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AMONG THE most prolific of U.S. Presidents who demonstratively knew how to read a book is Teddy Roosevelt. Indeed, he wrote a goodly number of books on a variety of topics, all on his own.
Roosevelt’s strenuous lifestyle helped overcome a sickly childhood. Thorough homeschooling encouraged his livelong commitment as a naturalist, among other endeavors. While at Harvard, he was attracted to history and began writing The Naval War of 1812, still considered a seminal work with significant impact on the evolution of the U.S. Navy.
Historians regard The Naval War of 1812 as a balanced assessment of both American and British actions. As one example, Roosevelt takes President Thomas Jefferson to task for the country’s lack of preparedness for the war. As another, his analysis of Oliver Hazard Perry’s leadership at the Battle of Lake Erie is not completely favorable. Roosevelt concluded that the United States naval victory was deserved and a moral one, even if individual battles had only minor effect on Britain’s naval supremacy around the world.
Roosevelt was 23 when the work was published in 1882.
By 1901, Roosevelt had already gone broke on a cattle ranch in the Dakotas; served second in command of the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry, the Rough Riders, in Cuba during the Spanish-American War; been elected governor of New York; then shuffled off into an apparently powerless role of Vice President to William McKinley; and became President after McKinley’s assassination on September 6, 1901.
Roosevelt was 42 that year, the youngest U.S. president in history. (JFK, the next youngest, was 43 when he was elected in 1961.)
In addition to The Naval War of 1812, other Roosevelt books written prior to his presidency include Hunting Trips of a Ranchman, 1882; The Winning of the West, 1886; Thomas Hart Benton, 1887; Essays on Practical Politics, 1888; Gouverneur Morris, 1888; Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail, 1888; New York: a Guidebook, 1891; The Wilderness Hunter, 1893; The Winning of the West, 1894; American Ideals and Other Essays, Social and Political, 1897; The Rough Riders, 1899; Oliver Cromwell, 1900; and The Strenuous Life, 1900.
A strenuous life? You’re telling me.
It has been noted that throughout his life, Roosevelt depended on his writing to support him and his family; his various governmental earnings were only supplements. On the other hand, the U.S. President’s annual $50,000 salary in 1904 works out to around $1,290,000 in today’s dollar.
Roosevelt was elected to a full term as U.S. President in 1904, then reelected in 1908. Failing to win the Republican nomination for president in 1912, Teddy formed the Progressive, aka Bull Moose, Party which, like most third-party efforts, proved unsuccessful.
This didn’t stop Teddy’s writing career, though. In 1913, he was invited by the Brazilian government to accompany Cândido Rondon in exploring that country’s 1000-mile “River of Doubt,” later named Rio Roosevelt.
The two-year expedition was fraught with problems, including malaria and other jungle sicknesses, an accidental drowning in rapids, a murder and the murderer left to his own devices. Teddy was near death from an injured leg that had become infected. Help from impoverished rubber-trappers saved him and his colleagues.
Teddy returned to the U.S. to a hero’s welcome, albeit very weak and barely able to speak above a whisper. He never did fully recover, living less than five years after the ordeal.
Through the Brazilian Wilderness was Teddy’s account of the adventure. Noted The New York Times “Roosevelt had been able to add one more excellent volume to a list which is already a praiseworthy record.”
Indeed, an assessment that remains true to this day. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017