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The Roosevelts: An American Saga

The Roosevelts: An American Saga

by Peter Collier, Jeff Riggenbach (Read by), David Horowitz (With)

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Collier and Horowitz paint an explosive new portrait which offers a completely unique view of America's longest lasting and most powerful dynasty. Filled with drama and anecdote, this is a rare look at what brought this exceptional group of people together and what drove them apart.


Collier and Horowitz paint an explosive new portrait which offers a completely unique view of America's longest lasting and most powerful dynasty. Filled with drama and anecdote, this is a rare look at what brought this exceptional group of people together and what drove them apart.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The authors portray this American dynasty as a family divided between Teddy's Oyster Bay clan and FDR's Hyde Park family. (June)
Library Journal
Portraits of the Oyster Bay and Hyde Park Roosevelts, always hung separately, are now framed together by Collier and Horowitz, family biographers of the Rockefellers, Kennedys, Fords, and, recently (by Collier alone), The Fondas (LJ 1/91). The preface advertises ``a family civil war with almost Homeric overtones,'' yet the misdeeds, squabbles, and triumphs cataloged here more readily call to mind an average TV miniseries than classical epic. Academic libraries can pass because scholars will find nothing new concerning Theodore, Eleanor, or Franklin and little of interest about the lesser-known generations that followed. The book is an optional purchase for public libraries, whose readers will enjoy a more satisfying read in any one of many more finely crafted books about either Roosevelt branch.-Robert F. Nardini, North Chichester, N.H.
From the Publisher
John A. Garraty The New York Times Book Review Fascinating reading...evenhanded descriptions are not generally a virtue of popular history, but they are only the most remarkable of the many virtues of this one....Truly first-rate.

Patrick Buchanan Engrossing...one comes to understand that Theodore Roosevelt belonged to an age that was dying, though he was perhaps its finest expression. And Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for all his character flaws, was perfectly suited to the new age that had begun.

Michael R. Beschloss THe Washington Monthly Collier and Horowitz have performed the extraordinary task of...deconstructing the densely packed array of ambitions, anxieties, responsibilities, traumas, and opportunities thrown on the rich and famous from birth.

Jonathan Yardley The Washington Post Book World As deftly organized, smoothly' written, and psychologically penetrating as any of its predecessors.

Burke Wilkinson The Washington Times The best page-turner of the season.

Product Details

Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
14 1.5 Hour Cassettes, Unabridged
Product dimensions:
6.86(w) x 9.62(h) x 2.59(d)

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

A remarkable photograph in the Theodore Roosevelt collection at Harvard's Houghton Library shows Abraham Lincoln's funeral procession passing through New York on the way to the train that would complete the long journey home to Illinois. The shot, taken as the procession moved through the Union Square area, captures both the formal solemnity of the occasion and the life of the street. The caisson carrying the coffin has not yet come into view, but an honor guard of infantry in blocky formation follows a straggling line of riders up ahead. People dressed in black line both sides of the street four or five deep. A few of the spectators, hoping to secure a better vantage, have climbed up onto ledges beneath the recessed windows of a commercial building.

There were probably other shots of this scene taken at about the same moment. But in this one the anonymous photographer also captured an arresting accidental detail: two tiny heads poking out of the second-story window of an elegant brownstone. They are six-year-old Theodore Roosevelt and his younger brother, Elliott, four, looking down at the scene below. Their faces are framed by the shutters of the window in a way that suggests a depth of field, thus inviting the eye to enter the dark room behind them, the private world of the Roosevelts.

The brownstone belonged to the boys' grandfather, Cornelius Van Schaack Roosevelt, a great-grandson of Johannes, one of the two founding brothers of the Roosevelt clan, and at the time of Lincoln's death the most prominent member of the family. He was a short man with reddish hair and a large head. (One acquaintance had said of him, "His appearancesuggested to me a Hindoo idol roughly carved in red porphyry.") His eyes magnified by thick spectacles, C.V.S., as he was known, was a man of few words whose face wore the stern and inquiring look of a bookkeeper with power. The look was one that had settled on him as a result of a life devoted to the art of the bottom line, but it was probably also congenital. The one moment of frivolity anyone recalled from his childhood occurred one Sunday in his youth when C.V.S. was going home after attending his second church service of the day. He came upon a party of pigs, which ran free in the streets of New York in those days, and on a whim he mounted a huge boar that promptly turned and bolted, carrying him back at full tilt directly into the outraged members of the congregation gathered outside the Dutch Reformed Church he had just left. Those who did not move quickly were bowled over.

