Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2018 Evelyn C. Leeper.


COLONEL ROOSEVELT by Edmund Morris:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/26/2018]

I recently watched AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: INTO THE AMAZON, and then read the applicable sections of COLONEL ROOSEVELT by Edmund Morris (ISBN 978-0-375-75707-5) and INTO THE BRAZILIAN WILDERNESS by Theodore Roosevelt (ISBN 978-1-492-16775-4). I cannot find what the sources for the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE were, but it would not surprise me to find out it was Morris's book--the show covers many of the same incidents that the book does. On the other hand, Roosevelt's own book has more information about the flora, fauna, and indigenous people (though the latter are seen through Roosevelt's somewhat prejudiced eyes), and less about the organization of the expedition. In particular, both Morris and AMERICAN EXPERIENCE detail how ill-suited Father Zahm was for an exploratory journey such as was being undertaken, culminating in his insistence at the Falls of Utiarity that from here the Indians should carry him in a sedan chair, and what's more, that they *enjoyed* carrying him in a sedan chair. At this point, Colonel Rondon (the official leader) basically kicked him off the expedition and sent him back to Tapirapoan. Roosevelt merely writes, at the end of their stay at the falls, "From here Father Zahm returned to Tapirapoan, accompanied by Sigg [his personal attendant]."

Similarly, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE and Morris agree that the death of Simplicio was due to Kermit Roosevelt's failing to follow Rondon's instructions and trying to run a set of rapids instead of portaging them, while (Theodore) Roosevelt describes it somewhat differently, making it seem as though Kermit were just trying to investigate the opposite side of the river for portaging when the current took them.

Most notably, Roosevelt says little of his own injuries and illness, which led him at one point to insist they should leave him behind, and that he had with him a fatal dose of morphine to end his suffering. This seems to be what he refers to with, "I had by my own clumsiness bruised my leg against a bowlder [sic]; and the resulting inflammation was somewhat bothersome. I now had a sharp attack of fever, but thanks to the excellent care of the doctor, was over it in about forty-eight hours..." He does later refer to being very weak and lying in the canoe most of the day, but it is very much down-played.

We also discover that Roosevelt lacked the ability to foresee the results of technology. For example, in discussing weaponry, he says, "A cool man with a rifle, if he has mastered his weapon, need fear no foe." He wrote this in January 1914, less than a year before World War I would prove this disastrously wrong.

He also could speak movingly about the need to save the Grand Canyon and other scenic wonders for our descendents, and then get to South America and write constantly about how the land was just waiting for settlers to come in and make good use of it. (Apparently whatever the indigenous people were doing with it did not count.) His rationale was that the "settled" world was getting too crowded seemed to imply that 1) these settlers would be white, and 2) if you have too many children for your house, you can just grab someone else's house if you think they are under-utilizing it.

And some of the things the reader discovers are just unexpected. When Roosevelt finds out that Colonel Rondon named a river "The Twelfth of October" because that was the day Columbus discovered America, he says, "I had never before known what day it was!" (Columbus Day became a state holiday in Colorado in 1905, but did not become a Federal holiday until 1934.) For people for whom Columbus Day has always been a holiday, this is just surprising.

I recommend the television show and both books, as well as Roosevelt's other writings. In any list of which Presidents was the best writer, Roosevelt is always in the top five, along with Jefferson, Madison, and Grant. But the other Presidents all had a fairly limited written output, while Roosevelt wrote 47 books, on history, biography, travel, nature, politics, and general philosophy.

To order Colonel Roosevelt from amazon.com, click here.

To order Into the Brazilian Wilderness from amazon.com, click here.


THEODORE REX by Edmund Morris:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/09/2005]

THEODORE REX by Edmund Morris (ISBN 0-812-96660-7) covers just the seven-plus years of Theodore Roosevelt's Presidency, though there are references to his life before then. While Morris obviously finds Roosevelt fascinating, he does not idolize him, and Roosevelt's faults are covered as well as his virtues. (And his faults are often the faults of his time--his attitudes toward race, while in some ways more enlightened than his age, in many ways are just as backward as those of other people of his time. Unless you're a history student, though, I suspect that this is more a book to be partially skimmed than read in great detail--there can be such a thing as information overkill.

And as proof that there is nothing new under the sun, I offer this quote: "The consistent features of the political landscape, as he saw it, were fault lines running deeply and dangerously through divergent blocks of power. Political chasms lurked between Isolationism and Expansionism, Government and the Trusts, Labor and Capital, conservation and development, Nativism and the Golden Door. And since the last election, the fault lines had widened. As William Jennings Bryan kept saying, 'The extremes of society are being driven further and further apart.'" (page 37)

To order Theodore Rex from amazon.com, click here.


SUPERHEROES AND PHILOSOPHY by Tom Morris and Matt Morris:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/16/2006]

SUPERHEROES AND PHILOSOPHY edited by Tom Morris and Matt Morris (ISBN 0-8126-9573-9) is a collection of essays that is volume thirteen in a series called "Popular Culture and Philosophy", whose earlier volumes cover Seinfeld, the Simpsons, the Matrix, Buffy. "Lord of the Rings", baseball, the Sopranos, Woody Allen, Harry Potter, Mel Gibson's "The Passion", and more. This volume deals with superheroes, primarily comic book superheroes. (That is, there is not much talk about Hercules or Mercury except in conjunction with such comic-book parallels as Superman or The Flash.) The most interesting essay (to me, anyway) was Christopher Robichaud's "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: On the Moral Duties of the Super-Powerful and Super-Heroic", which analyzes the superhero's responsibilities in terms of Jeremy Bentham's and John Stuart Mills's utilitarianism and Immanuel Kant's "categorical imperative". Another essay worth pointing out is Michael Thau's "Comic-Book Wisdom", which analyzes the disappearance of wisdom in comic books, due (Thau says) to our skepticism and cynicism about wisdom. For example, the original Captain Marvel takes on both the strength of Hercules and the wisdom of Solomon, while the more recent version acquires the strength of Hercules but not the wisdom of Solomon--his wisdom becomes merely an external voice giving advice. For fans of comic books, this book is certainly highly recommended, but I am not a fan and even I enjoyed this enough to recommend it.

To order Superheroes and Philosophy from amazon.com, click here.


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