April 9, 2015 5:49 AM EDT

In this Bush-Clinton news cycle, American political dynasties seem like a thing of the present. But Hissing Cousins probes the clan that most shaped the 20th century: the Roosevelts. Authors Marc Peyser and Timothy Dwyer focus on the relationship between two unelected members of the family: Alice Roosevelt Longworth, Teddy’s famously scandalous daughter, and Eleanor Roosevelt, Franklin’s wife, thus Alice’s fifth cousin once removed by marriage.

Alice and Eleanor shared little but fame, a name and mutual antipathy. Alice, queen of the dinner-party circuit, resented Eleanor’s saintliness; Eleanor enraged Alice in her seeming unflappability.

Hissing Cousins is ripping but poignant. Outside politics, the cousins might have overcome differences. But power often comes at a human cost, and this volume reminds us just how punishing life in a presidential family can be.

–DANIEL D’ADDARIO

This appears in the April 20, 2015 issue of TIME.

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