Described by the Chicago Tribune as "a classic", The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt stands as one of the greatest biographies of our time. The publication of The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt on September 14th, 2001, marked the 100th anniversary of Theodore Roosevelt becoming president.
"Magnificent...a sweeping narrative of the outward man and a shrewd examination of his character....It is one of those rare works that is both definitive for the period it covers and fascinating to read for sheer entertainment. There should be a queue awaiting the next volume." (The New York Times Book Review)
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The first part of Edmund Morris' biography of Theodore Roosevelt is absolutely wonderful. This volume covers Mr Roosevelt's life from his birth through his selection as Vice President under McKinley and McKinley's assassination and is long enough, at 26, hours to cover everything of importance. While this is not the first Roosevelt biography that I have read it is the first that has covered all of the relevant parts of his early life with what seems like completeness.
Theodore Roosevelt led an extraordinarily varied life – young naturalist and student of animal life, Harvard student, New York assembly man, corruption fighting reformer, Civil Service Commissioner in Washington, cattleman in the Dakota Territory, Police Commissioner in New York, assistant Secretary of the Navy, mayor of New York City, Rough Rider and more and all of it comes to life in the wonderful writing of Mr Morris and the flawless narration of Mark Deakins. While parts of his life seem incongruous (for example his ability to be both a nature conservationist while, at the same time, engaging in hunting trips to kill wild animals and mount their heads and skins at his house) we need to remember that this occurred well more than 100 years ago and was perfectly in line with the common views of his day. What stands out above all are his enormous energy, his quick and subtle thinking and his absolute honesty. It is easy to see why he was so popular with the voters while, at the same time, so unpopular with some of the political class of his own party. His rise to power, given the unhappiness of some of the powerful politicians of his day, seems remarkable.
Mr Morris' writing of Theodore Roosevelt is largely positive, but not fawning. He writes about both the positive and negative sides of Mr Roosevelt's habits, views and opinions and his writing seems well balanced. However there is also a tendency to attribute the motives Mr Roosevelt's opponents to either meanness or greed and he (Mr Morris) seems unwilling to believe that those opponents might have held honest views which just were at odds with those of Mr Roosevelt. It is not enough to spoil the book but, while listening, I kept thinking to myself that perhaps the person in question honestly believed that Mr Roosevelt was wrong.
This is a very long book. All three volumes, in Audible format, add up to about 77 hours. While that length itself seems long it seemed even longer when compared to some of the other popular political biographies – Ron Chernow's biography of George Washington is about 42 hours, David McCullough's biography of John Adams is about 30 hours, H W Brand's biography of Ulysses Grant is about 28 hours, Jean Edward Smith's biography of FDR is about 33 hours and so on. As I said, this is a very long book. To find a comparably long biography one has to look at William Manchester's 3 volume biography of Winston Churchill which, at about 133 hours, eclipses even this book.
While listening to the Audible book I kept thinking that the book might have benefited from some judicious editing but I could never really put my finger on anything that should have been left out. It is long, but all of the information seems to be important, interesting or both. While 77 hours seems very long perhaps it is necessary for a life so varied, intense and central to the history of the US and the world. Theodore Roosevelt's life deserves a great biography and has found it in this book.
Highly recommended for those interested in history during the beginning of the 20th century.
A masterful presidential biography of a dynamo of force and energy and an absolute iconoclast of American politics. Morris is one of the rare breed of modern, well-published historians (Caro, Bushman, Donald, etc) who is able to easily combine the narrative grace and vivid details of popluar historians (Foote, Goodwin, Ambrose) with the scholarly analysis and weight of academia; and then does it again and again and again.