Theodore Roosevelt’s story is an incredible one.
He is my favorite president, but he was also much more than a president. He was a complicated man, an indisputable genius, a charismatic statesman, an insatiable scholar, and so much more.
I just finished Edmund Morris’s fantastic trilogy of Roosevelt’s life:
- The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt covers his life from birth to the beginning of his presidency.
- Theodore Rex covers his presidency itself.
- Colonel Roosevelt covers his post-presidency life.
It’s impossible to summarize the man. Edmund Morris spent around 2,500 pages between the three volumes, and I still felt as if there was room for more.
I came away from the series considerably more enchanted with Roosevelt than when I started, even though Morris was appropriately critical where critique was due.
One of the things that made Roosevelt so interesting in these books is that despite his unique life and accomplishments, he, like all men and women, was far from perfect. Some of his philosophies — such as his thoughts on race and cultures — are in some ways cringeworthy today, but in other ways stand out as clearly many decades ahead of popular opinion of his time.
His stubbornness and his rapid, emotionally fueled decision making was both a great weakness and great strength.
I was regularly stunned at how his proposals and beliefs — often times unpopular within his party, or amongst the people — are now part of the fabric of government and American life. Two of his achievements he’s best known for — conservation of national lands, and promotion of workers’ rights — directly impact nearly all Americans to this day. It’s hard to envision America without his influence, and his influence had nearly no bounds at the time. Even his use of words and phrases endured.
One thing I didn’t expect before reading this biography was how inspired I would be to write because of him. He wrote hundreds of thousands of letters, thousands of distributed articles, and dozens of books. His life is incredibly well documented.
Finally, one of the things I most appreciated about this series was how Morris included Roosevelt’s entire family as central to the story. It’s not a biography framed from a professional perspective, but an intensely personal one. It made the whole thing far more compelling.
I’m sure the strong surge of feelings I get after reading a good book will wear off with this one, just like most I read. But I have no doubt that I will have many long-term takeaways and lessons I’ve learned thanks to Morris’s depiction of Roosevelt. And I’m pretty sure I’ll maintain my opinion that he’s one of the greatest Americans who has ever lived.