The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt

4.3 172
by Edmund Morris

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Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time

Thirty years ago, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

Although Theodore Rex fully recounts TR’s years in the White House (1901–1909), The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt begins with a


Selected by the Modern Library as one of the 100 best nonfiction books of all time

Thirty years ago, The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

Although Theodore Rex fully recounts TR’s years in the White House (1901–1909), The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt begins with a brilliant Prologue describing the President at the apex of his international prestige. That was on New Year’s Day, 1907, when TR, who had just won the Nobel Peace Prize, threw open the doors of the White House to the American people and shook 8,150 hands, more than any man before him. Morris re-creates the reception with such authentic detail that the reader gets almost as vivid an impression of TR as those who attended. One visitor remarked afterward, “You go to the White House, you shake hands with Roosevelt and hear him talk—and then you go home to wring the personality out of your clothes.”

The rest of this book tells the story of TR’s irresistible rise to power. (He himself compared his trajectory to that of a rocket.) It is, in effect, the biography of seven men—a naturalist, a writer, a lover, a hunter, a ranchman, a soldier, and a politician—who merged at age forty-two to become the youngest President in our history. Rarely has any public figure exercised such a charismatic hold on the popular imagination. Edith Wharton likened TR’s vitality to radium. H. G. Wells said that he was  “a very symbol of the creative will in man.” Walter Lippmann characterized him simply as our only “lovable” chief executive.

During the years 1858–1901, Theodore Roosevelt, the son of a wealthy Yankee father and a plantation-bred southern belle, transformed himself from a frail, asthmatic boy into a full-blooded man. Fresh out of Harvard, he simultaneously published a distinguished work of naval history and became the fist-swinging leader of a Republican insurgency in the New York State Assembly. He had a youthful romance as lyrical—and tragic—as any in Victorian fiction. He chased thieves across the Badlands of North Dakota with a copy of Anna Karenina in one hand and a Winchester rifle in the other. Married to his childhood sweetheart in 1886, he became the country squire of Sagamore Hill on Long Island, a flamboyant civil service reformer in Washington, D.C., and a night-stalking police commissioner in New York City. As assistant secretary of the navy under President McKinley, he almost single-handedly brought about the Spanish-American War. After leading “Roosevelt’s Rough Riders” in the famous charge up San Juan Hill, Cuba, he returned home a military hero, and was rewarded with the governorship of New York. In what he called his “spare hours” he fathered six children and wrote fourteen books. By 1901, the man Senator Mark Hanna called “that damned cowboy” was vice president of the United States. Seven months later, an assassin’s bullet gave TR the national leadership he had always craved.

His is a story so prodigal in its variety, so surprising in its turns of fate, that previous biographers have treated it as a series of haphazard episodes. This book, the only full study of TR’s pre-presidential years, shows that he was an inevitable chief executive, and recognized as such in his early teens. His apparently random adventures were precipitated and linked by various aspects of his character, not least an overwhelming will. “It was as if he were subconsciously aware that he was a man of many selves,” the author writes, “and set about developing each one in turn, knowing that one day he would be President of all the people.”

Editorial Reviews

Charles McGrath
....It is a sweeping narrative of the outward man and a shrewd examination of his character.
The New York Times Books of the Century
From the Publisher
Praise for The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt
“Magnificent . . . 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 . . . a brilliant chronicle.”—Time
“Theodore Roosevelt, in this meticulously researched and beautifully written biography, has a claim on being the most interesting man ever to be President of this country.”—Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Spectacles glittering, teeth and temper flashing, high-pitched voice rasping and crackling, Roosevelt surges out of these pages with the force of a physical presence.”—The Atlantic Monthly
“[Morris’s] prose is elegant and at the same time hard and lucid, and his sense of narrative flow is nearly flawless. . . . The author re-creates a sense of the scene and an immediacy of the situation that any skilled writer should envy and the most jaded reader should find a joy.”—The Miami Herald
“A monumental work in every sense of the word . . . a book of pulsating and well-written narrative.”—The Christian Science Monitor

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
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Modern Library 100 Best Nonfiction Books
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
The First Administration: 1901-1904

The epigraphs at the head of every chapter are by "Mr. Dooley," Theodore Roosevelt's favorite social commentator.

The Shadow of the Crown

I see that Tiddy, Prisidint Tiddy-here's his health-is th' youngest prisidint we've iver had, an' some iv th' pa-apers ar-re wondherin' whether he's old enough f'r th' raysponsibilities iv' th' office.

On the morning after McKinley's interment, Friday, 20 September 1901, a stocky figure in a frock coat sprang up the front steps of the White House. A policeman, recognizing the new President of the United States, jerked to attention, but Roosevelt, trailed by Commander Cowles, was already on his way into the vestibule. Nodding at a pair of attaches, he hurried into the elevator and rose to the second floor. His rapid footsteps sought out the executive office over the East Room. Within seconds of arrival he was leaning back in McKinley's chair, dictating letters to William Loeb. He looked as if he had sat there for years. It was, a veteran observer marveled, "quite the strangest introduction of a Chief Magistrate . . . in our national history."

