Let me preface this by saying that I am not a fan of biographies in general. The last biography I read, the definitive Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden, took me seven months to get through because I was so thoroughly bored in the process- and this a master work on one of my heroes!
However, I just finished reading TR: The Last Romantic by H.W. Brands (which, not inconsequentially, was recommended to me by a random patron- and Teddy expert- of Powell’s Books in Portland over several others as the “most enjoyable & immanently readable” biography on the market), and my heart is broken. Not only was the biography endlessly entertaining, it left me wistful for a Rooseveltian leader in our day & age.
Teddy, before venturing into politics, was a cattle rancher in the Dakotas. A known menace declared that if he ever saw Four-Eyed Roosevelt around, he’d shoot him dead. Teddy showed up at his house with a pistol in hand & asked if he’d like to step outside. The man declined and caused no more trouble. A drunk man at a bar declared that Roosevelt was going to buy everyone in the place their next glass, then threatened him with a pistol. Teddy punched the man in the face, who fired into the ceiling as he fell off his barstool.
He was a forty-year-old assistant secretary to the navy, when, with his aid, America broke out into war with Spain. He left his post to take charge of a band of cowboys & miscreants in a volunteer army known as the Rough Riders, who famously charged San Juan Hill under the Colonel Roosevelt’s reckless, fearless leadership, winning him a Medal of Honor in the process.
He won the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating peace between Russia & Japan, was the first president to venture overseas in office, fought the megacorporation monopolies, helped facilitate the independence of Panama & Cuba, created the Panama Canal, created the ICC, helped facilitate what would lead to the FDA, was a published war historian & biologist, fought against the discrimination of Asians, expanded the federal government’s power over the states, left the presidency refusing to run in 1908 (which he almost assuredly would have won) to go on a year-long safari with his son (whom he later took into the Amazon jungle), and died in 1919 as the favorite to win the presidency (following his prophetic, though unpopular words, concerning WWI) almost 12 years after leaving office.
He continued to give a 90-minute speech after being shot in the chest in 1912, saying, “Ladies and gentlemen, I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.” Wow.
Three of his four sons served in both WWI & WWII (Quentin was killed in action during WWI). Ted Jr., after serving as Governor of Puerto Rico, Chairman of American Express, as a 57-year-old, returned to military service and was the only general to land with the men on D-Day in Normandy. They landed over a mile off from their intended target, but Roosevelt, quoting poetry while walking up the beaches with a pistol and a cane, declared, “We’ll start the war from here.” Unreal.
Do yourself a favor. Go read this book.
Paul Johnson of The Wall Street Journal wrote that “Every red-blooded American should read this entertaining book.” I concur most heartily, good sir.