T.R. by H.W. Brands


The Last Romantic
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 Theodore Roosevelt emerges as considerably more than his toothy Rough Rider legend in this extensively researched, psychologically penetrating biography of our 26th president. Even as an asthmatic child, when he began to mold his mind with tales of heroes and his body with physical exercise, Roosevelt saw life as a series of struggles and achievements, according to Brands (History/Texas A&M Univ.; The Reckless Decade, 1995). In young adulthood, this quest for heroism redoubled with the death of his father, who set a near-impossible moral standard. T.R.'s Manichaean perception of the world gave him the moral confidence, energy, and charisma that endeared him to supporters, but it also led him to intemperate, even demagogic attacks on opponents (e.g., he accused Woodrow Wilson of ``criminal folly'' for not preparing the US more thoroughly for entry into WW I). Brands absolves him of what critics viewed as his hypocrisy, noting that Roosevelt's near-total incapacity for reflection and self-knowledge led him, for good and ill, to ignore legal and procedural obstacles (notably by fomenting revolution in Panama to get the canal built there). Brands also adeptly traces the effect of Roosevelt's romanticism on his private life, noting that T.R.'s grief over the death of his first wife was so intense that he almost never referred to her after she died and maintained a more distant relationship with their daughter, Alice, than he did with the children of his second marriage. Brands accords Roosevelt full credit for blazing a path for future presidents in assuming responsibility for the economy and international security, and for using his office's ``bully pulpit'' to goad the national conscience. Missing some of the brio of Edmund Morris's The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt and of the colonel himself, but a life that pays its subject the ultimate tribute of taking him seriously as an adult. (b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Dec. 17th, 1997
ISBN: 0-465-06958-4
Page count: 912pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1997

Kirkus Interview
H.W. Brands
October 11, 2016

As noted historian H.W. Brands reveals in his new book The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War, at the height of the Korean War, President Harry S. Truman committed a gaffe that sent shock waves around the world. When asked by a reporter about the possible use of atomic weapons in response to China's entry into the war, Truman replied testily, "The military commander in the field will have charge of the use of the weapons, as he always has." This suggested that General Douglas MacArthur, the willful, fearless, and highly decorated commander of the American and U.N. forces, had his finger on the nuclear trigger. A correction quickly followed, but the damage was done; two visions for America's path forward were clearly in opposition, and one man would have to make way. Truman was one of the most unpopular presidents in American history. General MacArthur, by contrast, was incredibly popular, as untouchable as any officer has ever been in America. The contest of wills between these two titanic characters unfolds against the turbulent backdrop of a faraway war and terrors conjured at home by Joseph McCarthy. “An exciting, well-written comparison study of two American leaders at loggerheads during the Korean War crisis,” our reviewer writes in a starred review. View video >


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