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The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America Paperback – May 4, 2010
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Amazon Best of the Month, August 2009: "The movement for the conversation of wild life and the larger movement for the conservation of all our natural resources are essentially democratic in spirit, purpose, and method." So wrote Theodore Roosevelt, known as the "naturalist President" for his efforts in protecting wildlife and wilderness, merging preservation and patriotism into a quintessential American ideal. The Wilderness Warrior, Douglas Brinkley's massive(ly readable) new biography, intrepidly explores the wilderness of influences (Audubon and Darwin), personal relationships (Muir and Pinchot), and frontier adventures (too many to mention) that shaped Roosevelt's proto-green views. Topping 800 pages (ironically, one wonders how many trees fell for the first printing), The Wilderness Warrior makes an excellent companion to Timothy Egan's The Big Burn and Ken Burns's The National Parks: America's Best Idea. --Jon Foro --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.
From The New Yorker
Theodore Roosevelt spent the day of July 1, 1908, the tenth anniversary of the Battle of San Juan Hill, creating forty-five national forests. In this biographical study of T.R.’s campaign to save hundreds of millions of acres of wilderness, Brinkley writes that “the forestry movement would be forced down his opponents’ throats.” Roosevelt’s intense love for nature was, Brinkley makes clear, a conqueror’s love—triumphal Darwinism—and included a “blood lust” in hunting the wildlife he championed. The baby bear that, in popular myth, T.R. refused to shoot was actually an adult bear that he directed to be dispatched with a knife. Brinkley fully inhabits Roosevelt’s mind, a condition that has its disadvantages—the book, with blow-by-blow accounts of college hiking trips and squabbles between naturalists, does not entirely earn its nine hundred pages, making it harder to see the forests (and the story of how T.R. rescued them) for the trees. --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.
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“We regard Attic temples and Roman triumphal arches and Gothic cathedrals as of priceless value,” Roosevelt decreed, full of wilderness warrior fury. “But we are, as a whole, still in that low state of civilization where we do not understand that it is also vandalism wantonly to destroy or to permit the destruction of what is beautiful in nature, whether it be a cliff, a forest, or a species of mammal or bird. Here in the United States we turn our rivers and streams into sewers and dumping-grounds, we pollute the air, we destroy forests, and exterminate fishes, birds, and mammals—not to speak of vulgarizing charming landscapes with hideous advertisements.”
From childhood to adult, Brinkley covers what made Roosevelt a conservationist and sets the stage for what he was to do as a public servant and politician; you really get an idea of what made Roosevelt the unique personality he was. He then explains in detail not only what Roosevelt did but how and why; you couldn't get a much better explanation of his conservation policy. Brinkley ties in the personalities from all walks of life who helped shape and execute his policies as well. Unfortunately, the book seems to end abruptly; Brinkley writes about Roosevelts plans post-Presidency but doesn't go into them in the same detail that he did everything else. Don't think, however, that this book is a hagiography. Brinkley takes care to point out the contrast between Roosevelt's conservationism and some, but not all, of his hunting and between his conservationist policy and reclamation policy. Granted, this would have made an already long book even longer, perhaps a second volume would have been in order. The book is well researched and documented, with good maps, annexes, and end notes; the maps, however, would have served better in-line with the relevant text. They very well may have been in the print edition, but I was reading the Kindle version and the maps came after the final chapter.
"As forces of globalization run amok, Roosevelt’s stout resoluteness to protect our environment is a strong reminder of our national wilderness heritage, as well as an increasingly urgent call to arms."
Published in 2009, The Wilderness Warrior is somewhat prescient given the environmental policies of the current administration. Many times as I was reading I found myself asking what Roosevelt would think of President Trump. In the area of environmental policy, there's no doubt that Roosevelt would find our current policies and administration wanting.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Wilderness Warrior and learned quite a bit from it. If you're interested in nature and wildlife conservation and the origins of the forest service, our national parks and monuments, and our wildlife refuges, this book is a great place to start. If you're at all interested in what made our 26th President tick, this is a good book to read.