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Theodore Roosevelt: A Literary Life

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Of all the many biographies of Theodore Roosevelt, none has presented the twenty-sixth president as he saw himself: as a man of letters. This fascinating account traces Roosevelt’s lifelong engagement with books and discusses his writings from childhood journals to his final editorial, finished just hours before his death. His most famous book, The Rough Riders—part memoir Of all the many biographies of Theodore Roosevelt, none has presented the twenty-sixth president as he saw himself: as a man of letters. This fascinating account traces Roosevelt’s lifelong engagement with books and discusses his writings from childhood journals to his final editorial, finished just hours before his death. His most famous book, The Rough Riders—part memoir, part war adventure—barely begins to suggest the dynamism of his literary output. Roosevelt read widely and deeply, and worked tirelessly on his writing. Along with speeches, essays, reviews, and letters, he wrote history, autobiography, and tales of exploration and discovery. In this thoroughly original biography, Roosevelt is revealed at his most vulnerable—and his most human.


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Of all the many biographies of Theodore Roosevelt, none has presented the twenty-sixth president as he saw himself: as a man of letters. This fascinating account traces Roosevelt’s lifelong engagement with books and discusses his writings from childhood journals to his final editorial, finished just hours before his death. His most famous book, The Rough Riders—part memoir Of all the many biographies of Theodore Roosevelt, none has presented the twenty-sixth president as he saw himself: as a man of letters. This fascinating account traces Roosevelt’s lifelong engagement with books and discusses his writings from childhood journals to his final editorial, finished just hours before his death. His most famous book, The Rough Riders—part memoir, part war adventure—barely begins to suggest the dynamism of his literary output. Roosevelt read widely and deeply, and worked tirelessly on his writing. Along with speeches, essays, reviews, and letters, he wrote history, autobiography, and tales of exploration and discovery. In this thoroughly original biography, Roosevelt is revealed at his most vulnerable—and his most human.

53 review for Theodore Roosevelt: A Literary Life

  1. 4 out of 5

    Frank Kelly

    A fascinating look at Teddy Roosevelt through the lens of his writing. Quite unique and highly enlightening. The authors offer a biography of the great man via his writings - letters, magazine articles and his countless books. You’re left understanding writing guided the man and reading fed his soul and mind daily. I’m left wondering would Roosevelt have been the extraordinary man we know today if he didn’t written constantly?

  2. 5 out of 5

    Mark Fallon

    As a fan of Theodore Roosevelt, and an admirer of his writing and reading prowess, I had hoped for more from this book. In the words of the man himself, the authors' comments "bear a close resemblance to fog=horns. They proclaim the existence of fog, but they do not disperse it." As a fan of Theodore Roosevelt, and an admirer of his writing and reading prowess, I had hoped for more from this book. In the words of the man himself, the authors' comments "bear a close resemblance to fog=horns. They proclaim the existence of fog, but they do not disperse it."

