Customer Reviews: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (Modern Library Paperbacks)
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon March 16, 2002
Theodore Roosevelt... Harvard graduate, historian, New York state assemblyman; rancher, Civil Service Commissioner, New York City Police Commissioner, Assistant Secretary of the Navy; Commanding officer of the "Rough Riders;" war hero; Governor of New York; Vice President, and then President of the United States. All of these accomplishments by the time this extraordinary man reached 42 years of age. Theodore Roosevelt's historical achievements are indeed most impressive!

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt," biographer Edmund Morris masterfully chronicles the life of this mercurial, complex, and paradoxical man who became the 26th President of the United States.

Morris's brilliant narrative depicts Theodore Roosevelt as a man who towered over his world. Yet who would have guessed at future greatness for this, the oldest son of one of New York's wealthiest and most respected families? A sickly child, afflicted with constant bouts of asthma and chronic diarrhea, he is seen by his parents as a child "with the mind, but not the body..." for high achievement. But the young Roosevelt senses his own potential for greatness and resolves to strive mightily to achieve it...

Throughout his life, TR is a man of many paradoxes. Largely self-educated, he eventually attends Harvard University, from which he graduates magna cum laude in 1880 with a Phi Beta Kappa key in one hand and a membership in Porcellain, Harvard's most prestigious social club, in the other. The son of a wealthy philanthropist, he eschews the traditional, genteel, upper-class lifestyle in favor of the rough-and-tumble of New York politics. A member of the Republican party, he champions progressive reform. By age 26, he has served two terms in the New York state assembly; has earned the begrudging respect of his colleagues; and has authored several significant pieces of reform legislation.

After the death of his first wife, Alice Lee Hathaway Roosevelt, and his mother, Mittie (both women die on the same day, in the same house) TR flees New York, heading to the harsh, uncompromising Dakota Badlands to earn his living as a cattle rancher and writer of history books. Here, in this barren country, a startling transformation takes place. The thin, sickly youth of sallow skin and frail constitution becomes the muscular, tanned, robustly healthy man known to history.

"The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" vividly demonstrates how this intensely energetic politician used his forceful personality in the cause of badly needed reform at all levels of American government. As Morris points out, Roosevelt puts his personal stamp on nearly everything he undertakes. As Civil Service Commissioner during the Harrison administration, he publicly - some say bumptiously - investigates claims of graft and corruption within the Civil Service. He alienates many colleagues, but achieves lasting results. During his tenure, the Civil Service expands dramatically, despite fierce political opposition. The same holds true for TR's tenures as president of the New York City Police Commission (1895-97) and Assistant Secretary of the Navy (1897-98.)

In 1898 a series of unexpected events propels TR to national prominence. When war breaks out between the United States and Spain, TR asks for and receives commission in the New York National Guard. Soon he has assembled a tough group of cavalrymen called the "Rough Riders" - friends from his days at Harvard and in the old west. On July 1, 1898, TR and his grizzled band of soldiers will enter the pantheon of American heroes at a place in Cuba called San Juan Hill...

After the Spanish-American War, TR returns to New York and runs for Governor. After a tough, closely fought campaign that features former "Rough Riders" endorsing their candidate, TR is elected by a razor-thin margin of 18,000 votes out of nearly 1.1. million votes cast. TR will only spend a year in the governor's mansion, though. By 1900, New York's "old pols" have had enough of Roosevelt's attempts to force progressive reforms through a recalcitrant, conservative New York legislature. Considering TR "too dangerous" to keep on as governor, they make an arrangement to get Roosevelt on the national ticket. McKinley agrees, and an Roosevelt enthusiastically becomes McKinley's running mate.

In November 1900, McKinley easily wins re-election and Theodore Roosevelt becomes Vice President of the United States. Ten months later, on September 6, 1901, at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, President William McKinley is gunned down by a young anarchist...

Not since I read William Manchester's two-volume "The Last Lion" biography of Winston Churchill have I read a book that's as good as "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt." Make no mistake: this book is as good as biography gets! Here is the powerfully eloquent story of one of the most gifted and controversial men of the twentieth century, and perhaps even of all time.

