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Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris

presidential biography, Random House,  (hardback), 2001, 772 pages

reviewed by Deane Rink,

Deane Rink, writer, producer, and project director, is a voracious reader with very eclectic tastes. He sends us short, provocative reviews, introducing us to fascinating books that otherwise might pass unnoticed. He has worked for PBS, National Geographic, the American Museum of Natural History, Hearst Entertainment, and Carl Sagan. From his involvement in numerous projects about science, he has remarkable insight into present-day scientific endeavors and their implications, and in-depth knowledge of specialized fields (like Antarctica from his two "Live from Antarctica" PBS productions. But he also savors provides illuminating commentary on literature, fantasy, biography, and popular fiction. Links to Deane's other reviews. You can reach him at

A spell-binding Republican was elected American President for the first eight years of the Twentieth Century, and it appears that history will repeat itself (minus the charisma) during these first eight years of the Twenty-First Century.  If George W. Bush aspires to emulate Teddy Roosevelt, he will need to undergo a charisma transplant, gain more competence and a more textured world view, and attract a more fanatical following.  Actually, Teddy Roosevelt's political and intellectual abilities were probably closer to those of Bill Clinton than to those of our current Republican President, yet T.R.'s personality was so dominant, so larger-than-life, that it is difficult imagining him being a successful politician in our modern era.

Roosevelt was the product of an extraordinary family, and great things were expected from him since early adolescence.  His life story up to the time of his Presidency is covered in the author's first volume, THE RISE OF THEODORE ROOSEVELT, and is also the focus of David McCullough's MORNINGS ON HORSEBACK, but T.R.'s ascent to power was of less interest to me than his presidential accomplishments.  Traditionally, Republicans cozy up to Big Business, yet Roosevelt was the great trustbuster, frustrating the plans of his social friends J. P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, and Edward H. Harriman.  Traditionally, Republicans are gung-ho for the economic exploitation of natural resources, but T.R. (an avid outdoorsman and big game hunter) had the vision to create our national park system, preserving for future generations the wonders of Yellowstone, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, and others.  (When Roosevelt first visited Yosemite, he had his schedulers carve out four days that he spent camping and exploring the park with his guide, an elderly John Muir.  No phones, no politics!)
Traditionally, Republicans, and especially Roosevelt, were proud imperialists, extending the domain of their industrialized world into the more under-developed but resource-rich areas of the Third World, yet T.R. was enough of an international diplomat to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for brokering an end to the Russo-Japanese conflict.

Roosevelt's arrogance and his lack of a political correctness gene would have been his downfall had he entered public service decades later.  He was warned by his advisors that he would lose significant votes if he invited American people of color to dine with him at the White House, yet he invited Booker T. Washington to do just that more than once.  During a time when
most Caucasians felt African-Americans to be intellectually and morally inferior, T. R. worried that this cancer of inequality would prove to be the fatal flaw in our democracy.  Roosevelt's most well-known aphorism, "Speak softly, and carry a big stick," was actually derived from a West African proverb, though it was used by T.R. with the source obscured to affirm the
Monroe Doctrine as it applied to Cuba, Venezuela, and Colombia.

The author Edmund Morris, who was roundly criticized when he included fictional pastiches in DUTCH, his biography of Ronald Reagan, has avoided that conceit here and succeeds in providing a balanced portrait of a complex and fascinating statesman whose terms of office ushered in the modern, global, era of the American Presidency.

Reviews by Dean Rink

Dialogue on favorite books with Deane Rink before and during his latest trek to Antarctica, with a note from Bill Ransom and a digression about Frank Herbert (a.k.a Bookbabble 101) -- a very long and rapidly growing document:

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