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Sunday, November 09, 2003

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt

This is the first of the two books on TR written by Edmund Morris (also the author of Dutch), which won the Pultizer Prize when first published in 1979. This book covers Rooselvelt's birth to the day McKinley died in Buffalo in September 1901. The edition I read was revised in 2001 to conform to the style of the second book.

Like Theodore Rex this book is very detailed on relies on personal letters, news accounts, and diaries for much of the narrative. I like the fact that there is very little interpretation and the author lets the events speak for themselves. However, you can tell the author is quite impressed with TR's almost super-human intellectual and physical energy. Several times he almost apologetically mentions some feat of TR's by assuring the readers that the best information available indicates that he indeed performed the task being described.

Among the interesting aspects of TR Morris highlights is the dichotomy between his literary pursuits and great appetite for physical extertion. In one highly entertaining vignette Morris notes that when TR and two ranch hands tracked down and captured two thieves in the wilderness of the Dakotah territory in the early 1880s, TR occupied himself between guard duty and slogging through the wilderness for weeks by reading Tolstoy and several Greek classics he had brought along. The author's description of the blizzard of 1886-87 is also very well done.

In short, before becoming President TR was a state assemblyman from New York, a rancher in the Dakota territory, a Civil Service commissioner under two Presdients, police commisioner of New York, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Colonel in the militia (the Rough Riders), Governor of New York, and Vice President, and author of approximately a dozen books and scores of magazine articles. A faily active life that leaves one thinking that in the latter part of the 19th century the days must have been much longer.

In many ways the book leads up to the charge up San Juan hill in 1898 and the description of the events rings true by balancing TR's self deprecating descriptions of his actions with quotes of those around him at the time. Morris describes TR's experience in Cuba as a catharsis of his bloodlust (also exhibited in his desire to hunt). I also liked the author's descriptions of TR's views on expansionism and "Americanism", many of which, while not politically correct by modern standards, are more nuanced than I would have expected.

Anyway, some great insights into an interesting man. Highly recommended.

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