Theodore Roosevelt is without a doubt one of our country’s most intriguing and fiery presidents. Caricature of Theodore Roosevelt is easy, but studying, unraveling, and accurately interpreting him is quite difficult. He may be smart and insane at the same time, logical and yet absolutely insane. He was impressively self-assured, a quick learner of politics, a superb communicator, immensely social, and deeply committed to his family and nation.
Unfortunately, his extraordinary life story does not end happily. Roosevelt drove himself into a continual state of restlessness and, eventually, became practically unhinged after relinquishing political power and concluded that his successor wasn’t up to the task. Roosevelt has been the topic of a number of intriguing, acclaimed works throughout the years, which comes as no surprise. Books about his exploits have won numerous accolades and captivated readers. Here’s some of the books written about him:
1. Edmund Morris’s “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt”
Edmund Morris’ three-volume biography of the 26th president, “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt,” is the first. This Pulitzer Prize-winning book, first published in 1979, is still widely read and immensely popular. This first chapter delves deep into Roosevelt’s pre-presidency, beginning with his weak yet astonishingly precocious youth. As Theodore studies Harvard, enters politics as a New York state assemblyman, and eventually moves west to become an impassioned cowboy and rancher in the Dakotas, the coverage is no less attentive.
Morris examines Roosevelt’s return to politics as a reform-minded public servant, first as a civil service commissioner and later as a New York City police commissioner, with a penetrating eye for detail and dramatics. The story is no less fascinating when Roosevelt serves as Assistant Secretary of the Navy and leads the “Rough Riders” in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. When he becomes Governor of New York and then Vice President of the United States, his behavior only moderates significantly.
To say Morris reveres his subject is an understatement; he plainly sees “TR” as an irresistibly intriguing figure who he portrays with a lovely devotion. Theodore Roosevelt’s Rise is both thorough and extensive. Overall, the very first volume in Edmund Morris’s trilogy on Theodore Roosevelt’s life is enlightening, lavishly detailed, and insightful.
2. Henry F. Pringle’s “Theodore Roosevelt: A Biography”
Henry Pringle’s biography of the twenty-sixth president, “Theodore Roosevelt: A Biography,” won the Pulitzer Prize. It was regarded the definitive biography of Roosevelt for many years when it was published in 1931, only twelve years after Roosevelt’s death. When reading this biography, one thing becomes clear right away: the author is not one of Teddy Roosevelt’s biggest fans. Rather than offering an adoring or worshipful account of Roosevelt’s life, this book begins with a skeptical and critical tone.
Pringle sees snap decisions where his contemporaries recall a determined leader; where history remembers the Panama Canal, historic wilderness conservation, and an early fight against monopolies, Pringle focuses on his associated flaws. Pringle overlooks an important aspect of TR’s life in this instance. Much else is glossed over, including his years in the Dakotas, his earlier years in Washington and New York City, his “Rough Rider” campaign, and his travels to Africa and South America.
This early Roosevelt biography, on the other hand, has a lot going for it. Rather than slipping into the easy trap of always praising Roosevelt, Pringle challenges the reader to question whether TR’s greatest virtues were also his greatest flaws. Henry Pringle’s portrayal of Theodore Roosevelt is both informative and exasperating. It falls short of covering much of TR’s life that is critical to understanding him, but some of its criticisms are legitimate and well-founded. Finally, this work is best useful as a supplement to a more thorough and in-depth Roosevelt biography.
3. Kathleen Dalton’s “Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life”
Kathleen Dalton’s 2002 “Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life,” one of the most recent thorough single-volume biography of TR, is easily the best single-volume chronicle of Roosevelt’s life. Even biography averse readers will be drawn in by Dalton’s understated verve and attention to detail.
Unlike many of the TR biographies, Dalton’s work does not promote Roosevelt as a larger-than-life figure or relentlessly criticize him for his many flaws. However, in avoiding the hero-worship trend, Dalton leaves practically every dramatic and colorful Roosevelt narrative on the final cut.
Dalton does an excellent job of studying TR’s early ties, presents a fascinating character analysis of his oldest daughter, and her examination of Roosevelt’s post-presidential voyage over the River of Doubt is interesting. A unique chapter (Saving “Our Own National Soul”) evaluating Roosevelt’s moral and ethical vision for the country is particularly noteworthy.
4. “T.R.: The Last Romantic” by H.W. Brands
H.W. Wilson’s “T.R.: The Last Romantic” Theodore Roosevelt biography by Brands, published in 1997. The biography of Brands is long, but it is also thorough, well-researched, and informative. His writing style is simple and easy to read, yet he lacks the descriptive nuances that many authors have. As a result, unlike several biographies, this work does not captivate the reader with stunning scene-setting and rarely depicts the world through Roosevelt’s eyes.
The book “The Last Romantic” is commonly chastised for being unduly critical of Roosevelt, a claim that appears overbearing in the first few chapters. Brands isn’t as enthusiastic about the teenage Roosevelt as other biographers, but at the very least, his coverage is relentlessly objective.
Theodore Roosevelt’s biography by H.W. Brands is insightful, detailed, and thought-provoking. It appears to honor his early commitment to justice and change, but it contradicts popular belief that TR is among America’s finest presidents. Brands’ Teddy Roosevelt biography is entertaining and often worthwhile, but it appears to go too far in bringing the guy down from his pedestal.
5. Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt by David McCullough
“Mornings on Horseback” is a 1981 book about Theodore Roosevelt’s youth by David McCullough, which was a Pulitzer Prize nominee in the biography category in 1982.Theodore Roosevelt’s youth and early adulthood are vividly shown in McCullough’s story, which spans the first twenty-eight years of his life. But it also provides a fascinating and engaging peek into the life of an affluent New York family in the late 1800s.
So much of Theodore Roosevelt’s tale – both the one told about him and the one he told the world – is based on his childhood as a sickly kid of an all-powerful yet compassionate aristocratic father. McCullough delves into all of this, separating myth from reality and utilizing Roosevelt’s early years in upper-crust New York to build a portrait of America as it transitioned from the Civil War to the Gilded Age.
“Mornings on Horseback,” by David McCullough, is fascinating and provides a fresh viewpoint on Roosevelt’s early upbringing. However, it turns out to be more descriptive than interpretive. It is, nevertheless, well-researched and frequently highly comprehensive. While it isn’t precisely McCullough’s best work (his two Pulitzer wins came a decade later), it is a beautifully crafted and immensely entertaining story.