Saturday, October 27, 2012

Rough Rider

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt 

"Criticism is necessary and useful; it is often indispensable; but it can never take the place of action, or be even a poor substitute for it. The function of the mere critic is of very subordinate usefulness. It is the doer of deeds who actually counts in the battle for life, and not the man who looks on and says how the fight ought to be fought, without himself sharing the stress and the danger."  - Theodore Roosevelt, 1894

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt is the first volume of a trilogy by Edmund Morris that comprises the biography of United States President Theodore Roosevelt. The remaining volumes, Theodore Rex and Colonel Roosevelt were completed over the following thirty years. It was a massive undertaking, but based on my reading of the first volume it was well worth the time spent.
Morris covers the time from Roosevelt's birth through his ascendancy to the Presidency in the Rise. It includes the Roosevelt family history starting with his parents influence, his turbulent childhood illnesses, education, involvement in politics and accomplishments in politics that prepared him to be one of the most influential presidents of the modern era. Specific topics include the philosophy of Theodore's father, mother, and his family. His passion for learning despite severe illness is well documented. Most important was his relentless development of both his mind and his body. He reportedly read the equivalent of one book per day and his many sojourns in the western "Badlands" were a testament to his physical strength.
Morris examines his life as a young politician driven by a sense of public duty and stewardship, and captures multiple aspects of the events that shaped his character and public persona. His oratorical ability was amazing and the charisma that he developed through his relentless pursuit of his goals was demonstrated again and again. Morris touches upon events from early childhood, education and hobbies, travels in Europe and Africa, New York legislature, frontier life, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, the Rough Riders and victory in Cuba, and his time as Governor of New York. The detail of his development as a reformer from days on the Civil Service Commission and as Police Commissioner in New York City through to his term as Governor of New York sets the stage for what will become a continuing theme as he moves onto the national stage. His campaign skills, both in support of McKinley's first term and during his Vice Presidential campaign were tremendous.
Overall this is one of the most impressive Presidential biographies that I have read. It truly deserved the award of both the Pulitzer Prize and the 1980 National Book Award in Biography.

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris. Random House, 2010 (1979)

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