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!
Have you ever heard of the Japanese concept “ichi-go ichi-e”? It means “one time, one meeting,” and captures the idea that each moment should be treasured because it will never come again. I think when you’re younger, such concepts don’t mean much to you, because you have a seemingly infinite series of moments stretching before you. As you get older, begin to experience loved ones passing from the scene, and become aware of your own mortality, you begin to realize how special each moment really is.
These days I feel sad to see so many people wasting their lives on anger, strife, and meaningless conflict, or working themselves to the bone for a lifestyle they don’t have time to enjoy. What moments have been the great moments of your life that you now treasure in your heart forever? Sometimes you’re aware of experiencing a great bucket list moment, like when we visited our ancestral home in Scotland last year. But what about the simple joys of sharing a great laugh with your loved ones over an ordinary weeknight dinner, or watching TV while cuddling with your loving, vulnerable pets? It’s worth remembering that each moment, no matter how humble, is indeed “once in a lifetime.”
This is so cute. Which one do you like the best? I like “Miró.”
Everyone should do what they want, as naturally as breathing. —Joan Miró
You all know how much I like to read about disasters. The White Cascade by Gary Krist is a great book about the 1910 avalanche disaster that overtook two trains in Washington State’s Cascade Mountains. I learned a lot about the practice, culture, and history of railroading from this book. The railroad totally revolutionized American life a century ago, not unlike the way the Internet has revolutionized ours. But after the disaster, as Krist writes, “The tide of history was clearly running against the Victorian laissez-faire attitudes that had allowed the railroads and other trusts to gain such great influence and authority without any corresponding answerability.”
I couldn’t help but see the parallels with the big Internet companies like Google, Twitter, and Facebook and the public hostility that has developed from their own abuses of the public trust. I wonder if we will see a repeat of the litigation, regulation, and governmental oversight that changed the railroad business back in the day, and if so how it will all unfold.
What a find! Spotify’s Discover Weekly feature, which suggests music you might like based on what you listen to, introduced me to the music of guitar virtuoso Ronnie Earl and I’m so glad. This is beautiful music, devoted to deep emotions and qualities like compassion, healing, gratitude, and love. I have ordered Ronnie’s three most recent albums and can’t wait to get to know his music. I’m the one who’s lucky!
You might expect Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, the documentary about Fred Rogers, to be a nostalgia exercise for Gen-Xers like me, or even a movie for kids. As it turns out, it is nothing of the kind. Mr. Rogers was a profoundly counter-cultural figure in the true sense of the word. He spent his life lighting a candle against the calculated stupidity of mass culture and the indoctrination of kids as mindless consumers. He deeply respected the intelligence and sensibilities of children and lived a life of honesty and moral courage.
It took me about 10 minutes watching this documentary to understand why it was shut out of the Academy Awards (some critics had naively suggested it would contend for Best Documentary). Mr. Rogers was everything that Hollywood is not. Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is beautiful, inspirational, and emotionally resonant. Highly recommended.
I recently re-read the classic political novel Advise and Consent by Allen Drury. Drury was extremely prescient about Washington and its relationship to the American people. I was struck by his critique of the press corps (Drury was a Capitol Hill correspondent for decades). He was wise to the techniques the press uses to take advantage of the people’s credulity. When I ran across this handy chart of logical fallacies, I thought I’d share it. You can find at least one of these in almost every “breaking” news story or opinion piece. Once you get on to it, it’s fascinating to realize how it works. Educate yourself.
I’ve had my differences with Toby Keith but I can’t get enough of his beautiful new song about aging. May you be forever young at heart!