A storied family is broken apart by its patriarch’s devotion to war and the quest for honor.
As Burns (1920: The Year that Made the Decade Roar, 2015, etc.) recounts, Quentin Roosevelt, born in 1897, was both Theodore Roosevelt’s youngest son and the repository of a great deal of his hopes. Sickly like his father, though less inclined to make boastful declarations such as that he was “as strong as a bull moose,” Quentin emerged in boyhood as a fine young man with a distinct sense of noblesse oblige. In one sparkling moment in the book, he quietly reproaches a haughty society dame who asks how he can stand the “common boys” at his school: “My father says there are only four kinds of boys: good boys and bad boys and tall boys and short boys; that’s all the kinds of boys there are.” With less drive than his father, who champed to get into the fight against Spain in Cuba and blustered his way into a “big stick” foreign policy in the White House, Quentin joined the fledgling aviation corps under Eddie Rickenbacker and died in France—an event, Burns writes, for which his mother, Edith, had been preparing ever since her war-loving husband went off to battle and then instilled in his children, one by one, an obligation to go to war. That resolve ended in a spiritual gloom, “a shroud he would wear for the rest of his days.” Roosevelt’s story is of a piece with his friend Rudyard Kipling’s, whose life and work were overturned by the loss of his son in France in 1915. None of it will come as news to readers well versed in the life of Roosevelt—it figures, for instance, in Edmund Morris’ Colonel Roosevelt (2010)—but Burns finds special meaning and resonance in the father-son relationship, and his slender book makes for a fine homage.
A minor but solid, very well-written contribution to the vast literature surrounding Teddy Roosevelt.