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Colonel Roosevelt

Cover of Colonel Roosevelt

Colonel Roosevelt

Of all our great presidents, Theodore Roosevelt is the only one whose greatness increased out of office. When he toured Europe in 1910 as plain "Colonel Roosevelt," he was hailed as the most famous man in the world. Crowned heads vied to put him up in their palaces. "If I see another king," he joked, "I think I shall bite him."

Had TR won his historic "Bull Moose" campaign in 1912 (when he outpolled the sitting president, William Howard Taft), he might have averted World War I, so great was his international influence. Had he not died in 1919, at the early age of sixty, he would unquestionably have been reelected to a third term in the White House and completed the work he began in 1901 of establishing the United States as a model democracy, militarily strong and socially just.

This biography by Edmund Morris, the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award--winning author of The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and Theodore Rex, is itself the completion of a trilogy sure to stand as definitive. Packed with more adventure, variety, drama, humor, and tragedy than a big novel, yet documented down to the smallest fact, it recounts the last decade of perhaps the most amazing life in American history. What other president has written forty books, hunted lions, founded a third political party, survived an assassin's bullet, and explored an unknown river longer than the Rhine?

Colonel Roosevelt begins with a prologue recounting what TR called his "journey into the Pleistocene"--a yearlong safari through East Africa, collecting specimens for the Smithsonian. Some readers will be repulsed by TR's bloodlust, which this book does not prettify, yet there can be no denying that the Colonel passionately loved and understood every living thing that came his way: The text is rich in quotations from his marvelous nature writing.

Although TR intended to remain out of politics when he returned home in 1910, a fateful decision that spring drew him back into public life. By the end of the summer, in his famous "New Nationalism" speech, he was the guiding spirit of the Progressive movement, which inspired much of the social agenda of the future New Deal. (TR's fifth cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt acknowledged that debt, adding that the Colonel "was the greatest man I ever knew.")

Then follows a detailed account of TR's reluctant yet almost successful campaign for the White House in 1912. But unlike other biographers, Edmund Morris does not treat TR mainly as a politician. This volume gives as much consideration to TR's literary achievements and epic expedition to Brazil in 1913--1914 as to his fatherhood of six astonishingly different children, his spiritual and aesthetic beliefs, and his eager embrace of other cultures--from Arab and Magyar to German and American Indian. It is impossible to read Colonel Roosevelt and not be awed by the man's universality. The Colonel himself remarked, "I have enjoyed life as much as any nine men I know."

Morris does not hesitate, however, to show how pathologically TR turned upon those who inherited the power he craved--the hapless Taft, the adroit Woodrow Wilson. When Wilson declined to bring the United States into World War I in 1915 and 1916, the Colonel blasted him with some of the worst abuse ever uttered by a former chief executive. Yet even Wilson had to admit that behind the Rooseveltian will to rule lay a winning idealism and decency. "He is just like a big boy--there is a sweetness about him that you can't resist." That makes the story of TR's last year, when the "boy" in him died, all the sadder in the telling: the conclusion of a life of Aristotelian grandeur.


From the...

Of all our great presidents, Theodore Roosevelt is the only one whose greatness increased out of office. When he toured Europe in 1910 as plain "Colonel Roosevelt," he was hailed as the most famous man in the world. Crowned heads vied to put him up in their palaces. "If I see another king," he joked, "I think I shall bite him."

Had TR won his historic "Bull Moose" campaign in 1912 (when he outpolled the sitting president, William Howard Taft), he might have averted World War I, so great was his international influence. Had he not died in 1919, at the early age of sixty, he would unquestionably have been reelected to a third term in the White House and completed the work he began in 1901 of establishing the United States as a model democracy, militarily strong and socially just.

This biography by Edmund Morris, the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award--winning author of The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and Theodore Rex, is itself the completion of a trilogy sure to stand as definitive. Packed with more adventure, variety, drama, humor, and tragedy than a big novel, yet documented down to the smallest fact, it recounts the last decade of perhaps the most amazing life in American history. What other president has written forty books, hunted lions, founded a third political party, survived an assassin's bullet, and explored an unknown river longer than the Rhine?

