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Rough Rider in the White House: Theodore Roosevelt and the Politics of Desire Hardcover – October 15, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0226876078 ISBN-10: 0226876071 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 299 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (October 15, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226876071
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226876078
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,739,732 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Despite all his well-known heroism, Theodore Roosevelt was a fairly pathetic figure. Adding to recent TR biographies, Watts probes not so much the public life of her subject as the darker interaction between his private psyche and the culture and politics of early 20th-century America. The result is a superb scholarly study of how Roosevelt built his political base on the aspiration and fears of men in a rapidly changing nation and world."
(Charles K. Piehl Library Journal)

"Watts has provided a thought-provoking and innovative study of the dark side of Roosevelt's personality. . . . Watts' arguments are clear, passionate, and thoroughly supported by a wide variety of historians, writers, poets, cartoonists, artists, journalists, sociologists, and psychologists of Roosevelt's era. . . . Watts provides a wealth of qualitative data in a fascinating book that rewards casual readers as well as scholars in a wide variety of disciplines."
(Elizabeth A. Bennion Journal of Interdisciplinary History 2005-11-01)

“In Watts’s model, manhood—in all cultures an acquired status and thus unstable—requires special maintenance in a period of self-conscious modernity, with the untamed masses posing a threat to traditional forms of order. In such a time men crave a leader who can make use of masculinity; one accidentally became president in 1901. . . . Watts supplements this analysis with deep readings of illustrations that show how Roosevelt’s secret fears surfaced elsewhere in contemporary culture.”

(Eric Rauchway Journal of American History)

“The book analyzes broader cultural anxieties about U.S. masculinity during the Gilded Age and Progressive era to reveal how Roosevelt’s political life both helped shape and was molded by discourse of race and gender. . . . Watts offers an important new lens for analyzing the public and private life of Theodore Roosevelt while contributing to the cultural studies of gender and race in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. . . . Watts’s sometimes provocative and always engaging portrait of Roosevelt is one readers will long remember.”

(Christina Jarvis American Historical Review)

From the Inside Flap

Who was Theodore Roosevelt? Most of us think of him as one of America's greatest presidents, a champion of progressive politics, and a master statesman. But many feared the political power that Roosevelt wielded. Woodrow Wilson once called him "the most dangerous man of the age." Mark Twain thought him "clearly insane." William James scorned the "flood of bellicose emotion" he let loose during his presidency. Even his biographer, Edmund Morris, is astonished at Roosevelt's "irrational love of battle."

In this book, Sarah Watts probes this dark side of the Rough Rider, presenting a fascinating psychological portrait of a man whose personal obsession with masculinity profoundly influenced the fate of a nation. Drawing on his own writings and on media representations of him, Watts attributes the wide appeal of Roosevelt's style of manhood to the way it addressed the hopes and anxieties of men of his time. Like many of his contemporaries, Roosevelt struggled with what it meant to be a man in the modern era. He saw two foes within himself: a fragile weakling and a primitive beast. The weakling he punished and toughened with rigorous, manly pursuits such as hunting, horseback riding, and war. The beast he unleashed through brutal criticism of homosexuals, immigrants, pacifists, and sissies—anyone who might tarnish the nation's veneer of strength and vigor. With his unabashed paeans to violence and aggressive politics, Roosevelt ultimately offered American men a chance to project their longings and fears onto the nation and its policies. In this way he harnessed the primitive energy of men's desires to propel the march of American civilization—over the bodies of anyone who might stand in its way.

Written with passion and precision, this powerful revisioning of an American icon will forever alter the way we see Theodore Roosevelt and his political legacy.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 41 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is absolutely the most scandalous, revisionist, psyco-babble, biography I have ever encountered. TR's life, utterances, and actions are consistently taken out of context, as are those of his contemporaries.
The author psycho-analyzes TR by present day values, making him sound like a hopeless warmongering deviant, anti-feminist, racist, and a cruel father who drove a 10-year old TR jr. to a nervous breakdown.
She quotes "experts" whose credentials are not established, and totally fails to grasp TR's pivotal role in establishing his crendentials as a progressive, polymath genius, who authored 38 books, thousands of magazine articles, and wrote 18 million words in his comparatively short life.
Nowhere does she give him credit for any of his lasting accomplishments such as the aggressive application of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act, the Pure Food and Drug Act,the creation of a world class navy, the Panama Canal, the creation of our incomparable system of national parks and monuments...the list is endless. Instead she focuses on his imperial ambitions (TR did not want American colonies!!) and his "blood thirsty" propensities!
This book is so biased, so defective, so pitifully "PC" that is does not warrant purchase by any reasonable student of history. I pity her students at Wake Forest.
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9 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Panopticonman on December 10, 2003
Format: Hardcover
In ROUGH RIDER IN THE WHITE HOUSE Sarah Watts unravels the contradictory strands of Theodore Roosevelt's character, a character forged at the first flexing of America's imperial muscle, and in so doing uncovers the roots of the United States' bipolar political discourse of the twentieth century. She amply proves her thesis that "Although Roosevelt was progressive and optimistic his political vision encompassed his darker, emotional, anti-liberal worldview of men and nations struggling against the forces of evil" (page 2).
This political vision would serve, and to an unlikely extent, still serves as America's domestic and foreign policy, she suggests. Watts makes this argument implicitly throughout most of the work, however, late in the book she does allow this ghost assertion to manifest itself: "For the remainder of the twentieth century, modernism continued to deprived men of viable lives and to force them into compromises that many consider feminizing and emasculating. As the middle class searched for meaning in a world of bureaucracy and consumerism, and as purchasing power and real wages began their long decline after 1972, men still needed a muscular proving ground on which to inscribe their anti-modern revolt, and the appeal of violence on an official level never diminshed" (page 240).
Indeed, she suggests that the conservative backlash of the past 25 years has borrowed much of the bellicose rhetoric and militaristic ethos of Roosevelt, as well as the sorting of citizens into the deserving and undeserving groups by wealth, ethnic and racial background, and social position. As Watts says with respect to non-white, non Anglo-Saxon males, "Roosevelt's exclusionary language had helped to create an intolerant social milieu and a punitive psychological one" (page 240).
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9 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Jim Bridger on December 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Having read only brief publications about TR, I can only claim partial qualification for this review. That said, I found this book to be highly insulting and disrespectful to the memory of Theodore Roosevelt. The author paints a picture of a man that was emotionally disturbed at best. How can she come to such far fetched conclusions when she has never even spoken to the man? The analytical process the author uses is abstract. Nearly every page is filled with modern feminist language that I found to be very out of place in a book that is supposed to be about an important American icon.

I'm truly sorry and ashamed that I even picked up this book, let alone read it. This is revisionism at it's most rank.
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