As the President worked, squads of cleaners, painters, and varnishers hastened to refurbish the private apartments down the hall. He sent word that he and Mrs. Roosevelt would occupy the sunny riverview suite on the south corner. Not for them the northern exposure favored by their predecessors, with its cold white light and panorama of countless chimney pots.

A pall of death and invalidism hung over the fusty building. Roosevelt decided to remain at his brother-in-law's house until after the weekend. It was as if he wanted the White House to ventilate itself of the sad fragrance of the nineteenth century. Edith and the children would breeze in soon enough, bringing what he called "the Oyster Bay atmosphere."

At eleven o'clock he held his first Cabinet meeting. There was a moment of strangeness when he took his place at the head of McKinley's table. Ghostly responsibility sat on his shoulders. "A very heavy weight," James Wilson mused, "for anyone so young as he is."

But the President was not looking for sympathy. "I need your advice and counsel," he said. He also needed their resignations, but for legal reasons only. Every man must accept reappointment. "I cannot accept a declination."

This assertion of authority went unchallenged. Relaxing, Roosevelt asked for briefings on every department of the Administration. His officers complied in order of seniority. He interrupted them often with questions, and they were astonished by the rapidity with which he embraced and sorted information. His curiosity and apparent lack of guile charmed them.

The President's hunger for intelligence did not diminish as the day wore on. He demanded naval-construction statistics and tariff-reciprocity guidelines and a timetable for the independence of Cuba, and got two visiting Senators to tell him more than they wanted to about the inner workings of Congress. In the late afternoon, he summoned the heads of Washington's three press agencies.

"This being my first day in the White House as President of the United States," Roosevelt said ingratiatingly, "I desired to have a little talk with you gentlemen who are responsible for the collection and dissemination of the news."

A certain code of "relations," he went on, should be established immediately. He glanced at the Associated Press and Sun service representatives. "Mr. Boynton and Mr. Barry, whom I have known for many years and who have always possessed my confidence, shall continue to have it." They must understand that this privilege depended on their "discretion as to publication." Unfortunately, he could not promise equal access to Mr. Keen of the United Press, "whom I have just met for the first time."

Boynton and Barry jumped to their colleague's defense. Roosevelt was persuaded to trust him, but warned again that he would bar any White House correspondent who betrayed him or misquoted him. In serious cases, he might even bar an entire newspaper. Barry said that was surely going too far. Roosevelt's only reply was a mysterious smile. "All right, gentlemen, now we understand each other."

Much later that evening, after a small dinner with friends in the Cowles house on N Street, the President allowed himself a moment or two of querulousness. "My great difficulty, my serious problem, will meet me when I leave the White House. Supposing I have a second term . . ."

Commander Cowles, replete with roast beef, sank deep into leather cushions and folded his hands over his paunch. He paid no attention to the cataract of talk pouring from the walnut chair opposite. For years he had benignly suffered his brother-in-law's fireside oratory; he was as deaf to Rooseveltian self-praise as he was to these occasional moments of self-doubt. How like Theodore to worry about moving out of the White House before moving in! The Commander's eyes drooped. His breathing grew rhythmic; he began to snore.

"I shall be young, in my early fifties," Roosevelt was saying. "On the shelf! Retired! Out of it!"

Two other guests, William Allen White and Nicholas Murray Butler, listened sympathetically. Prodigies themselves-White, at thirty-three, had a national reputation for political journalism, and Butler, at thirty-nine, was about to become president of Columbia University-they were both aware that they had reached the top of their fields, and could stay there for another forty years. Roosevelt was sure of only three and a half. Of course, the power given him dwarfed theirs, and he might win an extension of it in 1904. But that would make its final loss only harder to bear.

So Butler and White allowed the President to continue lamenting his imminent retirement. They interrupted only when he grew maudlin-"I don't want to be the old cannon loose on the deck in the storm!"

Undisturbed by the clamor of younger voices, Commander Cowles slept on.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

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 biography The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt won the Pulitzer Prize and American Book Award in 1980. After spending several years as President Reagan’s authorized biographer, he published the national bestseller Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan in 1999. He has written extensively on travel and the arts for such publications as The New Yorker, The New York Times, and Harper’s Magazine. Edmund Morris lives in New York and Washington with his wife and fellow biographer, Sylvia Jukes Morris.

From the Hardcover edition.

