An eclectic collection from the highly literate and scholarly president of the United States.
Editor Hutner (English/Univ. of Illinois; What America Read: Taste, Class, and the Novel, 1920–1960, 2008) had a difficult task: selecting representative samples from among the mountains of Roosevelt’s publications. Some selections are unsurprising—from his opening essay on “The Strenuous Life” to his account of the taking of San Juan Hill (with two different descriptions of brains leaking from head wounds)—but there are also some welcome surprises. In a 1903 speech at the New York State Fair, he declared his solidarity with the common man in an allusion to The Three Musketeers—“All for each and each for all”—and passages from his 1910 speech at Osawatomie, Kan., seem lifted from a progressive op-ed piece from last week’s New York Times. Frequently, Roosevelt urged workers to organize—and then be reasonable. He argued for control of trusts, for women’s rights (wives, he said, should be partners, not servants) and for equal treatment of blacks. His racial ideas, though (as the editor notes), were progressive for Roosevelt’s time—not ours. He praised the performance of black soldiers in Cuba but also notes that “of course” they need white officers. In addition, he had kind words for the Indian warriors we slaughtered. Also included is a long 1912 speech about the necessity of historians to write with the imagination of the novelist (a dictum he did not always manage to follow), a sanguinary piece about the pleasures of shooting grizzly bears, the expected stuff about keeping fit and being virtuous (he sounds sometimes like a gung-ho Boy Scout leader), and the necessity of maintaining a war-ready army and navy.
Intriguing pieces, unobtrusively and skillfully edited, that form both a time and a timeless capsule.