Monday, November 16, 2009

Book review - Theodore Rex.

Edmund Morris' Theodore Rex is a 555 page study of Theodore Roosevelt's presidency. The book begins with the notification of President McKinley's death and closes as TR leaves Washington following the inauguration of President Taft. In between the two events Morris clearly traces Teddy's actions and outlines the political environment he was operating in.

The first President Roosevelt was a much more complicated figure than he appears in most textbooks. His habit of sounding one way and then another in the same speech confused his opponents and allies alike. His actions though are clearly the forewarning of another Roosevelt who would later assume the presidency.

Mr. Morris' personal beliefs are hard to determine but he concisely lays out TR's populist tendencies and correctly classifies him as one of the first progressives. Roosevelt's policies on railroads and his later war on capitalism are two examples of such tendencies.

By his second term, TR's expansionism had moderated and he was focusing more and more on domestic issues. This did not prevent him from brokering peace between Russia and Japan though. Initially an admirer of Japan, TR began to suspect that a future war was likely. His policy of peace through security helped to stave off that war for a few decades.

All in all President Theodore Roosevelt could be viewed merely as a light version of his more well-known relative, Franklin D. Roosevelt. His policies tended to the socialist side of things, he was an adroit politician with a huge ego, and he had trouble letting go of power. It would have been well had he adhered to his own statement concerning his duties as President, "I do not represent public opinion: I represent the public. There is a wide difference between the two, between the real interests of the public, and the public's opinion of those interests."

One thing is for sure; Edmund Morris serves the public interest well with Theodore Rex. I give this well-written book two thumbs up.

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