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Review: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

My immediate impression of Theodore Roosevelt after reading The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris is “frenetic whirlwind”.

I selected to read this book for two reasons:  (1) I graduated from Theodore Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, IA, but really knew nothing about him and (2) it was listed on the 100 Must-Read Books for the Essential Man’s Library as determined by www.artofmanliness.com from which I am reading 50 books for my 101 goals in 1001 days project.

I won’t go into detail about Roosevelt’s life — there are plenty of sources for that, including this book which won the Pulitzer Prize– but will give a few impressions of the man and of the narrative itself.

This volume, which is later followed by Theodore Rex (2001) and Colonel Roosevelt (2010), covers Roosevelt’s early life up to taking office as President of the United States after the assassination of William McKinley.  At the time, he was the youngest ever to hold that office, but he had packed in a lifetime of living and public service already.

A few thoughts:

  • Roosevelt’s energy and industry was inspiring.  Morris describes a man always moving, working hard and playing hard.
  • His ongoing reaction to the death of his first wife is completely puzzling to me.  Other than a brief tribute to her memory, Roosevelt never mentioned her name or spoke of her again, not even including her name in his autobiography.  Granted his loss was tragic (his mother also died the same day in the same house), but it would seem a healthier reaction to speak of her fondly in the years following, perhaps with a still melancholic sorrow.
  • Although I was obliquely aware of the more extreme crony-ism earlier in America’s history, I didn’t really understand how pervasive and “normal” it was.    During Benjamin Harrison’s administration, Roosevelt was appointed to the Civil Service Commission where he joined other anti-spoilsman in demanding that laws requiring many offices and government positions to be filled by merit.  Although somewhat unsuccessful due to the power of the machine, he never flinched from a fight.
  • Along with his energy, I was also inspired by Roosevelt’s capacity to enter a completely new position or activity head on, without much background knowledge and quickly become a tireless, effective member.  Whether it be entering Harvard as a home-schooled student, running for state office in the NY legislature, learning the ranching trade in North Dakota, enforcing Civil Service laws, writing biographies of prominent political figures and a study of the US Navy in the War of 1812, becoming a New York City police commissioner, canvassing to become the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and then volunteering for a lieutenant colonel-ship during the Spanish American War.
  • Roosevelt appears to have been a quick judge of character and was no stranger to a spontaneous (sometimes over-forceful) reaction, which made him loyal friends and staunch opponents.  His spontaneity also seems to have made things more difficult years later as he had to work with some of the same people.
  • Although lauded at the time, the charge up San Juan Hill seems to have been a bit over-drawn.  Frankly, it felt a little anti-climactic.

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt is a fascinating read which is filled with a variety of source material, much of it in Roosevelt’s own words.  Morris does a good job outlining many of the issues of the day and the intricacies of intra-departmental squabbles so that Roosevelt’s character is fully on display.  I highly recommend reading this book.

5 out of 5 stars (finished January 29, 2011)

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Currently reading:  Dark Fire by C.J. Sansom, Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir, & Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris

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  1. January 2, 2014 at 7:43 am

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