Saturday, February 22, 2003

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt

I just finished reading Edmund Morris' wonderful The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, which was originally published in 1979 and won a Pulitzer. It hit my radar screen when some weeks ago I decided to join the History Book Club and choose Morris' Theodore Rex as one of my selections. After I began reading and enjoying it, I discovered that it was the second in a projected three volume series that Morris began on TR two decades ago. So I set Rex down and purchased vol 1 and drank it in. It's wonderful and now I'm a bona fide TR fan. This man was incredible. Here's a quote from Theodore Rex that quickly summarizes TR's life in terms of accomplisments:

"He had been a published author at eighteen, a husband at twenty-two, an acclaimed historian and New York State Assemblyman at twenty-three, a father and a widower at twenty-five [TR lost his first wife and mom on the same day just after his first daughter Alice was born], a ranchman at twenty-six, a candidate for Mayor of New York at twenty-seven, a husband again at twenty-eight, a Civil Service Commissioner of the United States at thirty [appointed by the President]. ...Police Commissioner of New York City at thirty-six, Assistant Secretary of the Navy at thirty-eight, Colonel of the First US Volunteer Calvary, the "Rough Riders," at thirty-nine."

TR went on to become Governor of New York at age forty, then Vice-President and then an assasin's bullet made him the youngest President ever at age forty-two (Kennedy was the youngest person *elected* President at forty-three; Clinton was forty-five when we became president).

TR spoke German and French, attended Harvard. He was an amateur boxer, a policeman, started a finance club, a stockmen's association and an extremely influential hunting-conservation society (connected with the start of both the National Zoo and of Yellowstone National Park). He climbed the Matterhorn and "became a world authority on North American mammals."

TR wrote 38 books, including his first book, The Naval War of 1812, which he published when he was 23 years old. It was instantly considered by both England and America as the definitive work on the subject and within five or six years the US govt established a requirement that every US Navy ship have at least one copy on board. Morris adds,

"Eleven years later, when Great Britain was preparing her own official history of the Royal Navy, the editors paid Theodore the unprecedented compliment of asking him to write the section of that work dealing with the War of 1812" (p. 136).

I loved this book and found much to admire in TR.

Two things stood out to me: 1) his activism. TR was a doer. He made things happen. 2) his joie d'vivre. One contemporary said, "The important thing to remember about TR is that he's about six years old." His favorite exclamation was "Deeeelighted." He was a commendably optimistic individual.

I recommend this book and his life as worthy of study. I'm now rejoining Theodore Rex and dreading finishing it already.

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