Over the last few weeks I have been joyfully wandering through Edmund Morris’ new book “Colonel Roosevelt” which covers the final period of the life of one of America’s most interesting and influential presidents. The book is the third in a trilogy of works by Morris which have been published over the last few decades. The first work was the Pulitzer prize winning “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt” and the second, covering his almost eight years as president, was aptly entitled “Theodore Rex”
Colonel Roosevelt begins with the African Safari Roosevelt took after stepping away from the presidency in immense popularity concluding his second term in 1908. The book covers the later years of a career that saw Roosevelt as nature enthusiast, adventurer, international statesmen, author, public intellectual, politician, 3rd party presidential candidate, advocate for WWI preparedness, father/family man and finally a dying icon on the American scene.
Beginning this book I felt I knew very little about Theodore Roosevelt beyond some very small details picked up along the way in the educational process. After reading this work I very much look forward to reading Morris’ first two installments on the life of this man. Certainly Roosevelt was a man of his times; some of his time was in need of transformation. At the same time I felt that much of what this man exemplified has been lost in our day. An advocate for progressive reform in politics, but also not afraid to fight for honor and truth. A man who despised passive, emasculated manhood, yet was a loving husband and father. A man who would chase down lions in the wilderness and get down on the floor to play with the kids. As a Harvard graduate who was fluent in multiple languages, he was a scholar and perhaps one of the best and widest read presidents we have had. At the same time he was also man who would have loved MMA (he had a love for boxing and apparently had lessons in jiu-jitsu and a brown belt in judo - or as he wrote to his sons…he liked “manly sports”)
To put it plainly, Theodore Roosevelt was a dude. A person who would have exemplified the quality that Harvard professor Harvey C. Mansfield recently called Manliness. Yes, he thought a bit much of himself. Yes, he was never lacking words and always spoke his mind somewhat loudly. Yes, he thought war could be virtuous and called pacifists “aunties” and “sublimated sweetbreads.” Perfect man, no way. One of the more interesting people I have ever encountered? Indeed.
I found myself with real tears in the eyes as the story of his death was told in this book. I felt a sense of loss that such a figure would be consumed by that great enemy of the grave. I then remembered the words of Ecclesiastes which say “No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death.” The great ones all come and go the same way and some inspire others along the way.
Teddy Roosevelt is now a new friend - an enigmatic one. One who was at home in a bar fight and in the courts of European royalty. In short, Roosevelt was not simply a man, he was a dude…one who believed in virtue, adventure, nobility and masculine strength aimed at proper ends. As such, I am all the better for having read this book and anticipate the journey into the earlier books of the trilogy.
Note: For those with commutes or enjoy audio books, Colonel Roosevelt as read by Mark Deakins was a delightful listen with the readers “Roosevelt” voice for each of his quotations a stunning joy which brought me many laugh out loud moments.