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Dee-lighted with Bully!
on October 26, 2011
* I can't boast many "couldn't put it down" experiences in my literary life, but Bully! the new Roosevelt biography by Rick Marschall definitely qualifies. As well as a warm, topical biography of our most caricatured and dynamic Chief Executive, Marschall, a lifelong Roosevelt scholar and cartoon collector, shares his impressive assemblage of 19th and early 20th century Roosevelt cartoons; more than 250 period images from among others, Puck, Judge, Life, and Colliers, exquisitely and bitingly rendered by artists such as Kemble, A.B. Frost, Frederick Opper, Winsor McCay, Zim, Cory, Keppler and legions more. Rather than dropped in as an afterthought to diversify a photo section, the cartoons partner with Marschall's text to create a vivid ongoing stream of graphic commentaries of how Roosevelt was viewed by the public as his political career developed before them. The editorial cartoonists of the Gilded Age pulled no punches, and it's interesting to reflect on how the current Washington product might have fared in the crosshairs of editorial Goliaths such as Thomas Nast and Homer Davenport. I'm thinking not so great.
Bully! celebrates Roosevelt's seemingly inexhaustible energy, legendary even during his life, as the author of over fifty books, and as a naturalist, historian, cowboy, soldier, sportsman, politician, reformer, diplomat, and explorer. Rather than destroying him, the great tragedies in his life, and there were many, served to strengthen his incredible resolve. His amazing resiliency and ability to sublimate heartbreak, fueled a life of tireless service, whose populist crusades often branded him a traitor to his class.As Marschall states in his foreward, "Presidents were boring up until Roosevelt, and boring after him".
The most exciting facet of this unique biography is learning of Roosevelt's battles and victories over issues as contemporary as today's home screen headlines; corruption among elected officials, the environment, foreign affairs, labor unrest, the rights of women and minorities, Wall Street greed, health and safety laws and improving poverty level housing conditions, vividly summoning up the lesson from Ecclesiastes that "There is nothing new under the sun". Roosevelt, a favorite of both George Bush and Bill Clinton, was the most hands on president in American history and unflinchingly waded into highly controversial battles, quite often brushing aside party politics by stating "Without honesty, popular government is a repulsive farce".
The cartoons, some dating back to the 1870's are simply magnificent;crisp, clear, lustrous and have never looked so good. Lovingly preserved, they're now ripe for rediscovery by an America who quite often it seems lately, mistakenly believes that our current challenges are of recent vintage.
Bully! is a must for not only Roosevelt admirers, but all history students in general, as well as admirers of the great penman of the past. It's an enjoyable way to learn about the genesis of the American Century, and the man who planted this nation's feet firmly on that path.
If you're hungry for straight talk and learning about a president who believed in taking action, not polls, a feast awaits you in Bully!