  3. 4 out of 5

    Gregory

    Theodore Roosevelt (TR), twenty-sixth president of the United States, 1901-1909, was one of the greatest characters in American history. Like the image of him chiseled into Mount Rushmore, he has been carved into the cultural landscape as well. Commonplace items, like the Teddy Bear, an sayings, like “good to the last drop” trace their origin directly to TR. In addition to being remembered as one of the best and most innovative politicians in the nation’s history, he is recognized by many Americ Theodore Roosevelt (TR), twenty-sixth president of the United States, 1901-1909, was one of the greatest characters in American history. Like the image of him chiseled into Mount Rushmore, he has been carved into the cultural landscape as well. Commonplace items, like the Teddy Bear, an sayings, like “good to the last drop” trace their origin directly to TR. In addition to being remembered as one of the best and most innovative politicians in the nation’s history, he is recognized by many Americans as a pioneering conservationist, father, war hero, peacemaker, sportsman, advocate of the strenuous life, and spokesman on varied sundry causes. Roosevelt is a well-published subject and has been the subject of many books, ranging from life-long biographies to histories of his presidency to detailed studies of such aspects as his concept of masculinity, racial views, efforts to clean up the New York City vice district, and college football regulations, just to name but a few. He was as ubiquitous in life as he is in our memory. Thanks to Thomas Bailey and Katherine Joslin we now have a work dedicated to TR the man of letters, probably one of the most overlooked aspects of his multi-faceted life. And, TR was a man of letters. He was not merely a politician who wrote, but an author who engaged in politics throughout his life. There were no ghost writers at Sagamore Hill! The two facets of TR’s life, as Bailey and Joslin demonstrate, were intertwined throughout. The young man who wrote The Naval War of 1812 (1882) supported American naval expansion. The middle-aged man who penned The Winning of the West (1889-1899) and The Rough Riders (1899) advocated for an aggressive American foreign policy that included imperial expansion abroad. The older man demanded the United States intervene in the Great War in the pages of America and the World War (1915). As there was a Roosevelt Corollary in politics, there was a Roosevelt Literary Doctrine, as he mentioned in a letter to his sister in 1896. In essence, it is that writing should be done to inspire action. It is odd that TR the author should have received so little attention in the last century since his passing. He penned hundreds of articles, reviews, and other shorter works, over a dozen books, in addition to the over 150,000 letters he wrote. The authors point out that many of his so-called “posterity letters” as historians have come to dub letters so obviously intended to be read by future generations, as well as their recipient, were literary products themselves. His contemporaries were more appreciative of this than subsequent generations. Within a decade of his death, his entire corpus of writings was collected into a couple of multi-volume series of “Works.” Theodore Roosevelt: A Literary Life is organized chronologically. It places his writing and reading in the context of what was happening his life that that same time. This gives it a very personable feel. One can see TR taking writing assignments simply because he needed the money. It also allows the reader to see how TR developed as a writer. He struggled early on. His biography Thomas Hart Benton (1885) is unfocused and more about the subject of manifest destiny than about the individual whose life he was ostensibly chronicling. The first two volumes of the Winning of the West were sloppy. Several reviewers, including historian Frederick Jackson Turner, called him to the carpet for misusing his primary sources. The second two volumes demonstrated marked improvement. He comes of age as an author with The Rough Riders (1899). Finally, this approach allows the authors to compare accounts TR provided in his several autobiographical accounts with what actually happened. In Through the Brazilian Wilderness (1914), for instance, TR wrote very confidently of events even as he had been delirious and unconscious. Where did he get that information from? There is no clear answer. His Autobiography (1913) is described as an apologia designed to explain and rationalize the actions of his presidency. If there is a cost to this approach it is that there is less analysis of topics that dominate current historiographical discussions of TR, such as his racism and how that affected his actions and policies. Being a man of letters, however, is not simply about writing; it involves reading, intellectual engagement, and interaction with other authors. Bailey and Joslin amply prove the case that TR was such a man of letters. Despite the fact that TR famously read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina while in the Badlands, he did not confine himself solely to high-brow literature. In reality, he read widely and eclectically. To relax he devoured cheap detective novels, a genre not generally associated with the aristocratic TR. Non-fiction greatly interested him as well. Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives (1889), Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power on History (1890), and Herbert Croly’s The Promise of American Life (1909), to name a few, deeply impacted TR’s political philosophy. Roosevelt was certainly an engaged member of the community of writers. He counted Owen Wister, Edith Wharton, and Henry Adams, among his closest friends. He corresponded with many more, dashing off letters of appreciation, encouragement, and sometimes criticism. During his presidency he was seen camping with John Burroughs and hiking Yosemite National Park with John Muir. Being Roosevelt, he also made his enemies. He despised Henry James for abandoning, as TR saw it, the United States for an expatriate’s life in Great Britain, and Mark Twain, whose anti-imperialism grated immensely on Roosevelt. As president, he certainly used the bully pulpit, as he referred to, to make pronouncements on authors and writing. Perhaps the greatest example was his vociferous attack on the “nature fakers” for writing what TR considered outlandish fictional accounts of wildlife passed on to the unsuspecting public as genuine natural history. No president had done anything like that before. He even attempted to re-write the language to make it more phonetic – or fonetic, as he would have preferred. He used his executive powers to benefit the literary community. He found civil service positions for writers he took a shine to. More broadly, he convinced Congress to re-write the copyright statutes that had been the law of the land since 1790. Congress obliged, and in the closing hours of his term, he signed the sweeping Copyright Act of 1909, something every writer in any medium should be very thankful for. Theodore Roosevelt: A Literary Life is an excellent work on a great man. One does not need to be fan of Roosevelt to appreciate it. Any lover of reading will enjoy its account of one of nation’s great and underappreciated authors and readers.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Steve Smits

