The future Rough Rider forges his masculine identity in a Western smithy in this fascinating biographical sketch. DiSilvestro (In the Shadow of Wounded Knee) recounts Roosevelt's mid-1880s sojourns in the Badlands, a hardscrabble frontier prone to gunfights (though some were staged to scare passengers on passing trains). For the sickly, foppish New Yorker (Roosevelt had his ranch duds custom-tailored in Manhattan), the West offered priceless tests of manhood--dangerous cattle drives; bullies; raucous hunting excursions ("I got him, I got him, I got him," he chanted while dancing around a pronghorn antelope carcass)--that the author credits with sparking Roosevelt's conservationist ardor. DiSilvestro paints a vivid panorama of the fast-vanishing frontier and plays the material straight (though he overstates the romance of Roosevelt's heartbreak over the death of his wife; friends feared he would "lose his mind," the author reminds us often). The straight approach works best; Roosevelt's ordeals were real enough, if sometimes pointlessly self-inflicted (he once trekked 150 miles after minor outlaws who stole his rowboat), and he emerges as our most neurotic president, a consummate practitioner of an authenticity that was both fake and utterly sincere. Photos. (Mar.)
“Fascinating biographical sketch… DiSilvestro paints a vivid panorama of the fast-vanishing frontier and plays the material straight.” Publishers Weekly
“A good example of how focused biographical writing, when skillfully executed, can enlighten as well as a full-life biography.” Kirkus
“Highly recommended as useful to scholars and accessible to general readers, this work focuses on the nature of the Badlands crucible that ultimately recast Roosevelt's sense of confidence and purpose as a participant in American governance.” Library Journal
The frontier West and its importance to Theodore Roosevelt and in turn the American nation is explored in depth by naturalist/historian DiSilvestro (senior editor, National Wildlife magazine; In the Shadow of Wounded Knee), updating the account first told by Hermann Hagedorn in 1921 and included in a few chapters of Edmund Morris's epic The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. DiSilvestro successfully communicates the western spirit of the Dakota Badlands that became an essential component of the personal identity of the future President. Drawing upon a wealth of archival and biographical writings, the author paints a picture of a grief-stricken New Yorker (following the death of his wife in childbirth and the death of his mother), politician, and socialite, who reinvented himself as a frontier cattle rancher, big-game hunter, and conservationist. Much information is included on the eastern establishment's get-rich-quick western ranching fantasies, which Roosevelt saw disintegrate in the infamous winter of 1886–87. VERDICT Highly recommended as useful to scholars and accessible to general readers, this work focuses on the nature of the Badlands crucible that ultimately recast Roosevelt's sense of confidence and purpose as a participant in American governance.—Nathan E. Bender, Laramie, WY
Amid the outpouring of Theodore Roosevelt biographies, National Wildlife senior editor Di Silvestro (In the Shadow of Wounded Knee: The Untold Final Story of the Indian Wars, 2007, etc.) provides an examination focused on four years (1884–1888)of the president's early manhood.
The author painstakingly studies the period during which Roosevelt shuttled between New York City and the sparsely populated Dakota Territory. In 1878, Roosevelt was reeling from the death of his father. Two years later he married Alice, and four years after the marriage Alice gave birth to a daughter. But Alice died at age 22, just 48 hours after the baby's birth, and Roosevelt's mother died on the same day at age 48. Desperate to escape his sorrow, Roosevelt took leave from his job as state legislator to roam the ranges of the Dakotas. He had journeyed there during 1883 to hunt wild game, and the barren, starklybeautifulland captivated him so fully that he had purchased a ranch. Di Silvestro demonstrates how Roosevelt developed the ranch to become a serious breeder and seller of cattle. Although a minor celebrity among the rancher population because of his family's prominence back East, Roosevelt managed to fit in with the permanent residents of the Dakotas. Despite his frequent journeys back to New York to participate in politics, visit his baby daughter and his supportive siblings, the hardy Dakota settlers eventually decided Roosevelt was more than just a greedy carpetbagger. As the book's subtitle indicates, Roosevelt sought "recovery" by soaking up the culture of the Dakotas, and that sought-after recovery eventually came to him. At the end of 1888, he married Edith, who could not completely replace Alice but whom he loved dearly. The author makes the case that Roosevelt's sojourns to the Dakotas imbued him with a strong sense of environmentalism, and that earth-loving ethic became a hallmark of his years in the White House.
A good example of how focused biographical writing, when skillfully executed, can enlighten as well as afull-life biography.