From Publishers Weekly
The future Rough Rider forges his masculine identity in a Western smithy in this fascinating biographical sketch. DiSilvestro (In the Shadow of Wounded Knee) recounts Roosevelt's mid-1880s sojourns in the Badlands, a hardscrabble frontier prone to gunfights (though some were staged to scare passengers on passing trains). For the sickly, foppish New Yorker (Roosevelt had his ranch duds custom-tailored in Manhattan), the West offered priceless tests of manhood--dangerous cattle drives; bullies; raucous hunting excursions ("I got him, I got him, I got him," he chanted while dancing around a pronghorn antelope carcass)--that the author credits with sparking Roosevelt's conservationist ardor. DiSilvestro paints a vivid panorama of the fast-vanishing frontier and plays the material straight (though he overstates the romance of Roosevelt's heartbreak over the death of his wife; friends feared he would "lose his mind," the author reminds us often). The straight approach works best; Roosevelt's ordeals were real enough, if sometimes pointlessly self-inflicted (he once trekked 150 miles after minor outlaws who stole his rowboat), and he emerges as our most neurotic president, a consummate practitioner of an authenticity that was both fake and utterly sincere. Photos. (Mar.)
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Focused on TR in his twenties, DiSilvestro�s work elaborates on the future president�s days devoted to hunting and ranching in the Dakota Territory. As standard biographies by David McCullough and Edmund Morris recount, the deaths of Roosevelt�s mother and wife in 1884 impelled him to fly from his grief. And so ensued escapades self-dramatized in his own books that created the TR persona of strenuous, competitive masculinity�shooting big game, decking a barroom bully, capturing outlaws, and hinting at fighting a duel. Chronicling the dramatic and the mundane in Roosevelt�s Dakota experiences, DiSilvestro combines minute details, down to the makes and calibers of Roosevelt�s guns, and interpretive asides about how the Dakota years shaped him. Suggesting they inculcated his nascent ideas about conservation (despite his gleeful blasting of fast-vanishing bison), DiSilvestro, by way of narration of TR�s immersion in frontier society, promotes the impression that the upper-class city slicker also assumed more socially egalitarian attitudes by roughing it out West. With its sources fully researched and capably integrated, DiSilvestro�s account definitively fills in this part of TR�s story. --Gilbert Taylor