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I like big books.


The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt - Edmund Morris Simply the best biography I've ever read or am likely to read. Morris has gone through absolutely painstaking detail to recount Roosevelt's early years down to his daily routines. The book is so thoroughly researched that hardly three lines go by without an end note citing sources and further elaboration. And yet, in spite of that erudition and scholarly work the tale is eminently readable, gripping even. Morris's account is balanced and fair as far as biography goes, but, that being said, it's hard not to fall in love with Theodore Roosevelt. He's larger than life, undeniably charismatic, genuine, impossibly good (a real life Clark Kent), and profoundly hard working. Listening to Morris relate his life is inspiring. Roosevelt had a way of conquering the goals, no matter how small, he set for himself. He poured his life into things that he believed in, rightly or wrongly, and in spite of his occasional missteps, his political accumen served him well. I think the most amazing thing for me was learning that some of the apocryphal stories about TR were actually one hundred percent true, corroborated by multiple sources (including those that typically did not care for him).

Morris's prose is engaging and he has a flair for the dramatic that matches his subject. The early stages of his life match nicely with some verses related to King Olaf of Norway and it is around such similarities that Morris structures the unfolding of Roosevelt's youth. Chapters are well divided, thematically and chronologically, and there's a healthy dose of historical, literary and political analysis that pulls you back from wide-eyed and blinding admiration of Roosevelt himself. But even then! Morris's frank discussions of the lasting literary value of some of Roosevelt's historical endeavors still leave a lot to be admired about the man himself. Again, the story of Roosevelt's life, in all of it's fine detail, cannot be anything but inspirational. This is literally a man who forged himself through hard work, steadfastness to his principles and ideals, and, let's admit, a little luck here and there. The bulk of the book doesn't detract from its readability at all. Details are utterly engrossing and even drab lines from TR's correspondence and diaries serve to give the narrative character, inserting you into his life. At times, I found this book more compelling and page-turning than the best of my favorite fiction. You root for Roosevelt, feel ashamed and let-down when his ego gets the better of him, and more than anything, you find yourself wishing you could just shake the man's hand.

Morris's resolution is a bit of a tease, and it definitely sets up nicely for the second volume that covers Roosevelt's life during his presidential years. I plan to start that immediately. Do yourself a favor and read The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt. It describes a watershed era in this nation's history, how shameful American politics was and can be, and more importantly, how it should work, as embodied by the most compelling person to ever reside in the White House.