Theodore Roosevelt said, with good reason, “I have enjoyed life as much as any nine men I know.” When he died in 1919, he was only 60 years old and probably could have been elected again to the presidency. In the superb Colonel Roosevelt, Edmund Morris guides readers through the last 10 years of TR’s life—a period that was packed with as many challenges and adventures as he had known earlier.
It was during this time that TR traveled on an African safari to pursue his interests as an amateur zoologist and headed an expedition to South America, where he wanted “to be the first to go down the unknown river,” a tributary of the Amazon. He almost died in the process. His gifts as a writer and his stature as perhaps the best-known man in the world enabled Roosevelt to become a popular magazine and newspaper essayist and best-selling author; he was much in demand as a public speaker, and he founded the Progressive Party, which garnered more votes for him than for the incumbent president in 1912.
Morris shows that TR struggled throughout his life to balance the need for power and the consequences of responsibility. Like others of his privileged class with a social conscience, TR believed that he empathized with the poor. “He was democratic in a detached, affable way,” Morris says, but he had little prolonged contact with those who had not known the perks of money and social status.
The book includes much detailed and fascinating narrative about TR’s political exploits as ex-president and as an experienced world statesman. But much attention is also given to other aspects of his life, such as his relationship with his wife, Edith, and his six quite distinctive children. His literary life is explored in detail, including the writing of his autobiography, which is shown to have serious omissions. Morris also includes a vivid account of the assassination attempt on his life, when, despite bleeding and a bullet in his chest, TR spoke to a public gathering for over an hour before going for medical attention.
Morris’ The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt received the Pulitzer Prize in 1980, and his Theodore Rex, published in 2001, was widely praised; however, it is certainly not necessary to have read those first two volumes in order to enjoy Colonel Roosevelt. One of TR’s favorite adjectives was “masterful”—a word that well describes this book.