Colonel Roosevelt begins with a prologue recounting what TR called his "journey into the Pleistocene"--a yearlong safari through East Africa, collecting specimens for the Smithsonian. Some readers will be repulsed by TR's bloodlust, which this book does not prettify, yet there can be no denying that the Colonel passionately loved and understood every living thing that came his way: The text is rich in quotations from his marvelous nature writing.

Although TR intended to remain out of politics when he returned home in 1910, a fateful decision that spring drew him back into public life. By the end of the summer, in his famous "New Nationalism" speech, he was the guiding spirit of the Progressive movement, which inspired much of the social agenda of the future New Deal. (TR's fifth cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt acknowledged that debt, adding that the Colonel "was the greatest man I ever knew.")

Then follows a detailed account of TR's reluctant yet almost successful campaign for the White House in 1912. But unlike other biographers, Edmund Morris does not treat TR mainly as a politician. This volume gives as much consideration to TR's literary achievements and epic expedition to Brazil in 1913--1914 as to his fatherhood of six astonishingly different children, his spiritual and aesthetic beliefs, and his eager embrace of other cultures--from Arab and Magyar to German and American Indian. It is impossible to read Colonel Roosevelt and not be awed by the man's universality. The Colonel himself remarked, "I have enjoyed life as much as any nine men I know."

Morris does not hesitate, however, to show how pathologically TR turned upon those who inherited the power he craved--the hapless Taft, the adroit Woodrow Wilson. When Wilson declined to bring the United States into World War I in 1915 and 1916, the Colonel blasted him with some of the worst abuse ever uttered by a former chief executive. Yet even Wilson had to admit that behind the Rooseveltian will to rule lay a winning idealism and decency. "He is just like a big boy--there is a sweetness about him that you can't resist." That makes the story of TR's last year, when the "boy" in him died, all the sadder in the telling: the conclusion of a life of Aristotelian grandeur.


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    chapter 1

    Loss of Imperial Will

    Equipped with unobscured intent

    He smiles with lions at the gate,

    Acknowledging the compliment

    Like one familiar with his fate.

    the kiss that theodore roosevelt longed for did not materialize when he stepped ashore in Khartoum on 14 March 1910. Instead, he had to return the salute of Sir Rudolf Anton Karl von Slatin Pasha, G.C.V.O., K.C.M.G., C.B., inspector-general of the Sudan, and pass an honor guard of askaris into the palace garden, where the elite of Anglo-Sudanese society awaited him amid the silver paraphernalia of afternoon tea. He was informed that Edith's train from Cairo was delayed, and that she and Ethel would not arrive for another couple of hours. In the meantime, Slatin would not hear of the Colonel checking in to a hotel. A suite for his party had been readied in the palace, and a private yacht was standing by for sightseeing during his stay.

    What Roosevelt wanted to see, more than anything but Edith's face, was Omdurman. The battlefield, where General Kitchener's Twenty-first Lancers had staged the last great cavalry charge of the nineteenth century, lay only ten miles away. Kitchener had been on his mind in recent days, if only because HMS Dal, the boat that had brought him north from Gondokoro, had been the triumphant commander's flagship. On its boards, twelve years before, Kitchener had proclaimed British control over the entire Nile Valley, from Uganda to the Mediterranean.

    The success of that dominion-or condominium, as the Foreign Office called it, as a sop to Sudanese, Egyptian, and Turkish sensibilities- was palpable in Khartoum's tranquil, orange-blossom-scented air. Rebuilt by Kitchener from the ruins of a thirteen-year Muslim interregnum, the city was laid out like the Union Jack, its crossbars lined with stone villas and its triangles filled with seven thousand trees. Once the most violent flashpoint on the African continent, it now lazily breathed pax Britannica. In the sunburned, aristocratic faces of his hosts, in their perfect manners and air of unstudied authority, Roosevelt recognized the attributes he had always admired in the English ruling class, along with "intelligence, ability, and a very lofty sense of duty."