"The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" reads almost like a novel. I haven't found a single part of this book that I would classify as "dry" or boring. In fact I found it pretty hard to put down once I started reading it. Part of the reason for that, I suppose, is because TR's life was so darned fascinating to begin with; but give Edmund Morris his due. He has told the story of Theodore Roosevelt with tremendous style and panache.

"The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" is a fair and balanced biography, although Edmund Morris displays an obvious affection for his subject. Morris combines an intellectually stimulating and literate historical narrative with brilliantly insightful historical analysis. Roosevelt's less attractive qualities - his impulsiveness, his emotionalism, and his attempts at self glorification among others - all receive full coverage in this masterful book.

Edmund Morris has written an extremely readable, highly entertaining, and factually sound biography. In "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt," he completely captures the essence of this towering early twentieth century figure, making him totally relevant to today's readers. "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" is a biography that's indeed very well worth reading!
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on June 25, 2002
Edmund Morris's "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" is a magnificent biography, perhaps the best I've ever read. In it, Morris follows the life of Theodore Roosevelt from his birth in a New York City brownstone in 1858 to his assumption of the U.S. Presidency in 1901. The book is the first of three volumes Morris plans to write on Roosevelt, the second of which --"Theodore Rex" -- was released last year.
In more than 700 pages of text in this book, there is hardly a dull page. The main reason for this, of course, is TR's fascinating, energetic life. He was -- in no particular order -- an amateur naturalist of note, a decorated soldier, an historian, a rancher in the Badlands, a government officer pushing for reform in the civil service, Police Commissioner, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, a state assemblyman, New York's Governor, and finally Vice President. It would be difficult to write a dull book about such a man.
But Morris deserves some credit as well. I've read several other biographies of Roosevelt, and while many of them are quite good -- even great -- this is the best. I believe Morris's style as well as his control of the material is the best explanation for this. Much of the writing is beautiful. Even Morris doesn't approach it in his other books.
But here Morris shows a poet's gift for metaphor and simile. In explaining how reserved, emotionally stunted men like Henry Adams, Thomas Reed, and Henry Cabot Lodge put up socially with the rambunctious Roosevelt, Morris writes they "...grew dependent upon [Roosevelt's] warmth, as lizards crave the sun." There are numerous examples like this in the book.
While "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" should probably be described as a political or historical biography, one doesn't need to have the slightest interest in either to enjoy it. Roosevelt's own ambition and energy, the circumstances of his life, and Morris's writing will drive anyone's interest.
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on January 19, 2000
This is a supurb researched biography of one of the most colorful, revered presidents of the 20th century. For anyone who has unfortunately grown cynical and tired of the political and social cliched diatribe of today's political figures and political system, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt will change all that and bring forth a new appreciation for what man and woman can achieve in government when they have conviction, determination and plain old guts. What makes this book so appealing is that it focuses not on TR's presidency, but rather it explores TR's youth, family upbringing and hobbies as well as his formative years with the famed Rough Riders... It also delves into the tragedies that he incurred on his path to presidential greatness, i.e. the death of his first wife and mother on the same day of two different causes. Morris does a splendid job detailing TR's time with Tammany Hall and Harvard, his joy of writing and literature as well as athletics. The language that Mr. Morris uses is immediate, personal and inviting, giving off a permeating aura that TR is looming over the reader's shoulder. Whenever I have failed with something and don't believe that I can rise from it, I think of TR and say to myself: "If TR can do it, so can I."
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on March 11, 2002
I had no idea that I would love this book as much as I did. I had no idea this book was as good as it is. I've never read a biography that drew me in so completely from the first paragraph of the first page of the prologue. I absolutely savored each page of "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" and while President Roosevelt's life is fascinating, it is Mr. Morris' unique style of story-telling that made reading this book such a joy. I doubt I would have enjoyed as much a TR biography written by another.
I knew very little about Roosevelt going into this book and I can't understand why, as a New Yorker, I never learned about this most remarkable New Yorker in school. Children should learn his story - it's an exciting adventure that could ignite a lifelong love of history in a child.
In my opinion, the thing that makes "The Rise..." great is that Edmund Morris worked so hard to convey his enthusiasm for his subject through his writing. His fascination with TR is contagious. I caught it immediately and am so glad that I did.
Roosevelt was simply amazing. A true Renaissance Man. He overcame childhood illness with sheer will and determination. He authored books on subjects as wide-ranging as naval history, ornithology, the West. He took the New York Assembly by storm at 23. He was (to name a few things) a rancher, a mayoral candidate, a reformer, a police commissioner, an assistant Secretary of the Navy. And then came the Spanish-American War and his heroic stint as leader of the Rough Riders. He was semi-reluctantly drafted to be McKinley's Vice President and "The Rise..." takes us up to the days after an assassin's bullets felled McKinley and Roosevelt was (at 42) on the brink of the Presidency as McKinley hovered near death.
I can't imagine the 21-year wait for "Theodore Rex" - it is a luxury to jump seamlessly from this book to its sequel, as I have.
Although there is so much to this book, one thing I found particularly interesting in terms of the insight it offered into Roosevelt's maturity, wisdom, ambition and keen awareness of how to use the media came from his days as a New York Police Department Commissioner. There was a rarely enforced Sunday Excise Law which prohibited the Sunday sale of alcoholic beverages. Roosevelt sought to enforce the law without exception. It caused an uproar - he was absolutely hated by some (yet loved by others - temperance groups). But he wanted to expose corruption in the ranks and he was savvy enough to realize that sometimes any publicity is good publicity. And he was giving a lesson to legislators as well. "Roosevelt argued that honest enforcement of an unpopular law was the most effective way to bring about its repeal. Legislators should think twice about passing laws to favor some voters, then neglecting them to please others." (p.520) The lawmakers were trying to have it both ways, in passing a law to gain favor with the pro-temperance rural vote yet not enforcing it in order to cater to the tavern owners and those opposed to the law. Roosevelt exposed their scheme and cleaned up the ranks of the police department in one fell swoop. And he kept his name in the papers, gaining widespread notoriety.
"The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" is a wonderful book that richly deserved all the accolades it received. Morris makes other very talented biographers pale in comparison. You will love this book.
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on February 14, 2002
With all due respect to David McCullough's "John Adams" and Robert A. Caro's impressive Lyndon Johnson volumes, this is the best presidential biography ever written.
Starting with Theodore's birth and ending with the death of President McKinley, thereby making Vice-President Roosevelt the youngest (still) President ever, this book covers every aspect of Roosevelt's life and his ascent in politics .
We see him change his mind over and over in college about what career he will pursue. We witness him attempting to win over the heart of Alice and later her death while in labor on the same day as his mother's death from cancer.
We follow his rapid political career. First as state assembly man, then as federal Civil Service Commissioner, then New York City Police Commissioner. Also well documented and are his years as Governor of New York, Assistant Secretary of the Navy (his passion) and finally his short stint as Vice-President.
More than anything else, we see Theodore Roosevelt the human. His personal triumphs and defeats. His loves (hunting, reading, writing and reforming) and his dislikes (corruption, ignorant people who have more power than him). We also see him at his happiest and his darkest days.
As a former resident of North Dakota, I always heard about Theodore Roosevelt while growing up. After reading this first part of the planned trilogy, I feel like a close personal acquaintance. I almost feel like a friend.
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on November 20, 1999
This biography is one of the most thorough and enjoyable I have read. If there has been controversy over Morris' Reagan bio, at least it brought attention to this book. Morris drew a portrait of Roosevelt and his era and it came to life for me. I particularly enjoyed the description of the political scene of the time, especially the New York State assembly and further on to Boss Platt, Senator Hanna, and the other backroom operatives. Morris does not hide the negative side of TR, the snobbery, the hypocrisy, and the naked jingoism. As a Canadian, Roosevelt took Manifest Destiny to extremes and one sympathized with those who considered him a loose cannon. At the same time, this book shows his drive, energy, and his willingness to put himself face-first into anything, be it the Spanish American War, the unpopular anti-saloon enforcement in NYC, or any of his western adventures. I highly recommend this biography to anyone interested in history, Americana, or the times of the later 19th century.
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Morris somehow manages to bring TR to life to the point that he practically stands up and walks out of the book into your living room. Even more impressive, Morris does this while dutifully retaining objectivity, giving equal and judicious space to the man's (relatively few) shortcomings and quirks. The result is that the reader lives through nearly every fascinating detail of how a real human being named Theodore Roosevelt surmounted his very human hurdles ultimately to develop into the true larger-than-legend icon he was and is. As much as I have enjoyed other TR biographies (e.g. by McCullough, by Miller) these do not quite reach the level achieved by Morris. The only disappointment is that the book focuses only on his life to the point of ascending to the Vice-Presidency, but after all the title is The RISE of Theodore Roosevelt . . . On rare occasions, the most detailed and honest truth is the most interesting story to read; this is one of them, don't miss it.
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on May 17, 2002
While perusing The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt the reader is left to wonder if Teddy Roosevelt was really that fascinating or if Edmund Morris is just that good of a writer. The facts in this book lay out a strong case in favor of "The Colonel," as he preferred to be called after the Spanish-American War and his famous charge up San Juan Hill. From his sickly, asthmatic youth as a globetrotting child naturalist through his years as a legislator and politician and later cowboy adventurer, Roosevelt lived a life of almost fictional proportions.
What makes Morris' book so good is his ability to make the more mundane aspects of his early success in the New York State legislature as intriguing as the capture of the trio of horse thieves lead by "Redhead Finnegan" in the Badlands of South Dakota.
Too often, histories of famous people fail to delineate the capacities that made them so interesting. Roosevelt's eccentricities were also his endearing qualities and Morris does an excellent job of describing them so that we see them in that light.
If I have any reservations with this book, and they are minor, one is that Morris proves once again, that the United States and England (or in his case, South Africa) are two countries separated by a common language. Unless you're a professor of the Queen's English, many of Morris' descriptions will send the reader to the dictionary. Short of that, it's hard to fault this outstanding book.
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on August 8, 2004
Were it fiction, this man's life would be blasted as over the top. But since it is an authoritative take on one of our more interesting presidents it is a rip roaring read of high adventure and living large, while illuminating a pivotal period in America. Add to that delicious writing, and you have an utterly deeeeeelightful book. Thank goodness it is the first of a series.

As a side note to our current political stuff: This book can not help but to expand your perspective (from either side of the fence) on matters of war, corruption, world domination, business, labor, or politics as usual. I often forget, and this book reminded me, that the past has a lot to tell us about who we are now.

BUT that said, I urge you to read the book for just one reason -- it's fun! At a thousand pages it can seem like a big commitment, however every page is filled with adventure, romance, and intrigue, spanning from high society in New York to ranch life in the American West.
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on August 28, 2014
I am a big Theodore Roosevelt groupie. He is in my top 5 Presidents of the US. I was reading this book at the same time I was reading Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough and sorry to say this one, even though a Pulitzer Prize Winner didn't compare.

This volume takes Mr. Roosevelt from birth to the telegram saying he is President, while the other book was just until his 2nd marriage to Edith Carew, so this one covers more time.

My biggest problem with this book is that Mr. Morris stated as fact things about Mr. Roosevelt's mother that Mr. McCullough said were rumors and not in the character of Mrs. Roosevelt.

The other bugaboo I had was his judgement that the first Mrs. Roosevelt, had she lived, would have made Theodore miserable and unhappy in their later years. He based this on the fact that most of the letters between them were burned and that the second wife said something like that. I lean again toward McCullough's treatment of Alice Lee, who charmed the Roosevelt family and made Teddy very happy until her sudden death.

The facts are all here, just some are twisted in a way that I found more biased and judgmental than a good biographer should use.

The narrator was fine.

I would recommend Mornings on Horseback instead of this book.
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