One hundred years after his death, Teddy Roosevelt remains one of America’s favorite presidents. What’s not to love? Exuberant in personality and with a Santa-like, kid-friendly appearance, he was a man’s man and a family man who did cool stuff most people love, like work as a cowboy, charge up San Juan Hill, create national parks, and dig the Panama Canal.
TR’s Last War, by David Pietrusza, is not that Teddy Roosevelt.
This new biography covers Roosevelt’s later years, a period of time most biographers gloss over. And it’s easy to see why. I’m as guilty as anyone of idealizing the past and making heroes out of yesterday’s leaders, assuming they were more noble and high-minded than politicos of today. Therefore, it’s beyond disconcerting to read this account, which might as well be ripped off today’s Twitter feed. TR hurled insults at foes like Woodrow Wilson that would have made Trump blush, and rivaled the Clintons in his (often ethically dubious) machinations to reclaim the White House.
As the US approached World War I, a portrait emerges of a violently divided nation driven as much by irrational passions and partisanship as by reason. Blinded by ambition and driven by personal demons, TR beat the drum for war with ultimately tragic consequences for himself and his entire family.
I love history books that shed new light, and TR’s Last War brings Roosevelt to life not as “the lion in winter” but as a man with very real feet of clay. I look forward to reading more books by David Pietrusza.
I wanted to share this beautiful visual depiction of the geometry of musical notes — fascinating!