With appropriate crescendo and coda, the concluding volume of the author’s sweeping biography of Theodore Roosevelt, following The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt (1979) and Theodore Rex (2001).
Morris opens this account of the last decade of Roosevelt’s life in 1909, when, just out of office, TR was somewhat at a loss about to what to do. He had, after all, been a model for the “strenuous life” he recommended, commanding soldiers and sending imperial fleets off to impress American power on the world. He had written books and countless articles, some, uncomfortably, equating birth control with “race suicide”—one reason, suggests the author, that the New Left of the 1960s considered him “a bully, warmonger, and ‘overt racist.’ ” He had served two terms as president but decided not to go after a third, even though, in those days, he could have served forever. With no particular place to go, TR headed out on safari to Africa, shooting nearly everything he saw. Then he traveled the world, returning to America just in time to fall into often-bitter feuding with his successor, William Howard Taft. As Morris writes, TR transformed into a reforming leftist, “with enough administrative and legislative proposals to keep the federal government busy for two decades,” while Taft and Democratic challenger Woodrow Wilson occupied places to the right. When Wilson took office, TR became one of his sternest critics, likening him in one renowned speech to Pontius Pilate. Yet, writes Morris, even his admirers found reason to think the one-time master of the bully pulpit a mere bully. The Colonel—for so he insisted on being called—did not end his days well. Presciently, he foresaw his decline almost exactly when it occurred, a sad disintegration into a melancholic and inactive ill health. However, as the author notes at the end of his fluent narrative, for all the criticism of TR in his day and after, he has risen to the top tier of presidents, and is increasingly seen as a friend deemed him: “a fulfiller of good intentions.”
Roosevelt never fails to fascinate, and Morris provides a highly readable, strong finish to his decades-long marathon.