In this brisk biography, Donald, former editor-in-chief of Harvard University Press, ascribes Teddy Roosevelt's popularity to his combination of charisma and substance; he was an "electrical, magnetic" speaker, according to one contemporary newspaper account, and he hit themes that resonated with ordinary folks, such as honesty in government and opportunity for all. In the White House, Roosevelt established a model of "positive, active governance" and insisted that the president was more powerful than any business tycoon. Donald pays particular attention to Roosevelt's pioneering conservancy efforts, and she suggests that one of his most important acts was to appoint Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. to the Supreme Court. Donald also touches on the personal: his grief when his first wife died, and his passionate love for his second wife, with whom he set a new standard for presidential domestic life, entertaining with a gusto unmatched until the Kennedys. The book is refreshingly slim, but sometimes-as in the brief discussion of Roosevelt's appointments of African-Americans to government jobs-one wishes for more. Indeed, there's not much here that readers won't find in other studies of Roosevelt, but Donald's swift prose makes this a satisfying read. Photos. History Book Club main selection.(Nov.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Donald (former editor in chief, Harvard Univ. Press) here provides an accessible biography of Theodore Roosevelt (TR), who is receiving renewed attention during the centennial of his presidency (1901-09). America's last Renaissance president, TR led multiple lives: he was a rancher, soldier, historian, explorer, conservationist, hunter, and politician. Most scholars rank him at the top of the near-great presidents. Donald, who only briefly notes his faults, ranks him even higher. She not only shows how he propelled the United States from provincial status into a world power but also sheds light on how much he identified with his chief political hero, Abraham Lincoln. TR, who was given a ring by Lincoln's former private secretary to wear during his inauguration, often tried to define Lincoln as a progressive, a concept his Republican Party rejected. Ironically, it was TR's distant nephew Franklin who patterned his political life on TR to such a degree that Lincoln eventually morphed into a New Deal Democrat. Donald's account, although covering familiar territory, will appeal to a broad array of readers, both those already admiring the man and those new to him.
William D. Pederson
A compact biography of the genuine cowboy president. Donald undertakes a daunting task: compressing the crowded life of Theodore Roosevelt into fewer than 300 pages, where any year-indeed, almost any episode (see Candice Millard's thrilling The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey, 2005)-merits book-length treatment. Donald offers glimpses of Roosevelt in his many guises: the sickly youth, the Harvard swell, the cowboy rancher, the frontier deputy sheriff, the amateur scientist, the historian and author, the avid hunter and explorer, the conservationist, the Rough Rider, the devoted family man. She pays a bit more attention to his deeds in public office, from his early days as an Albany legislator, to his term as civil-service commissioner under Presidents Harrison and Cleveland, to his stint as police commissioner of New York City. She turns a larger spotlight on Roosevelt the assistant secretary of the navy, the New York governor, the McKinley vice president and, of course, the inventor of the modern presidency. Donald duly notes Roosevelt's magnificent public deeds-storming San Juan Hill, busting the trusts, launching the Great White Fleet, building the Panama Canal, waging the valiant Bull Moose campaign-and takes care also to mark his failures-his mishandling of the Brownsville, Texas, army affair and his failure to challenge the 1902 Chinese Exclusion Act. Indeed, no important aspect of the life goes unexplored, but the galloping pace leaves little time for the color this subject demands. Donald fares much better with her sensitive and informed discussion of Roosevelt's political philosophy. She ably demonstrates how his life shaped his public policy, how he actedwisely and moderately on a reformist agenda and how Lincoln's example informed his presidency, the high watermark of Republican progressivism. His increasingly "radical" positions-actually nothing more than an extension of his abiding belief in the efficacy of active government-finally alienated him from the Party he so briefly defined. Although readers seeking rich detail, a portrait in full, will continue to consult Edmund Morris's exquisite two-volume biography, Donald's work serves as a fair introduction to Roosevelt's life and a fine appreciation of his politics.