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Cannonball Read III: Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris

By Lennon | Books | March 1, 2011 |

By Lennon | Books | March 1, 2011 |

He wrote 18 books, one of which is still required reading at the US Naval Academy. He graduated from Harvard and attended Columbia Law School. He earned both the Medal of Honor and the Nobel Peace Prize. He went on a massive safari in Africa and a fact finding expedition in South America… both after his left retina had been detached in a boxing accident years earlier, leaving him blind in one eye. His face is carved into the side of a mountain. He was shot in the chest and rather than go to the hospital, proceeded to give a 90 minute speech with blood soaking the front of his clothes. One of the most popular toys in the world is named after him. Oh yea, he was also governor of New York, President of the United States and head of the most successful third party in all of American history.

In other words, Theodore “Dont Call Me Teddy” Roosevelt lived the life you want to live. Twice.

Edmund Morris captures a mere 8 years of it in his book, Theodore Rex. Ostensibly, the book is a mere recording of the 8 years (well, 7.5) that Roosevelt spent as president. Exactly, actually. It begins with the assassination of president McKinley and ends with the swearing in of Howard Taft. This strict timeline cutoff allows the author to present the presidency as it happened, in real time. This decision ultimately creates a story, rather than a historical recounting of raw data.

Conversations are had, dialog is exchanged and these characters from history are expressed in their very real voice. Initially, I must confess that I was a little skeptical of the accuracy of these exchanges, but after thumbing through the 200+ pages of notes I am left with little doubt that they happened as recorded. What results is not just names and places but characters and events.

As with any book seeking to chronicle the happenings of a political career, the story is necessarily tangential. Often it jumps from one unrelated issue to another. Imminent war with Germany, the Panama Canal, coal workers strikes. Much as I imagine Mr Roosevelt had to deal with these issues on the fly, the reader must also learn to deal with them in short, non-sequitur bursts. To his credit, Mr Morris does as good a job as can be expected in tying these events together and making them cohesive in the context of a single presidency.

Throughout, the reader is treated to Roosevelt the man as much as they are Roosevelt the politician. His tendency to discus and develop policy while skinny dipping in the Potomac or during blistering summer tennis matches permeate the book as much as his devotion to his wife and unerring love of his children. Because of this willingness to explore the home life as much as the political, Morris creates a wonderful portrait of man who truly did live as he lead.

Theodore Rex does exactly what it sets out to do. It informs, it entertains and ultimately it makes us long for an age when politicians were expected to be both ballsy and brainy, rather than eschew one for the other. Morris managed to write a historical account of a presidency that took place over a century ago yet seems as relevant today as it must have been then.

For more of Lennon’s writings, check out his blog, Dark Coffee and Old Spice.

This review is part of Cannonball Read III. For more information, click here.

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