Theodore Roosevelt was a man of contradictions: a warrior who won the Nobel Peace prize, a wealthy man who battled corporate greed, a thinker who prized action more than words (but who wrote fine books himself).
He was also, writes Louis Auchincloss in this lucid biography, an extraordinary leader, "a political idealist who had the wisdom to know that only by astute and well-considered compromise in our legislative process could he hope to see enacted even a fraction of the social and military programs that he deemed ... essential to the welfare of his nation." Compromise he did, of course, though in the end the war hero and trustbuster could not bring the right wing of the Republican Party to see the wisdom of his reformist ways. The result, Auchincloss chronicles, was a terrible split, bringing about the defection of liberals from that once-liberal institution and the birth of a political war that still rages.
With a keen eye for political nuance and a clear appreciation for Teddy Roosevelt as a one-of-a-kind, self-made man, Auchincloss offers an engaging view of a great American president. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
The statement "radical... action must be taken to do away with the effects of arrogant and selfish greed on the part of the capitalist" might sound like Karl Marx or Eugene V. Debs, but it comes from Theodore Roosevelt. Yet this president was "neither by birth, upbringing, or mature inclination in the least bit a radical," according to eminent novelist Auchincloss (The Atonement, etc.). TR (1858-1919), he says, embodied numerous contradictions for which he has been periodically pilloried by liberals and conservatives alike. Responsible for much progressive legislation he passed the Pure Food and Drug Act, created federal forest lands and obtained antitrust legislation he was also an aristocrat who was against monopolies because they were not gentlemanly, invaded Panama to build the canal and casually exhibited racism during the Spanish-American War. Born into a wealthy New York family, Roosevelt overcame bad health in childhood to embody an image of manliness (losing an eye in a boxing match against a "younger and stronger" man) and bluster that defined his era. He also avidly read Dickens, Thackeray and Greek drama. Though acknowledging Roosevelt's many contradictions, Auchincloss sidesteps most serious criticism of his subject. He paints a vivid portrait and almost treats the president as a quirky character in one of his own novels of upper-class America. More ruminative essay than close historical study, Auchincloss's narrative wanders in chronological disarray. Nonetheless, it is a compelling, novelistic approach to history. Readers curious about Roosevelt but intimidated by Edmund Morris's multi-volume bio can wet their toes in this slim text, the first title in the American Presidents series, edited by eminent historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. and clearly modeled on the successful Penguin Lives series of short biographies by notable writers.
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