    In the many volumes of excellent biographies of Theodore Roosevelt there are references to his voracious reading habits and his prolific writing. This excellent book focuses extensively on his accomplishments in the literary world. There is little question that Roosevelt thought of himself as an author -- sometimes principally as an author -- and he wrote more by far than any other president or major political figure. Two prominent characteristics of Roosevelt's persona heavily flavor his writin In the many volumes of excellent biographies of Theodore Roosevelt there are references to his voracious reading habits and his prolific writing. This excellent book focuses extensively on his accomplishments in the literary world. There is little question that Roosevelt thought of himself as an author -- sometimes principally as an author -- and he wrote more by far than any other president or major political figure. Two prominent characteristics of Roosevelt's persona heavily flavor his writing. His bias toward action and the strenuous life predominate his themes; he held that words were valuable only as they connected with deeds. His interest in nature and conservation (he wrote extensively about the US West and its decline) underlie a significant proportion of his output. Lesser known are his historical works such as the Naval War of 1812 (more objective and detailed than anything that appeared before) and biographies of figures like Oliver Cromwell. In addition to his book-length works, Roosevelt wrote scores of magazine articles and was probably the most prolific letter writing of any president. While one is amazed at his energy and bent toward action, some of TR's less admirable traits come through in his writing. His blood lust for hunting is off-putting to today's sensibilities of conservation of species, although it is undoubted that Roosevelt's determination to preserve the nation's natural wonders was a great legacy to today. His bellicosity borders on repulsiveness as shown by his fervor to go to war against Spain and, later, in the Great War. Roosevelt also demonstrates the racist sense of Anglo-Saxon superiority and its connection with imperialism that was prevalent in his time but is odious to us now. This well-conceived and well-executed work on a portion of Roosevelt's accomplishments would be a great addition to anyone's "TR" bookshelf.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lancelot Link

    What a fabulous idea for a book! Looking at Theodore Roosevelt as a writer -- of books, magazine articles and speeches -- and as a reader was a truly inspired idea. While I enjoyed this book because I love reading about reading, I didn't love this book as much as I thought I would. I found it a bit dull at times, particularly in the beginning, when the authors delve into Roosevelt's "The Naval War of 1812." But as the authors get more into other writers in the era and their relationship to TR -- What a fabulous idea for a book! Looking at Theodore Roosevelt as a writer -- of books, magazine articles and speeches -- and as a reader was a truly inspired idea. While I enjoyed this book because I love reading about reading, I didn't love this book as much as I thought I would. I found it a bit dull at times, particularly in the beginning, when the authors delve into Roosevelt's "The Naval War of 1812." But as the authors get more into other writers in the era and their relationship to TR -- Henry James, Owen Wister and Edith Wharton, for instance -- the book gets more interesting. I think this would be a difficult book to follow if you don't know much of anything about TR. Yes, this book isn't meant to be a biography, but it does follow TR's life somewhat chronologically. Simple facts like the number of children TR had is a little tricky to follow when Quentin is mentioned early on after Alice and Ted Jr. but you don't hear a peep about Archie for another 135 pages or Kermit for another 70. It's nearly impossible to understand why TR gets angry with Taft after he departs Africa. A sentence, maybe two, would have covered it, but without it, a reader could get lost. This book has its moments but for my money I'd rather just open up TR's autobiography to the chapter "Outdoors and Indoors" where he discusses books or read the Appendix in "African Game Trails" where TR discusses his pigskin library. Or peruse a few of TR's letters. This book isn't a bad read; it's just that TR's writing about books, and much of his writing itself, is an extremely tough act to beat.

  6. 4 out of 5

    James Barr

    I have read more biographies of TR than any other American, and I appreciate this unique view of him through his many writings. I knew he was a truly voracious reader, but I did not realize that he had written so much himself.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Exapno Mapcase

    Theodore Roosevelt did everything to the fullest extent possible, and if you told him that he probably would go even further. This extended to his writing and reading habits, a voracious reader and prolific writer on many subjects, from nature, to war, his family, and politics Free review copy.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Alec

    A really great read, and a fantastic new perspective into the life of one of America's most fascinating political characters. Far more clear eyed about many of Roosevelt's faults than *ahem* certain other large biographies of the man, but also with a lot of affection for the mind of one of the most intellectual persons ever to serve as the American executive. I do recommend reading at least one other Teddy biography first though, as if you haven't you'll find yourself running off to look up deta A really great read, and a fantastic new perspective into the life of one of America's most fascinating political characters. Far more clear eyed about many of Roosevelt's faults than *ahem* certain other large biographies of the man, but also with a lot of affection for the mind of one of the most intellectual persons ever to serve as the American executive. I do recommend reading at least one other Teddy biography first though, as if you haven't you'll find yourself running off to look up details about his non-literary life quite frequently.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Leonard Singer

  10. 5 out of 5

    Alex

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    Eddie

  12. 4 out of 5

    Frank Jenkins

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy Miller

  14. 5 out of 5

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  15. 4 out of 5

    Brian Spinnato

  16. 5 out of 5

    Joe Macdonald

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey

  18. 4 out of 5

    Don Gergely

  19. 5 out of 5

    Grant McCreary

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  24. 5 out of 5

    Mary

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  26. 5 out of 5

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  27. 5 out of 5

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  29. 5 out of 5

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  30. 5 out of 5

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  34. 5 out of 5

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  51. 5 out of 5

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