Even though most Americans think of Theodore Roosevelt as one of the greatest presidents in US history, he had developed a pretty noteworthy resume long before he ever stepped into the oval office. He beat debilitating asthma as a young kid, hunted buffalo and bears on epic expeditions, held his own out West with some hardcore cowboys, became governor of New York, and grew one of the sweetest mustaches in history. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, the first in a trilogy of biographies on Teddy, covers his life from beginning up to the moment he became president.
Before reading this book, I thought Teddy came from a lower to middle class family, considering how tough he was. I couldn’t have been more wrong – his family was one of the richest in New York. Despite being from a well-off family, Teddy still had to overcome a lot growing up that shaped his character. Growing up, his parents didn’t know if he was going to live for very long and even if he did, he probably would turn into a weak man due to some really severe asthma. Roosevelt didn’t let that stop him from doing whatever he wanted to do though, even telling one of his doctors that he was specifically going to do everything his doctor told him not to do. Teddy had to battle through some pretty serious emotional issues too. While in the beginning of his political career, Teddy held his mother in his arms as she died, then went upstairs to watch his wife die that same night after she gave birth to his daughter. Still, Teddy drowned himself in work to stay busy enough so he didn’t have to think about what had happened. Through these types of stories, Morris illustrates just how Teddy became the resilient man everyone knows.
One of the problems with reading a biography is that authors becomes enamored with their subject (especially when it’s a popular figure like Teddy), making it tough for them to be objective. The reader hears how awesome the subject is but rarely reads anything negative about him. Though Morris obviously likes Teddy quite a bit, he still shows how polarizing a figure he could be to some people he encountered. Especially many of his political acquaintances, since he wasn’t shy about expressing his opinion – loudly and proudly -on any issue.
At times, the book reads just like a novel. This is especially true when Morris covers Roosevelt’s attack on the Spaniards in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, as he leads the Rough Riders into the thick of battle. While much of it is written well and flows well, the book is a beast (I read it on my Nexus, but I think the print version is close to 1000 pages). Since most of Morris’ sources come from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, some of the language from that time seems to creep into the text, which makes it a little more difficult to read for the average reader (just fine for someone studying Teddy or the time period though).
That being said, there is a ton of information about Teddy’s life in this book that kept me entertained throughout the whole thing. If you’re really interested in the life of Teddy Roosevelt and willing to make the time investment, then this is THE biography of him to read, since Morris doesn’t leave a stone unturned regarding his rise to the presidency. For the casual reader, the book may seem a little harder to get through, but I doubt you’ll be disappointed.
(While looking up the picture for the post I found out that a movie based on this book may be in the works. Sounds like it’s hit a few roadblocks getting to the big screen, but keep an eye out for it. This would make an awesome movie)
For Edmund Morris’ biography over Teddy’s presidency, check out Theodore Rex
For Morris’ biography about Teddy’s life after presidency, check out Colonel Roosevelt