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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898 » User review

The overthrow of the United States

  • Jul 15, 2010
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Following America's success in the war against Spain he had longed for and maneuvered desperately to be part of, Theodore Roosevelt declared it the "first great triumph in what will be a world movement" (this phrase was borrowed by Warren Zimmerman in his 2002 First Great Triumph: How Five Americans Made Their Country a World Power, a history cited several times by author Evan Thomas in "The War Lovers"). William Graham Sumner was probably more accurate, though, when he decried "The Conquest of the United States by Spain" in an 1899 speech (reprinted in the great collection We Who Dared to Say No to War: American Antiwar Writing from 1812 to Now). Sumner argued that wars for conquest were foreign to American principles, and would inevitably undermine and destroy American liberty. Reading this excellent history by Evan Thomas, it's hard to deny that one way or another, the rise of "the war lovers" marked a decisive turning point in our history.

Zimmerman, as his title suggests, identified five individuals who were key to the gestation and birth of Empire. Thomas, in turn, focuses on two of them, TR and Henry Cabot Lodge, adding William Randolph Hearst and the antiwar voices of William James and House speaker Thomas Reed. The interpersonal dynamics of these men is as much a part of the story, and of Thomas' narrative, as are the geopolitical or propagandistic maneuverings. It was particularly interesting to read the author's analysis how the legacy of the Civil War, and in particular the example of Boston Brahmin heroes like Robert Gould Shaw or Charles Russell Lowell -- and the negative example of perceived shirkers like TR's own father -- shaped both the psychology and the politics of the war lovers.

Thomas' portrait of Roosevelt is particularly vivid, and in my mind fully justified Mark Twain's 1905 observation that "Theodore the man is sane; in fairness we ought to keep in mind that Theodore, as statesman and politician, is insane and irresponsible." While TR is often held up today as an exemplar of energeic, outdoorsy manliness and the virtues of "the strenuous life," Thomas's TR is a man driven by his need to prove himself in combat, even at the expense of his home and family, who loved telling the story of how he shot a (fleeing?) Spanish soldier at close range, and who translated his personal reckless energy into a policy of interventionism and war when he was in a position of power. "All the great masterful races have been fighting races," Roosevelt believed, and he wanted to make sure America proved its mastery. (Readers interested in exploring this aspect of Roosevelt and its impact on the course of American history could do worse than to read Bully Boy: The Truth About Theodore Roosevelt's Legacy by Jim Powell or the chapter on TR in Reassessing the Presidency : The Rise of the Executive State and the Decline of Freedom.)

While Roosevelt is perhaps inevitably the central figure in this book, Thomas does an equally fine job in his portraits of Hearst, Lodge, James, and Reed too, as well as in telling the story of the drive to war. "The War Lovers" is well-written and dramatic. But for me, as I said, the interplay between the central characters, and Thomas' proof of how the personal drives and demons of a few men in key positions of power changed the nation and the world, is the most powerful and most lasting lesson of a book I hope receives wide attention.

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November 17, 2010
What an interesting take on Teddy Roosevelt, I surely have never seen him painted as a war lover before. This sounds like an incredibly interesting read, thanks so much for sharing! Have you checked out Politics Your Way community?
More The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lod... reviews
review by . March 14, 2010
The War Lovers is a pretty good book both of history telling the story of the Spanish American war through the eyes of Teddy Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge and William Randolph Hearst with several interesting side characters.    The premise of the book is really psychological, Roosevelt being haunted by his father's hiring a substitute to fight during the Civil War and Lodge father too ill to serve, combined with their relationship with the Shaws (as in Robert Gould Shaw), Hearst …
review by . March 09, 2010
There have already been many books written about the Spanish-American War and about Teddy Roosevelt. I was skeptical that Evan Thomas' The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898 would add anything new. Fortunately, I was wrong. In this well-written, gripping narrative, Thomas brings the rush to war in the 1890s alive. The book is in largely a biography of five of the key participants in the debate around the war: Theodore Roosevelt, Henry Cabot Lodge, William Randolph …
review by . March 08, 2010
. . . but fails in its attempt to "connect the dots".    Evan Thomas' new book "The War Lovers" is an interesting and provocative read about the events leading up to the Spanish-American war. This is a part of American history that is little-known to most Americans and understudied. The events leading up to the war propelled Theodore Roosevelt to the forefront of national politics -- and eventually to the Presidency. The portrayal of Roosevelt prior to his presidential years …
review by . March 07, 2010
Theodore Roosevelt was famously described by his own daughter as a man who wanted to be the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral. So he'd be pleased about Evan Thomas's new book.    Okay, maybe not that pleased. "The War Lovers" is a sweeping historical overview centered around five American figures during the build-up to the Spanish-American War. Roosevelt's just one of the five, a figure of decided moral blindness in Thomas's view. Yet he comes to dominate …
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Andrew S. Rogers ()
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Evan Thomas and Sebastian Junger: Author One-on-One
In this Amazon exclusive, we brought together authorsSebastian JungerandEvan Thomasand asked them to interview each other.

Evan Thomasis one of the most respected historians and journalists writing today. He is the author ofThe War Lovers. Sebastian Jungeris an internationally acclaimed author and a contributing editor toVanity Fair, and has been awarded a National Magazine Award and an SAIS Novartis Prize for journalism. He is the author ofWar. Read on to see Sebastian Junger and Evan Thomas talk about their books.

Evan Thomas: War really is hell in your book. And yet it seems to captivate some of the men who fight it. Why?

Sebastian Junger: War is hell, as the saying goes--but it isn't only that. It's a lot of other things, too--most of them delivered in forms that are way more pure and intense than what is available back home. The undeniable hellishness of war forces men to bond in ways that aren't necessary--or even possible-- in civilian society. The closest thing to it might be the parent-child bond, but that is not reciprocal. Children are generally not prepared to die for their parents, whereas the men in a platoon of combat infantry for the most part are prepared to do that for each other. For a lot of men, the security of being enclosed by a group like that apparently outweighs the terrors of being in combat. During World War II, wounded soldiers kept going AWOL from the rear-base hospitals in order to rejoin their ...

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Books, War, Empire, Theodore Roosevelt, Spanishamerican War


ISBN-10: 031600409X
ISBN-13: 978-0316004091
Author: Evan Thomas
Genre: History
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
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