Books by Jr. Renehan

COMMODORE by Jr. Renehan
Released: Oct. 1, 2007

"A warts and more warts portrait of a brilliantly successful, genuinely despicable man."
A remarkably unflattering life of the 19th-century transportation magnate who amassed the largest private fortune in American history. Read full book review >
Released: April 16, 2002

"A strong addition, unobtrusively narrated, to a well-covered subject."
A thorough and lively history of America's first family during WWII. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 1, 1998

A warm, poignant picture of the relationship between Theodore Roosevelt and his six remarkable children, based on previously unpublished family letters, papers, and interviews. Renehan (John Burroughs: An American Naturalist, 1992) finds that all the children of T.R., especially his four sons, grew up in the heady light of their father's dashing charge up San Juan Ridge at Santiago, Cuba, during the Spanish-American War: The young Roosevelts were taught to fight for an honorable cause with a great sense of duty; boys and girls alike —absorbed or inherited his reckless, all-or-nothing approach to hazards.— Ethel, a daughter who observed the pain of battle while serving in a Paris military hospital, felt that the family's happiness at Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, Long Island, would be offset by their sad (if heroic) experiences during the Great War. The two oldest boys, Theodore Jr., and Archie, were indeed both seriously wounded; Quentin, the baby of the family, would be killed in aerial combat. T.R.'s martial, patriotic spirit undeniably lived on in his children, though he was saddened by the simultaneous deaths of his wife, Alice, and of his mother. He was never the same after the demise of Quentin. Even so, his equally beloved second wife, Edith, sustained him in his last illness. Renehan's research leaves us with the portrait of a dearly loved father and grandfather who doted on his children without spoiling them and became an unforgettable role model. A postscript: Both Ted Jr., and Kermit died in uniform in WWII. Ted Jr. won the Medal of Honor in Normandy for leading his men ashore. An unusual view of the human side of an extraordinary public figure. (Book-of-the-Month Club/History Book Club alternate selection; author tour) Read full book review >
Released: May 1, 1995

A solid, balanced portrait of the radical fringe of New England abolitionists who bankrolled John Brown's ill-fated but pivotal raid at Harpers Ferry. Was Brown the righteous ``angel of light'' eulogized by Thoreau or a cold-blooded killer and petty thief? A shepherd leading slaves to freedom or an opportunistic wolf who fooled the age's leading intellectual lights? Renehan (John Burroughs: An American Naturalist, 1992) doesn't tackle the paradoxes of Brown's character head-on. Instead, he chronicles the maneuvers and schemes of the northern intelligentsia who supported ``Old Brown'' as he cobbled together a ragtag army to fight his holy war on slavery. Renehan remains steadfastly objective, eschewing interpretive speculation in deference to primary sources—most significantly, the large body of personal correspondence that survived despite the conspirators frequent injunctions to one another to ``burn this.'' Suspicion and self-preservation were characteristic of the six principals, who ran the gamut from impoverished ministers to millionaires. Renehan's evidence suggests the abolitionists, grown weary of finding a political solution to the slavery problem, backed Brown despite believing his plan suicidal, then abandoned him when their fears proved true. After the raid at Harpers Ferry, the six vacillated between outlandish rescue schemes (one called for kidnapping the governor of Virginia and ransoming him for the condemned Brown) and fleeing to Canada. Summoned to testify before Congress after Brown's execution, those who did show perjured themselves, denying involvement. While Renehan sheds little new light on the enigmatic Brown, he provides an important historical corrective regarding the events that helped precipitate the Civil War: Northern abolitionists, not the renegade Southern states, were the first true rebels in the battle over slavery. (23 b&w photos, not seen) Read full book review >
Released: Nov. 15, 1992

John Burroughs (1837-1921) might have wished for more poetry in this biography by free-lance writer Renehan (The American Scholar, The Conservationist, etc.), but he couldn't have asked for a more inclusive or caring portrait. Renehan apparently worried the bones of Burroughs's voluminous journals, diaries, and correspondence for 12 years, and his thoroughness is quickly evident here. All stones are turned, starting with the strange family life the budding naturalist weathered as a youth (one episode finds his fanatically religious father filling the boy's Christmas stocking with frozen horse manure: Christmas was for penance, not frivolity), on through his various tenures as schoolteacher, gravedigger, bank auditor, grape grower, celery farmer, reformer, and lecturer; his sorry marriage to Ursula and his liaison with Clara Barrus; and his infatuations with Emerson and Whitman, and with men of wealth and power—Ford, Roosevelt, Carnegie, Edison. Threaded throughout is Burroughs's search, amidst penury and scant encouragement, for the writing style that would become his signature. Renehan's affection for Burroughs is manifest from the start, and there are moments when this sympathy drifts into idolatry. But the author doesn't gloss over Burroughs's nastier qualities—his belief in social Darwinism, his willingness to be used by notorious grandees, and his philanderings all come in for full scrutiny. More problematical is Renehan's artless recording of event after event for long stretches of the naturalist's life: Here, the prose takes on a woodenness that Burroughs wouldn't have enjoyed (``[Burroughs] would be reactive rather than proactive. He would let his future find him rather than he it''). But these low points are partially balanced by passages of real power, particularly those detailing Burroughs's final years. Renehan gives the old Burroughs-as-lovable-bewhiskered- funkster chestnut a decent burial, and, commendably, allows the man to emerge from the fog of his reputation—broad of stature but riddled naturally enough with foibles. (Photographs—not seen.) Read full book review >