Random House sent the latest biography by Edmund Morris, chiefly known for having constructed a fictional character named “Morris” for an authorized biography of Ronald Reagan. Colonel Roosevelt, the third in his trilogy on one of America’s most influential presidents, looks upon early examination to be a credible, serious biography of the later years of TR’s life (Morris previously wrote The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt in 1979 and Theodore Rex in 2001).
This thick volume is over 500 pages and includes extensive notes, an index and a prologue. Not surprisingly, Morris, like most intellectuals, is approving of the boisterous anti-capitalist, who has become a sort of icon to advocates of environmentalism and government intervention in economics. Morris apparently incorporates multiculturalism, too, and his assertions should be checked. But there is much to mine here about the Republican founder of the Progressive Party, who paved the way for the dreadful Woodrow Wilson and occupied the White House at the end of the Industrial Revolution as the bloodiest century in history began. I took particular interest in TR’s African safari, sponsored by steel titan Andrew Carnegie, about whom I am writing an article. Teddy Roosevelt seemed like a man “in the arena” as he famously wrote, though unlike Carnegie he was not a producer of wealth and here he seems narcissistic and envious of those who make money.
TR died at the age of 60, a compelling, fallen figure denounced as something of a madman by William Howard Taft and appraised by journalist H.L. Mencken as “a liar, a braggart, a bully, and a fraud.” Mencken added: “But let us not speak evil of the dead.” In Colonel Roosevelt, admiring Edmund Morris appears to take Mencken’s sarcastic line to heart. [2014 update: read my review of the PBS series The Roosevelts by Ken Burns here.]