Heir to the Empire City: New York and the Making of Theodore Roosevelt

Overview


Theodore Roosevelt is best remembered as America’s prototypical “cowboy” president—a Rough Rider who derived his political wisdom from a youth spent in the untamed American West. But while the great outdoors certainly shaped Roosevelt’s identity, historian Edward P. Kohn argues that it was his hometown of New York that made him the progressive president we celebrate today. During his early political career, Roosevelt took on local Republican factions and Tammany Hall Democrats alike, proving his commitment to ...
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Heir to the Empire City: New York and the Making of Theodore Roosevelt

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Overview


Theodore Roosevelt is best remembered as America’s prototypical “cowboy” president—a Rough Rider who derived his political wisdom from a youth spent in the untamed American West. But while the great outdoors certainly shaped Roosevelt’s identity, historian Edward P. Kohn argues that it was his hometown of New York that made him the progressive president we celebrate today. During his early political career, Roosevelt took on local Republican factions and Tammany Hall Democrats alike, proving his commitment to reform at all costs. He combated the city’s rampant corruption, and helped to guide New York through the perils of rabid urbanization and the challenges of accommodating an influx of immigrants—experiences that would serve him well as president of the United States.

A riveting account of a man and a city on the brink of greatness, Heir to the Empire City reveals that Roosevelt’s true education took place not in the West but on the mean streets of nineteenth-century New York.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
09/30/2013
Theodore Roosevelt is often remembered as a cowboy and a man of the West who began his path to the White House while herding cattle on his Dakota ranch. The problem with this assessment, according to historian Kohn (Hot Time in the Old Town), is that it was created by Roosevelt himself and obscures the central facts of his life. Kohn argues that Roosevelt really learned the ropes of politics and leadership back East: “New York City shaped Theodore Roosevelt, and Theodore Roosevelt helped to shape the city.” During his early years in local New York politics, he learned to balance the roles of loyal party man and progressive reformer, traits that would eventually put him on a path toward the White House. Kohn especially emphasizes Roosevelt’s attempts to understand the plight of New York’s poor: as police commissioner of New York, he ordered the free distribution of ice to the poor during a heat wave, a first, and walked the streets to see firsthand how the ice was used. Kohn provides a concise account of Roosevelt’s early career and presents a convincing case that he should be remembered as a gentleman of the East, not a cowboy of the West. Agent: Michelle Tessler, Tessler Literary Agency. (Dec.)
From the Publisher

Sam Roberts, New York Times
“The historian Edward P. Kohn returns with a primer that corrects the ‘Western image’ of the Manhattan-born former police commissioner and governor.”

The Daily Beast
“Kohn’s prose is snappy and engaging, and his portrayal of the city, from the economic slump of the 1850s, through the Civil War, and growth of the avenues of corruption that it would be TR’s charge to cleans, is as vivid as his evocation of the man himself.... [T]his is a tight and well-argued thesis.”

New Yorker's Page-Turner Blog
“Kohn’s last book, Hot Time in the Old Town, explained how New York’s disastrous 1896 heat wave, which occurred while Roosevelt was the police commissioner, helped vault the young man on to the political stage. Heir to the Empire City expands this storyline, looking at Roosevelt’s biography and writings to demonstrate that Teddy was as much an urban sophisticate as he was a cowboy, and more of a New Yorker than a frontiersman.”

Washington Times
“Theodore Roosevelt has come down in history as the ‘cowboy president,’ a man whose persona was shaped by the period he spent in the Dakota badlands as a young man, riding, hunting, even owning two sizable ranches.... This claim – created in large part by Roosevelt himself – draws a healthy snort of disagreement from historian Edward Kohn.... The truth is, Mr. Kohn writes, Roosevelt is far more a product of New York City than the West.”

New York Times Book Review
“Kohn shows us the ways Roosevelt both shaped and was shaped by the city.... He was not a cowboy after all, but an adroit politician who ‘carefully calculated what was practicable,’ and Kohn persuades us that New York was Roosevelt’s prep school for the presidency.”

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
Heir to the Empire City recasts America’s 26th president as what its author believes he truly was: a politician shaped mainly by his upbringing in New York City and public service in the Empire State, who in turn shaped the city at a time when it was undergoing tremendous – and tremendously rapid – change.”

The Oklahoman
“[Kohn] is to be commended for his insight into the character and deeds of a man historians rank in the top five of this country’s presidents.”

Open Letters Monthly
“[A] taut and interesting new book.... Kohn tells the tales with relish.... [He] narrates it all with a clean thoroughness and occasional glints of dry humor.... It’s the tension between indomitable will, which can err, and due process, which can be perverted, that forms the tension at the heart of this book – and the tension makes for good reading.”

McGill News Alumni Magazine
“Using anecdotes drawn from Roosevelt’s personal and public life, Kohn makes a convincing case that the skill required to navigate the corrupt plutocracy of Tammany Hall, along with a compassion developed by seeing first-hand the appalling conditions suffered by New York’s poor, gave Roosevelt the tools he needed to win over all factions of the Republican Party, and advance a progressive social agenda that would be key to the party’s future success. Along the way, Kohn paints a lively picture of how turn-of-the century New York felt, smelled and sounded in an era before organized policing and regular public garbage collection became commonplace.”

Library Journal
“Focused and concise, this book is a solid choice for general readers of history not sufficiently aware of TR’s cosmopolitan background in contrast to his adopted cowboy persona. It details another side of a consequential, transformative rather than transitional president.”

