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Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life Paperback – February 10, 2004

4.3 out of 5 stars 31 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Biographers have often treated Theodore Roosevelt as "a larger-than-life monument carved in stone, unchanging, far from being flesh and blood, and quite imperturbable." So writes Kathleen Dalton, who gives us a fully fleshed, quite down-to-earth TR in this vigorous, sometimes critical biography of the 26th president.

Roosevelt carefully crafted an image of himself as a self-made man. Fair enough, Dalton suggests, though he had a big head start in coming from one of New York's wealthiest and best-connected families. More than shaping his body to overcome weakness, his spirit to overcome fear, he had to overcome the prejudices of his time and class in order to be truly fit for leadership, and even as president he wrestled with a few contradictions (opposing, for instance, a woman's right to divorce, but endorsing public flogging of spousal abusers). He was not always successful, Dalton writes, but he emerged in the end as a great champion of civil rights and of the middle and working classes, very much ahead of his time.

There's a lot of interest in Theodore Roosevelt these days--and for good reason, given the recent international turmoil and financial tumble, which, some would argue, beg for TR's patented big-stick and trust-busting treatment. Dalton's Theodore Roosevelt offers a satisfying portrait of a constantly fascinating subject. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Dalton, a history instructor at Phillips Academy, Andover, seems determined to cut TR down to size and drain his life of color in this dry, questionably reasoned biography. She complains that other books about Roosevelt "are often rich with dramatic adventure and colorful scenes, just as the Bull Moose would have wanted." With this in mind, she sets herself apart from established TR biographers, who she believes have been duped into perpetuating the autobiographical canards of their self-mythologizing subject. Thus Dalton devotes vast chunks of prose to debunking many of the most popular Theodore Roosevelt images common from books by such writers as Edmund Morris and David McCullough. Unfortunately, the shaky foundation Dalton offers instead seems incapable of carrying so full a load as the life of Theodore Roosevelt. In the final analysis, Dalton offers an unsatisfying, one-dimensional definition of TR's complex psychology. She sees him as little more than an overgrown and preposterous boy: a boy who always gets into trouble, a boy who never asks for or follows advice, a boy who needs constant supervision. By the end of the book, it seems a wonder that Dalton's self-centered and fractious TR ever achieved the White House, wrote books that became classics, won the Nobel Peace Prize, set aside millions of acres for conservation, or loomed large on any stage other than that of his own imagination. 32 pages of photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 756 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (February 10, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679767339
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679767336
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.9 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #944,507 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John Harrison on September 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is the only biography of Theodore Roosevelt that I have read that was written by a woman and I have read over ten. How a man's man like TR avoided this all of these years is a mystery. While the book itself is certainly well written much more important is that it has some very interesting insights into the character of an intriguing man. No one that is honest, and Ms. Dalton certainly appears such, could make Theodore Roosevelt's life story boring, egocentric, certainly, prissy, occasionally, but boring, never. The reviewer above that states otherwise is simply wrong. This is an interesting, well written book with many valid observations.

Ms. Dalton succeeds in conveying a view of TR that other historians have missed, or glossed over, or never saw. I can't tell if this is because of better scholarship, use of new or previously undiscovered sources, or simply because as a woman she was more sensitive to these issues than the other biographers that I have read. In any event it makes no difference since her insights do much to explain TR's life. In the past biographers focused on what happened, and so much happened to TR in such a short time that they often missed explaining the why part of TR's story. Ms. Dalton does this very well.