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The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt 4.3 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 172 reviews.
Bozeman-Parrothead More than 1 year ago
I picked this book up because with everything that is going on in politics these days, I wanted to read about a president that was not scared for standing up for what is right, ending corruption, and embracing the meaning behind Americanism (TR did coin that phrase.) It is also relieving to read about a president that DID go after the corrupt corporations and the lobbyists before Obama took office. Needless to say I was not disappointed. I will admit this book is not for a person that does not live and breathe history. The details can be tiresome at times, but the author made 19th century politics read like a CNN broadcast, meaning there were moments when I could not put the book down, and literally cursed specific people and politicians for their stupidity. One thing I want to mention is this book covers TR's biography from his birth until the assassination of McKinley. The continuation is covered in Morris's Theodore Rex. I wish I would have known that before investing 782 pages in half of the story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Classic tale of our greatest president. It makes you want to learn more. After reading you feel like you know Theodore himself
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
By far the best book I've ever read about TR. It gives you great insight into his mind with brief diary enries and letters. If you want to know more about his character and what shaped him into the man he would become instead of just what he did, this is the book. Yes it's a thick book, however it was so interesting that I read through it quickly. If you love history and TR, this book is a must have.
AliceOne More than 1 year ago
Edmund Morris does a great job documenting Teddy Roosevelt's life until he gets to be President. This book reads like a novel and gives you amazing insight into such an energetic, interesting, honest, hard working man that Teddy was. Great historical read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Always inspires me to quit complaining, work hard, expand my knowledge, improve my physical well being, and to live life to its fullest. Better than any self help book I have read. The first of an awe inspiring trilogy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
after reading "The Rise" one will want to continue reading the other two works by Edmund Morris to complete the narrative about TR, one of our best a and the most fascinating presidents
Guest More than 1 year ago
The back of this book states that it is the story of seven men: a naturalist, a writer, a lover, a hunter, a rancher, a soldier, and a politician. It is amazing to me that one man can be all of those men at one time, but Theodore Roosevelt was. If you read this book, you will be as amazed as I was at the achievements of this man. It is hard to imagine that he could have changed the politics in the city of New York as much as he did. His progressive ideas angered the corrupt, so they nominated him for Vice-President. Little to their dismay that this progressive reformer would find himelf in the Big Chair of the Oval Office with a Big Stick. I admire Roosevelt for all of the accomplishments he made in his illustrious career, as I am sure you will be if you read this book. TR is one of my favorite, no my very favorite president and he will be yours too!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was the first book I have ever read on T.R. and it has lead me to read over ten since. I would recommend it to anyone interested in history or biographies.
BrianIndianFan More than 1 year ago
If anyone could be accurately described as a whirling dervish, it would be Theodore Roosevelt. In his lifetime, he was a soldier, author, historian, naturalist, cattle rancher, world traveler, reform politician, and - oh, yeah - 26th president of the United States. Until he became president after the assassination of President McKinley on September 14, 1901, TR had been all of those things - yet was only 42 when he ascended to the nation's highest office.  Obviously, the trick to chronicling such an ambitious life is to give details without being mundane. Morris has obviously managed to adequately probe every major corner in Roosevelt's life without becoming tedious. While a 1000 book may look forbidding at first blanch, 25% of the book is tied up in detailed footnotes and photograph credits. The abundance of end notes serves notice that Morris has thoroughly researched his subject and has sought to provide a balanced profile.  The book is a straight-forward narrative chronicling Roosevelt's life. It is a life that took various twists and turns, all of which are documented in detail. After Roosevelt's first wife and mother died on the same day in 1884, he goes out west to explore and hunt in what is now western North Dakota. This seems like a diversion in his life - and is at first - but Roosevelt eventually becomes so enmeshed with cowboy society that he is considered one of their own by the locals. The fact that Morris paints this part of Roosevelt's life as such allows the story to resonate with the reader. Overall, Morris deals with an amazing man by telling the straightest of stories. Though the story ends with Roosevelt's becoming president, that should not deter the reader from finding out what made our 26th president one of the most enduring and glittering examples of what being an American citizen can be. BOTTOM LINE: An wonderful read and worth every moment you spend reading it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
a very good book if you like history books.There is also unbelivable facts.i recommend it to teens from 13-18
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a must read for anyone interested in political profiles. TR learned how to navigate political structures and personalities while in some of the the highest profile appointed and elected positions. I am looking forward to reading Theodore Rex, also by Edmund Morris, which begins at his presidency.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really makes history come alive roosevelts family male brothers were plagued by clinical depression and roosevelts energy was more the manic depression form . physical activity was one way to increase chemicals needed to prevent severe depression and later one of the few things that worked in private hospitals before the new meds. Alcohol was not.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Goo book!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent telling of the experiences and events whcih shaped TR during his rise to the Presidency. Morris does a great job of being both informative and eloquent simultaneously.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Gives great insight into how Roosevelt became, no doubt, a very smart president.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago