All reviews copyright 1984-2018 Evelyn C. Leeper.
THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF THEODORE ROOSEVELT by Theodore Roosevelt:
[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 12/13/2002]
Well, I just finished the autobiography of a labor-leaning, tree-hugging, equal-rights environmentalist--Theodore Roosevelt. All I can say is that if he rose from the dead and looked at the Republican Party today and they looked at him, both he and they would have heart attacks. Then again, he did split off and form the Bull Moose Party, so even back then he had issues with them. Theodore Roosevelt is considered to be possibly the finest writer of all the Presidents, and this autobiography was certainly both fascinating and readable--and what's more, I doubt any ghost writer was involved. His name has been in the news briefly recently when Jimmy Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize, as one of the other two United States Presidents who have won it. (I can also recommend his books about his life out west, and while I haven't read any of his others, I suspect they're equally good.)
To order The Autobiography of Theodore Roosevelt from amazon.com, click here.
FEAR GOD AND TAKE YOUR OWN PART by Theodore Roosevelt:
[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 09/24/2004]
I found Theodore Roosevelt's FEAR GOD AND TAKE YOUR OWN PART (ISBN 0-898-75414-3) at a book sale and while much of what he writes is colored by the attitudes of the times, some seems remarkably pertinent today. For example, writing of President Wilson's policies in the title essay, Roosevelt says, "Mr. Wilson has more than once interfered--to use his own scholarly and elegant phraseology, 'butted in'--by making war in Mexico. He never did it, however, to secure justice for Americans or other foreigners. He never did it to secure the triumph of justice and peace for among the Mexicans themselves. He merely did it in the interest of some bandit chief, whom at the moment he liked, in order to harm some other bandit chief whom at the moment he disliked." That sounds like our foreign policy for many years after Wilson as well.
To order Fear God and Take Your Own Part from amazon.com, click here.
THROUGH THE BRAZILIAN WILDERNESS by Theodore Roosevelt:
[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/07/2006]
THROUGH THE BRAZILIAN WILDERNESS by Theodore Roosevelt (ISBN 0-8154-1095-6) is Roosevelt's own account of the Roosevelt-Rondon Expedition to map what was then called the "River of Doubt" (Rio da Duvida), was renamed Rio Roosevelt, and then later renamed Rio Teodoro. His descriptions of the land, the animals, and the plants are first-rate, but he does somewhat gloss over some of the hardships of the expedition, in specific the illnesses. I suppose perhaps it was considered "unmanly" to complain of malaria, blood poisoning, and so on, but the result is a slightly incomplete picture of the expedition. On the flip side, Roosevelt is very clear about the insufficient provisions, the loss of several canoes, and so on.
Some of the writing is of interest in terms of later scientific discoveries. For example, Roosevelt wrote, "During a geologically recent period, a period extending into that which saw man spread over the world in substantially the physical and cultural stage of many existing savages, South America possessed a varied and striking fauna of enormous beasts™Ęsabre-tooth tigers, huge lions, mastodons, horses of many kinds, camel-like pachyderms, giant ground-sloths, mylodons the size of the rhinoceros, and many, many other strange and wonderful creatures. From some cause, concerning the nature of which we cannot at present even hazard a guess, this vast and giant fauna vanished completely, the tremendous catastrophe (the duration of which is unknown) not being consummated until within a few thousand or a few score thousand years. When the white man reached South America he found the same weak and impoverished mammalian fauna that exists practically unchanged to-day." Now we think we can venture a guess as to the nature of the cause: South America had been an island continent for a long time, and the fauna that develeped were suitable for an isolated environment. When continental drift (unimagined in 1913) brought South America in contact with North America (which in turn had been connected to Eurasia), the much-better-adapted fauna of that continent pretty much wiped out a large proportion the native fauna of South America.
[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.
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To order Into the Brazilian Wilderness from amazon.com, click here.