    Yet he was aware of the constant menace of Arab nationalism, obscure yet encircling, like the mirages wavering on the desert horizon. The haze that hung over the city seemed, to his vivid historical imagination, to be red with the blood of General Gordon, murdered in this very palace by Mahdist dervishes.

    ƒ

    khartoum's north station was cordoned off when he met the Cairo express at 5:30 p.m. He climbed into his wife's private car the moment it came to a halt, and remained inside for a long time. Finally the two of them emerged arm in arm, with Kermit and Ethel close behind. All four Roosevelts were laughing.

    Edith's smile transformed her normally stiff public face, exposing perfect teeth and lighting up the blue of her eyes. At forty-eight, she was no longer slender, but had just enough height to carry off the consequences of never having had to cook for herself, and her wrists and ankles and sharp profile were as elegant as ever. She had suffered during her year-long separation from Theodore, more from worry about him on safari than distress about herself: books and music and children had always been her solace.

    That evening, Roosevelt changed into a tuxedo and replaced the wire spectacles he had worn on safari with beribboned pince-nez. Transformed thus, he looked dapper for the first time in nearly a year, and worthy of the place card that confronted him at Slatin Pasha's table: the honorable...

Reviews-
  • AudioFile Magazine Roosevelt bit off every word, as was his habit, with snapping teeth and wreathing lips. Narrator Mark Deakins imitates the former president's delivery, making it easy to distinguish Roosevelt's numerous quotes, taken from speeches, newspaper columns, books, and letters. As the narration begins, Teddy has just finished eight years as president and is touring Africa and Europe, being received with all the pomp befitting a sitting president. Deakins does a tasteful job of keeping the endless cast of mentioned personalities in place, using appropriate voices and accents without ever making them comedic. His exemplary diction and easy-to-follow pace make listeners' significant investment in time worthwhile. Deakins's animated narration reinforces how tireless the Colonel was, even in his senior years and at 325 lbs. J.A.H. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award (c) AudioFile 2011, Portland, Maine
  • Janet Maslin, The New York Times "Now with Colonel Roosevelt, the magnum opus is complete. And it deserves to stand as the definitive study of its restless, mutable, ever-boyish, erudite and tirelessly energetic subject. Mr. Morris has addressed the toughest and most frustrating part of Roosevelt's life with the same care and precision that he brought to the two earlier installments. And if this story of a lifetime is his own life's work, he has reason to be immensely proud."
  • LA Times "Exemplary... Consistently rich and on point, with rapidly developing events providing a backdrop for the balanced examination [Morris] presents of his subject...The TR trilogy is masterful, and can rightfully take its place among the truly outstanding biographies of the American presidency."
  • The Washingtonian "Reading Edmund Morris on Teddy Roosevelt is like listening to Yo-Yo Ma play Bach: You know from the first note you're in inspired hands. In Colonel Roosevelt--the final installment in a trilogy that began with The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and Theodore Rex--Morris registers the Bull Moose's last decade in handsome, sweeping prose that avoids the valedictory chord struck by biographers who, nearing the end of their prodigious labors, resort to swooning across the chapters, unwilling to let go of their muse."
  • Claude R. Marx, The Washington Times "Colonel Roosevelt, the third part of his three-volume biography of Roosevelt, is a worthy and extremely engaging culmination of Mr. Morris' work. It is popular history at its best."
  • The New York Times Book Review "One of those rare works that is both definitive for the period it covers and fascinating to read for sheer entertainment."
  • The Washington Post "A masterpiece . . . A great president has finally found a great biographer."
  • Times Literary Supplement "As a literary work on Theodore Roosevelt, it is unlikely ever to be surpassed. It is one of the great histories of the American presidency, worthy of being on a shelf alongside Henry Adams's volumes on Jefferson and Madison."
  • Chicago Tribune "Magnificent . . . a compulsively readable, beautifully measured and paced account."
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