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Dynamic Portrait Of Human Colossus

  • Oct 25, 2005
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It's hard to imagine a figure like the Theodore Roosevelt as presented by Edmund Morris popping up in a work of fiction. "Too farfetched," some editor would say, and with reason. Here you have wrapped in one skin a bona fide war hero, a writer of popular histories, a legislator, a cowboy, a police commissioner, a governor, and a navy assistant secretary who goes on to become the nation's youngest president.

TR, as he is called (never "Teddy" to his face unless you were related), straddled the centuries, characterizing both the refined ideal of the 19th century and the galvanic purpose of the 20th without being dated by too close an identification to either.

Morris marks his man at the outset, in a colorful preface set during his presidency (a period which Morris doesn't include in this, his first of three projected volumes on TR) where we see Roosevelt mostly through the eyes of those around him, throwing out his characteristic phrase "dee-lighted" as he breaks the all-time record for most handshakes at a single event without sign of strain.

Notes one witness: "You go to the White House, you shake hands with Roosevelt and hear him talk - and then you go home to wring the personality out of your clothes."

I felt the same way putting down this book, which by the way is hard to do. Morris writes extraordinarily well, not only about Roosevelt but the times that created him and the people who surrounded him. Even the footnotes are enjoyably readable.

You get a lot of Roosevelt's boisterousness, expressing his philosophy that "Life is strife" and that a nation must be willing "to stake everything on the supreme arbitrament of war, and to pour out its blood, its treasure, and its tears like water, rather than submit to the loss of honor and renown."

At the same time, there's a warmth and sensitivity to Morris' portrait. Roosevelt was a man who allowed for no doubts, but some surprising nuances. He was able to laugh along with those who poked fun at his spectacles, for example, because he understood the ungainly glasses were a way of sticking out that set him further apart from the crowd. He valued his manly bearing but could pray and cry with surprising abandon.

Morris establishes himself as a writer with the skills and persistence to attach himself, remora-like, to this human cyclone, not to mention the eloquence for capturing his many twists and turns. (One gets the feeling he was absolutely the wrong choice to biography Ronald Reagan, as he did in the misbegotten "Dutch", because Reagan was nearly as passive a figure as Roosevelt was active.)

While some carp Morris is too positive in his presentation here, I beg to differ. Morris captures Roosevelt's double-dealings with two political parties en route to the New York governorship, and his shunting aside of Navy ambassador John Long, for a time Roosevelt's immediate superior. It's just that Morris writes with agreeable sympathy, and duly notes Roosevelt's many achievements large and small, such as championing reform in the era of the bosses and ensuring the first-time election of a black delegate to head a political convention. Roosevelt was the grandest figure in the Republic between the Civil War and World War I, not faultless but capable of incredible feats.

"I have only a second-rate brain, but I think I have a capacity for action," Roosevelt once said of himself. In fact, Roosevelt was that rare blend of smarts and guts. With this bio, you feel like you have gained an exclusive audience with this extraordinary man.

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More The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt reviews
review by . May 12, 2013
As Theodore Roosevelt would have said it:
This is a supurb researched biography of one of the most colorful, revered presidents of the 20th century. For anyone who has unfortunately grown cynical and tired of the political and social cliched diatribe of today's political figures and political system, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt will change all that and bring forth a new appreciation for what man and woman can achieve in government when they have conviction, determination and plain old guts. What makes this book so appealing is that …
review by . March 18, 2007
This particular volume of Edmund Morris's two volume work, covers the life of Theodore Roosevelt from birth until he becomes president after assignation of William McKinley. I must admit to being one of those that found this biography to be very informative, easy to read, well organized and simply fun. I feel that Morris has given us a very clear view of the young Theodore and wonderful insight into just what went into the make up of this most interesting of presidents. The book is quite detailed …
review by . September 03, 2006
The book depicts a man who towered over the people and events of  his time. President Roosevelt was the youngest person to ever  occupy the White House at age 42. He was a naturalist, author,  rancher, soldier and politician.     The work provides a picture and the reception at the White House on 1-1-1907. The national wealth grew by over $5B/year over the two-term presidency of Roosevelt.    The former president had an irrational …
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Bill Slocum ()
Ranked #299
Reading is my way of eavesdropping on a thousand conversations, meeting hundreds of new and fascinating people, and discovering what it is about the world I enjoy most. Only after a while, I lose track … more
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Praise for the rise ofTheodore Roosevelt

?Magnificent . . . a sweeping narrative of the outward man and a shrewd examination of his character. . . . It is one of those rare works that is both definitive for the period it covers and fascinating to read for sheer entertainment. There should be a queue awaiting the next volume.?
-W. A. Swanberg,The New York Times Book Review

?Theodore Roosevelt, in this meticulously researched and beautifully written biography, has a claim on being the most interesting man ever to be President of this country.?
-Robert Kirsch,Los Angeles Times Book Review

?Spectacles glittering, teeth and temper flashing, high-pitched voice rasping and crackling, Roosevelt surges out of these pages with the force of a physical presence.?
-The Atlantic Monthly

?Morris?s book is beautifully written as well as thoroughly scholarly-clearly a masterpiece of American biography. . . . Hundreds of thousands will soon be reading this book . . . and will look forward, as I do, to Morris?s second volume.?
-Kenneth S. Davis,Worcester Sunday Telegram--Review
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ISBN-10: 0375756787
ISBN-13: 978-0375756788
Author: Edmund Morris
Genre: Biographies & Memoirs
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
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