Yes. Yes, you read that right. We're recap-ing TR: The Last Romantic by H.W. Brands because I FINISHED IT.
Five parts, thirty-one chapters, eight hundred twenty-two pages.
I officially began reading this book in September of 2013. SEPTEMBER 2013. That's right. It took me over two years to get through this monster, and I'm thinking about going out and buying myself something large and expensive for persevering to the end. The only thing stopping me is the irritating fact that if I had just buckled down, I most certainly could have finished it last year. I turned the final page at about 12:30 AM January 3rd. So really it only took me two days into 2016 to finish. Oy.
So what did I think? Well, as I mentioned just a second ago, the book is divided into five parts: Part I: Preparation, Part II: Engagement, Part III: Fulfillment, Part IV: Restless Still, and Part V: Fading to Dusk. I thoroughly enjoyed parts one, four, and five. I tore through those sections of the book with no problem. I pretty much always like reading about where people come from and their early life which was all of part one. It's personal and interesting, and I have no problem staying invested in those kinds of details. Parts four and five covered his life after the presidency to his death. He went on two major expeditions (a year-long, big-game hunting adventure in Africa and an exploratory/hunting trip through uncharted areas of the Amazon jungle in South America). In the last years of his life, WWI was going on, and all four of his sons served. All of this was exciting and engaging, and that, combined with the fact that I was so close to finally finishing the biography, made for some quick reading.
But y'all. Parts two and three were a bit painful. A meticulously detailed account of his entire political career. Interesting? Somewhat. Mind-numbing? Quite a bit. On top of all that, I discovered that I don't like Theodore Roosevelt. He was not a great guy. He was arrogant, self-righteous, and completely obnoxious. Basically, he was your quintessential politician. Once he became President, the power of the position went straight to his head, and he stuck his nose into things he had no business using the weight of the presidency to influence. He was a proponent of big government (something I am totally against), and, as one Supreme Court justice said, "he [didn't] give a damn for the law." As President, he considered himself above the law and qualified to re-define it as fit his needs, though he'd never actually admit that.
One big political issue dear to Roosevelt's heart that I can actually get behind wholeheartedly was military preparedness. He believed the United States should have the strongest military in the world, and I totally agree with him on that.
But boy was he hypocritical. His entire life he despised and flagrantly opposed third party politics. However, in 1912, he created the Progressive Party so that he could run for President (even after vowing he would never serve a third term) against Taft (the Republican) and Wilson (the Democrat). In doing so, he effectively split the conservative vote and handed the presidency to Wilson whom he absolutely detested. This is just one of many examples where, through a series of political events, Roosevelt would completely change his stance on an issue, convinced that he was right originally and equally right even after changing his mind.
He did have his good points though. I can honestly say that I admired his adventurous spirit and his devotion to family. He was faithful, loving, and affectionate to his wife all their married days and encouraged his sons to be the same in their marriages. One of my favorite quotes from Roosevelt himself was dispensed to his oldest son Ted shortly before Ted got married.
"There is nothing in the world that equals the happiness that comes to lovers who remain lovers all through their wedded lives, and who are not only devoted to each other, but wise and forbearing and gentle, as well."
When his sons were all serving overseas in WWI, he constantly wrote them how proud he was of them and how much he loved them, things every father should tell his children.
Another positive quality of Roosevelt's was that, no matter how misguided he might be, he had a clear sense of what was right and what was wrong, and he would fight tooth and nail for what he deemed right. Another Roosevelt quote I love made during WWI before the United States officially entered the conflict was, "More and more I come to the view that in a really tremendous world struggle, with a great moral issue involved, neutrality does not serve righteousness; for to be neutral between right and wrong is to serve wrong."
The flip side of that coin was the ugly quality of self-righteousness which I mentioned earlier. If you didn't agree with Theodore, you weren't only wrong, you were hell-bound.
"This was vintage Roosevelt: judging the character of a man in terms of whether that man sided with him or not."
Because of this, he severed many friendships throughout his life, and people either really loved him or really hated him.
I could go on and on about Theodore (I mean, hello! 2+ years of my life invested in this guy!), but let's get down to brass tacks: would I recommend this book?
If you are a major history buff and enjoy a detailed biography, sure. Read this one. I feel like I know just about everything there is to know about Theodore Roosevelt, and ultimately, I'm glad I read it. It's one of my personal goals to read a biography on every one of our Presidents, and, although this was a pretty daunting one to start with (yes, I said start with--I have a long way to go, I know), it was good, and I feel well on my way.
However, if you're only mildly interested in Roosevelt or you have a tendency to get bogged down with minutiae, this book is not for you. I'm sure there are myriad other options out there for you if you want more of a basic overview of his life. Or if you just want to come talk to me about him, I'm pretty sure I'm now the world's leading expert on him since I actually read this entire book. I mean, amiright?
So there you have it. 2016 is off to an excellent start. And for those of you wondering if I'm so intent on reading biographies of all the presidents, why isn't one on this year's book list, have no fear. I have a George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Andrew Jackson vying for the open spot on my list. Feel free to cast your vote in the comments.
Have you started any books yet this month? What did you think of my thoughts on Theodore? Are you for or against big government and/or military preparedness? Let's start this year off with some good discussion down in those comments. And if you're new around here or are just having trouble commenting, refer to this post for some help with that.