Kirkus
“An intriguing portrait of Roosevelt’s ascendance to power.”

Publishers Weekly
“Kohn provides a concise account of Roosevelt’s early career and presents a convincing case that he should be remembered as a gentleman of the East, not a cowboy of the West.”

Aida D. Donald, author of Lion in the White House: A Life of Theodore Roosevelt
“Theodore Roosevelt is among the great American presidents, but the elements that formed his exuberance, intelligence, and zeal for reform have divided historians. In a detailed and swift moving biography, Edward P. Kohn argues that Roosevelt, born in and vigorously attached to New York, never left home in his heart and mind. Roosevelt, from the moment he was first elected to public office, learned from the city’s people, its streets, and its often-vicious politicos. Working against and sometimes with powerful local politicians, he remade New York. This whirlwind apprenticeship made him a seasoned leader and more than prepared him for his singular tasks as president.”

Edwin G. Burrows, author of Forgotten Patriots and co-author of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898
“A timely reconsideration of the Theodore Roosevelt legend, reminding us that he was no rough-hewn cowboy from the wild west but instead a sophisticated urban progressive immersed in the politics of his native New York City. Thought-provoking and refreshingly readable.”

Kathleen Dalton, author of Theodore Roosevelt: A Strenuous Life
“Edward Kohn has captured the lively personalities and dramatic scenes of New York life at the end of the nineteenth century. His Theodore Roosevelt is a thorough New Yorker, full of brash energy and innovative ideas, scrappy and hard to keep down. Kohn tells a well-crafted and lightning-quick story of TR and his New York, a tale which will reward readers with entertainment and insight into a central phase of the city and the nation’s history.”

Thomas Fleming, author of A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War
“A vivid look at the challenges Theodore Roosevelt faced in his early career. Heir to the Empire City will surprise a lot of people who know little or nothing about New York City’s role in Roosevelt’s life. Even more surprising is his home town’s growing admiration for him as he struggled to rescue the city he loved from entrenched political corruption.”

Library Journal
12/01/2013
Kohn (American culture & literature history, Bilkent Univ., Turkey; Hot Time in the Old Town: The Great Heat Wave of 1896 and the Making of Theodore Roosevelt) views Theodore Roosevelt (TR) as a privileged product of New York City, where the challenges of urban change and corruption rendered him a reformer. Although an early sojourn as a North Dakota rancher energized TR, the American West did not essentially shape him; it only shaped his image. Furthermore, TR's connection to another urban area, Boston, by marriage, friendship, and education, was stronger than his nexus with the West. He spent his political life as a New York City assemblyman, the city's police commissioner, the state's governor, and then vice president and president, addressing the often urban-centered by-products of industrialization, immigration, political machinery, and population density, such as the lack of amicable labor relations, adequate housing, grassroots democracy, food safety, and sanitation. TR also acknowledged pressing national issues in numerous articles and speeches, seeking a society of equal opportunity rather than one that claimed it could deliver equal results. VERDICT Focused and concise, this book is a solid choice for general readers of history not sufficiently aware of TR's cosmopolitan background in contrast to his adopted cowboy persona. It details another side of a consequential, transformative rather than transitional president.—Frederick J. Augustyn Jr., Lib. of Congress, Washington, DC
Kirkus Reviews
2013-11-03
Kohn's (American History and Literature/Bilkent Univ.; Hot Time in Old Town: The Great Heat Wave of 1896 and the Making of Theodore Roosevelt, 2010, etc.) latest study of Theodore Roosevelt focuses on the influence of his hometown, New York City, in shaping his political legacy. The legacy of Roosevelt most commonly conjures the image of a "Rough Rider" on horseback storming San Juan Hill in Cuba or of a similarly macho cowboy on the vast Western frontier. These images are part of the mythology that paints a portrait of the president as a man of rugged individualism and self-determination. While the West remained a fixation for Roosevelt, Kohn is apt to point out that this idea of Roosevelt as a man of the range is a product of his own retrospective self-mythologizing and that the most important influence on Roosevelt's life and political career was not the West but his hometown. "The West did not ‘make' Theodore Roosevelt, but Theodore Roosevelt surely helped to make the West," writes the author. Born and raised into a well-respected family, Roosevelt followed the example of his charitable and honorable father by cultivating himself as a reformer. Quickly rising through the ranks of local Republican leadership, he asserted himself as a public official willing to stand up to the rampant, if not institutional, corruption of the spoils system and earned a reputation as a gruff enforcer while serving as a New York police commissioner before becoming governor, then president, following William McKinley's assassination. Kohn rightly corrects many assumptions about Roosevelt's life and ambitions, but in doing so, he also draws out a narrative too reductive in its looking back to New York to justify Roosevelt's actions. Roosevelt always admitted to being a New Yorker, despite Tammany Boss Thomas Platt being an ever-present thorn in his side, yet Roosevelt's life and legacy in American politics and culture is too critical to be so selectively drawn. An intriguing portrait of Roosevelt's ascendance to power that will leave readers wanting more of his life and work.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781482946918
  • Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/28/2013
  • Format: CD

Meet the Author


Edward P. Kohn is Assistant Professor of American History and Chair of the American Culture and Literature Department at Bilkent University in Turkey. He earned his Ph.D. from McGill University. The author of Hot Time in the Old Town and This Kindred People, Kohn has been named a top young historian by History News Network.
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