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Thursday, October 09, 2003

Photographic Memory

I just picked up Edmund Morris' The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. I had previously read Theodore Rex about Roosevelt's presidency and this book follows his life from birth in 1858 to when McKinley is shot in 1901. Anyway, I was fascinated by description of Roosevelt's reading habits in the prologue. A short excerpt:

""Reading with me is a disease." [quoting Rooselvelt] He succombs to it so totally...that nothing short of a thump on the back will regain his attention. Asked to summarize a book he has been leafing through with such apparent haste, he will do so in minute detail, often quoting the actual text. The President manages to get through at least one book a day even when he is busy. Owen Wister has lent him a book (of 300 odd pages) shortly before a full evening's entertainment at the White House, and been astonished to hear a complete review of it over breakfast...On evenings like this, when he has no official entertaining to do, Roosevelt will read two or three books entire."

In one stretch from when he was inagurated in the fall of 1901 until about the same time the following year, Roosevelt was able to list over 114 authors that he had read, many of them multi-volume works. When asked how he could quote books that he hadn't read for 20 years, he thought for a second and said something to the effect that after thinking about the book for a second, the pages came before his mind in total.

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