He is sitting just above a cowcatcher railroading out of Mombasa, hunting White Rhino in the Dark Continent, receiving a triumphant hero’s royal welcome in the palaces of Europe. A spoiler in an election campaign, living on the edge of death exploring an unknown Brazilian River, the presidency yet again within reach, a passionate advocate of the war and duty loses a son in battle.
The epic image of Theodore Roosevelt reaches another crescendo in Edmund Morris’ new biography Colonel Roosevelt (2010 Random House). Morris’ two previous historical masterpieces The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and Theodore Rex received critical acclaim including the former receiving the Pulitzer Prize. Colonel Roosevelt completes the trilogy and is worthy of the praise which will undoubtedly be forthcoming.
Colonel Roosevelt continues Morris’ biographical work after Roosevelt leaves the presidency following the election of William Howard Taft in 1908. It ends with Roosevelt’s death in 1919.
Roosevelt embarks upon a lifelong dream of an African big game safari. He follows that with a heroic post presidential tour of the capitols of Europe. Morris’s detail is so vivid it is as though the author were present. Roosevelt returns home to find the Republican Party in disarray. He is greatly disappointed in President Taft, his friend and chosen successor. He sees his Republican Progressivism platform in shambles.
Morris’ study of Roosevelt Progressivism and the resulting split in the Republican Party is telling in its relevance to the divide that exists in the modern day GOP. A century ago, the ultra conservatives were the Taft Republicans and the more moderate Republicans became Roosevelt’s Progressives. The split resulted in Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Party and his failed election bid in 1912 that saw the GOP divided between Taft and Roosevelt with the resulting election of Woodrow Wilson. It raises an interesting comparison to the Tea Party split within the current GOP.
Morris’ treatment of the Roosevelt-Wilson acrimony through the conclusion of the First World War is riveting. It is so well written that for the non-historian it becomes an insightful overview of the political momentum of the entire tragedy and the tremendous divide it created in what was then an isolationist America.
Morris deserves his just accolades as a historian. His research is impeccable. Best of all he is also a great storyteller. His style in all three Roosevelt books presents personalities and huge volumes of historical facts in a flowing, manageable and memorable landscape.
The term Page-Turner is most often used in reference to fast-paced novels, not a biography. However, Edmund Morris consistently writes monumental Page-Turners combining facts and clear interpretation with artistry to bring history and personalities vividly into focus. Start by turning the pages of The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, hit the campaign trail to the presidency with Theodore Rex, and then be a witness to Roosevelt’s incredible later life as so beautifully detailed in Colonel Roosevelt. During the many hours of pleasure it will take to absorb all three, Edmund Morris will personally place you amidst the Roosevelt memorabilia in the great room at Sagamore Hill.
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