By Edmund Morris
(Random House, Hardcover, 9780375504877, 784pp.)
Publication Date: November 23, 2010
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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.
Edmund Morris was born and educated in Kenya and went to college in South Africa. He worked as an advertising copywriter in London before immigrating to the United States in 1968. His first book, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1980. Its sequel, Theodore Rex, won the Los Angeles Times Award for Biography in 2002. In between these two books, Morris became President Reagan’s authorized biographer, and published the national bestseller Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan. More recently he has written Beethoven: The Universal Composer. Edmund Morris lives in New York City and Kent, Connecticut, with his wife and fellow biographer, Sylvia Jukes Morris.
Praise for Colonel Roosevelt
"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." –Janet Maslin, The New York 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." –LA Times
"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." – The Washingtonian
"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." –Claude R. Marx, The Washington Times
Praise for the classic biographies by Edmond Morris
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
“One of those rare works that is both definitive for the period it covers and fascinating to read for sheer entertainment.”—The New York Times Book Review
“A towering biography.”—Time
Winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography
“A masterpiece . . . A great president has finally found a great biographer.”—The Washington Post
“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.”—Times Literary Supplement
“Magnificent . . . a compulsively readable, beautifully measured and paced account.”—Chicago Tribune