Afterward, C.V.S. moved steadily through life establishing a record as a conservative man, thrifty and enterprising. As far as anyone knew, his only other unusual act was becoming the first Roosevelt of his line to marry a non-Dutch woman, a Quaker named Margaret Barnhill. When they were first engaged, he wrote her, "Economy is my doctrine at all times, at all events till I become, if it is to be so, a man of fortune." It was couched as a caveat emptor, but it became a prophecy, the underlined words indicating the emphatic nature of the wish. C.V.S. took the family investment firm, Roosevelt and Son, which had been founded by his grandfather, into new areas of enterprise, making it the largest importer of plate glass in the city. He also bought up land all over Manhattan during the Panic of 1837. Five years later he was worth $250,000, and three years after that his net worth had doubled. In 1868 when a newspaper listed the names of Manhattan's handful of millionaires, the name Cornelius Van Schaack Roosevelt was among them.

Although a man of the new age, C.V.S. tried to maintain the old ways where his family was concerned, bringing his five boys into his business and reminding them of their heritage. (When TR, nearly fifty, visited Africa in 1909 and recited a Dutch rhyme for a contingent of Boers he met there, it was a fragment he had retained from Sunday afternoons with his grandfather.) He was, in a sense, the last Dutch Roosevelt.

The sons of C.V.S. were such energetic youngsters that family and friends began referring to their mother as "that lovely Mrs. Roosevelt with those five horrid boys." They spoke a language all their own. As Silas, the oldest of the boys, said later on, "A Stranger must be somewhat scandalized by the sudden fits we take of irony, cordiality...sense and nonsense, which succeed each other without apparent connection or warning approach."

All of the sons of C.V.S. had acquired their father's gravity by the time they went forth into the world. All had significant achievements as lawyers and businessmen, directors of banks and railroads. One of them, Robert Barnwell Roosevelt, was a writer, newspaper editor, and politician, who changed his middle name from Barnhill to escape jokes about manure when he ran for and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He fought Boss Tweed and became a pioneering conservationist. But it was Theodore, youngest of the boys (and later called the first Theodore Roosevelt to distinguish him from his more famous son), who strayed furthest from his father's expectations.

Like his brothers, Theodore stopped off to see his mother every morning on his way to work and joined his father for dinner every Saturday evening. If he was different from the others, it was because he was less adept at making money and less interested in extending the reach of the family business. As the youngest, he had more latitude to explore personal values. He traveled widely at home and abroad. Unwilling to look at the world through plate glass, he began while still young to do volunteer work in New York charities, which provided him with a clear view of the social disorganization caused by the sudden glut of immigrants and the pell-mell urbanization remaking the city. Without knowing it at the time, he had stumbled on what became his life's calling.

Perhaps influenced by the "inner light" of his mother's Quaker background, Theodore had a "troublesome conscience" of his own that not only drew him to social problems but also made him more anxious to give money away than make it. Made wealthy by the hard work of C.V.S., Theodore made the transition from business to philanthropy while still in his thirties, becoming one of a small group of men who founded the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and other cultural institutions. But his primary interest was in relieving human misery. He helped begin the Newsboys' Lodging House to benefit thousands of urchins who survived by selling papers, and was deeply involved in such organizations as Miss Sattery's Night School for Little Italians.

He wanted to do good, but he was also drawn to the compelling human interest of the netherworld of human suffering he discovered, a world that, if not for his "social work," would have remained as invisible to him as it was to most in his class. "My boys at the Lodging Home were very interesting tonight," he once wrote his son Elliott after spending an evening with the newsboys. "One little fellow eight years old was particularly so, as he had neither father nor mother and felt perfectly able to care for himself. He described how a policeman had 'bringed' him to the Station House once but seemed not quite sure which particular crime it was for."

He was a handsome man, powerfully built with a big head and shaggy beard inevitably described as "leonine." (When still a boy, his son and namesake Teddy, punning on the metaphor, called the first Theodore "a handsome and good natured lion.") He was filled with such charismatic energy that one contemporary referred to him as "a force of nature." There was such an obsessive quality to his philanthropy that a family friend called it a "maniacal benevolence."

The first Theodore would never know the extent to which he had altered individual lives, but almost

Meet the Author

PETER COLLIER and DAVID HOROWITZ have written well-regarded biographies of the Rockefellers, the Kennedys and the Fords. They also coauthored Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts about the Sixties. David Horowitz's essays appear regularly in frontpagemagazine.com. They both live in California.

Jeff Riggenbach has narrated numerous titles for Blackstone Audio. An author, contributing editor, and producer, he has worked for the last thirty years in radio in San Francisco, earning a “Golden Mike” Award for his work.

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