Frankly I resisted buying this book because I had already read so many others about TR that I wondered how Ms. Dalton could have enough new to say to justify the time of reading another long biography of TR. She justified my investment in time very well. So, much so that when a new books comes out by Kathleen Dalton I will buy that too.
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Format: Hardcover
With this book, Kathleen Dalton has produced the best one-volume biography of Theodore Roosevelt we are likely to see for some time. Hers is a work about Roosevelt the person, not the image or caricature that is so often reduced to in the public mind. As a result, she has provided a valuable work examining the man behind the famous myth - a myth that Roosevelt himself did so much to construct.
The process begins in sorting the distortions surrounding his childhood. The product of study going back to her dissertation written over a quarter century ago on Roosevelt's pre-presidential years, this is one of the strongest sections of the book. Unlike Edmund Morris in his ongoing opus, Dalton fits the young TR squarely into the context of his times, showing how he reflected many of the prevailing Victorian attitudes about youth and manhood. Moreover. her Roosevelt is not the paragon of manliness that Morris' is. She goes further in detailing the poor health that plagued Roosevelt throughout his life (such as his attacks of asthma, which Dalton notes that, contrary to TR's own account, he never overcame completely) and from which he constantly sought to escape - hence the theme of her book, the "strenuous life" of her subtitle.
Dalton also details the early years of Roosevelt's political career with considerable insight. She describes how Roosevelt was very much his father's son, with the elder Roosevelt encouraging his namesake to take up the cause of social reform from an early age. This formed a key component of his political career from its start with his election as a New York state legislator. Yet Dalton shows that Roosevelt was much more than the typical patrician reformer of his time. The critical period in the development was his tenure as a New York City police commissioner.
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By A Customer on October 27, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I'm not an historian--my doctorate is in literature--so take the following for what it's worth.
A Strenuous Life is a very impressive work, delightful in the way it spins its tale, exciting in its revelations of TR as a human being surrounded by other human beings at home as well as at work, and important in the parallels it leads us to draw between the real Roosevelt and the image current politicians conjure up of him to support their goals.
Kathleen Dalton weaves a fascinating tale of a complex individual--scientist, politician, leader, husband, father, idealist and pragmatist. In many ways the most intriguing "plot line" is Roosevelt's insistence on fairness and justice. As a young man he was introduced to the squalid conditions of New York City immigrants by photographer/journalist Jacob Riis. That revelation enflamed Roosevelt's intense sense of justice that led him to crusade for the underprivileged, laying the groundwork for his courageous stands against the abuses of big business.
Roosevelt's career almost seems the stuff of fiction with its improbable career story line--naturalist to politician to cowboy to soldier to president to explorer to third party challenger; and Dalton's writing has the lilt of the best fiction. But TR was real and Dalton's incredibly detailed and documented history provides an important reality check to the glibly portrayed Roosevelt of myth and legend. After reading A Strenuous Life one almost feels one knows Roosevelt well enough to say to some current politicians, "I knew Theodore Roosevelt...and you, sir, are no Theodore Roosevelt."
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am excited by Dalton's biography of Theodore Roosevelt. It is the freshest book to come out about TR since Edmund Morris' "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt." I have read many books about TR and there is much new and interesting information in her book.
For example she mentioned that J. Martin Miller, a journalist, lied about TR's drinking. I have a book by J. Martin Miller called "The Triumphant life of Theodore Roosevelt," copyright 1905, which has some rare pictures of TR. I have never before read any other mention of J. Martin Miller.
To anyone who has a mood disorder, it comes as no surprise that TR had one too, although the so-called "normal" people do not understand and think it is an insult to say their beloved TR had one. I started studying him a few years ago, figuring he was a self-actualized person. I wanted to find out how a person with bipolar disorder becomes a self-actualized person. By a great deal of reading and thinking, I realized how he did it. He learned how to deal with stress early in his life. He used studying, writing, reading, exercise and even food to stabilize his moods. What I didn't realize until I read this book was that his wife Edith, aware of his moods, eased much of the stress on him. His bipolar disorder was mild because he worked to learn how to handle stress. Often young people use much less healthy ways to deal with depression and manic depression. They would learn much about how to deal with their moods by studying TR.
I was pleased that the author expounded on his growing social conscience. I think it is very important to show that it is possible to learn and grow your entire life, up to the very end.
I think this book will be cited often by historians.
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