing women.
I was so fascinated by the story of Eleanor Lansing Dulles I was looking for more on her while still reading the book. While everyone was trying to figure out how to get to Paris for the peace conference, in hopes of influencing a new world order, she was already there and working. She got a Ph.D. in economics between the world wars, and was encourage to go to London to conduct research. Encouraged! She got overshadowed by every man around her, namely her brothers, but she had an amazing career, and her research was crucial to the changing economies in Europe and America.
Remember how I said the detail was sometimes too much. The fun part is the random facts I doubt I would have ever learned otherwise. Like Herbert Hoover pre-White House years. He and his wife lived in China for two years before moving to DC around the time everyone else did. They would speak Mandarin for fun, or when they wanted to have a private conversation in pubic. Even more fun Hoover facts are available here.
And this is why my friends often declare “Nerd!” when I try to tell them new and interesting things I learned. Dare you to find an awesome nerdy fact in the book for yourself.