THEODORE ROOSEVELT – Carleton Putnam

This is the best and most complete biography of Theodore Roosevelt (TR) 1858-1886. It is a life and times book, the times include New York politics in the early 1880s (who knew they could be interesting), academic life at Harvard and the life of a mid-continent (Bad Lands) rancher. In the end TR’s energy seems inexhaustible. He has written three non-fiction books; he has been in the New York legislature fighting for reform and immersing himself in local and state politics; he has begun friendships with prominent men in other states. He is no bully himself, but he takes no gruff from anyone, fellow legislators, other ranchers and outlaws.

None of these activities are told in isolation. The book is chronological and detailed, much more so than later-published prize-winning TR biographies. Take one activity – hunting. He would travel 500-1000 miles, and each step seems conveyed to the reader in the grind of stalking and chase. TR always had an experienced man with him who was a dead shot; he himself always carried hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Tales of TR and Man of Experience (written 40 years later) make for informative, comparative reading. It is easy to imagine TR being a poor shot, shooting and missing, chasing and reloading and repaying the process while the experienced man accompanies. They go after grizzlies. TR presents his stories; the experienced man others. The biographer favors TR, but there is enough in the biography to judge the experienced man is correct.

[It turns out that hunting stories are like fishing stories, especially the size of the fish and the fight involved.]

Through out the activities, TR marries. He is in the New York legislature getting multiple pieces of legislation passed. He succeeds on most, but TR’s work is interrupted by a telegraph. He rushes from Albany to New York City. His wife has just given birth to his daughter but is in bad shape. Hs mother is also ill. TR arrives home, sees his wife but must rush to his mother who dies in his presence.  He returns to his wife who dies in his presence the next day. The short chapter of seven pages telling of the trip from Albany, of the deaths and of the funerals is the finest piece of fiction or non-fiction on this subject I have read: Emotions, grief, loss, despair, absence emerge forcefully.

In the 1880s Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, publicly supported a candidate. Roosevelt went after both the candidate and Davis, who took offense. Davis was an old man ready to die. He had never regretted anything he had done: Slaveholder, promoter and defender of slavery, being part of the Southern Civil War leadership, The biographer explains and jumps in taking the side of Jefferson Davis. Davis had no qualities except hate, bigotry and resentment.

In the end the biographer took those traits from Davis. The book was published in 1958 near the beginning of the well-known Civil Rights Movement activities. The biographer was a founder-executive of Delta Airlines in Atlanta. He sided with the country club set, Southern Ladies and Gentlemen trying to preserve Anglo-Saxon society. That society had already been polluted and degraded mostly by Irish and Scots-Irish, all born enemies of the Anglo-Saxons. But blacks were anathema to whites in the South. The author spoke against the Civil Rights movement.

There was no market for a volume two of TR’s biography from this author. Every word he wrote on matters of race had to gag him. [Black Jack Pershing either did or did not lead black troops during the Spanish-American War; they fought well.] The author could not accept TR’s primary position – former slaves and their decedents should advance economically.

These circumstances are unfortunate because this book reveals a talented artist who slid to the dark side and by accepting hate, bigotry and resentment, he lost the ability to be original and creative.

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