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Book Summary: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris

My Personal Summary

This book is about the rise of Theodore Roosevelt.

Roosevelt is best known as the 26th president of the United States, but he held so many other roles in his life including state legislator, police commissioner of New York, assistant secretary of the Navy, lieutenant colonel, and governor of New York.

Roosevelt was born undersized and struggled with severe bouts of asthma throughout his childhood but he basically ignored advice from doctors to take things easy and willed himself into a strong, muscular, unstoppable force.

He loved to read, loved to hunt, never backed down from a fight, and was lightning fast at getting things done.

He was born into a wealthy family and had the benefit of being able to travel all around the world as a child.

He basically had no business experience, which was one common complaint filed against him, but he still was a tremendous force and accomplished a ton of things, which can’t be said of everyone who is born into wealth.

Book Notes

  • Theodore Roosevelt (TR) was born in 1858 in New York City to a wealthy family.
  • As a child, TR was often sick and suffered from severe asthma. This often left him cooped up in the house, where he developed and intense love of reading books. He also developed a love of nature and picked up a habit of identifying plants and animals.
  • At age 12, TR began working out regularly and lifting weights upon the recommendation of a doctor who said it would help improve his physical state.
  • At age 13, TR got his first gun and developed a hobby of shooting birds. He also had a passion for taxidermy.
  • As a young boy, TR and his family took several international trips to Europe and the Middle East. They had to travel overseas by steamship, which would take up to 2 weeks or more.
  • At age 18, TR attended Harvard for college.
  • Also at age 18, TR wrote his first public work about a compilation of types of birds he observed in the Adirondacks. It’s though that at the time he was one of the most astute teenage naturalists in the country.
  • When TR was 19, his father died unexpectedly and quickly from a tumor. His father was his idol, so this hit TR hard.
  • In college, TR picked up boxing.
  • During senior year in regards to his plans after college, TR remarked “I am going to try to help the cause of better government in New York City; I don’t know exactly how.”
  • In 1880, TR graduated from Harvard 21st in a class of 177, was runner up in the Harvard lightweight boxing championship, and had already published two scholarly pamphlets, and was engaged to a woman named Alice Lee. However, after receiving a physical he was told that his heart was so frail after years of heavy asthma that he would probably have to live a sedentary life. He completely rejected this.
  • TR married Alice Lee in 1880. He was 22 and she was 19.
  • TR went on to Columbia Law School after college.
  • Even as a young boy, TR was always self motivated to write.
  • In 1881, TR began visiting Morton Hall where local Republican Party meetings were held.
  • At age 23, TR was elected to the New York State Assembly, his first professional political position. He quickly found out that many politicians in the Assembly often took bribes from businessmen to pass certain laws. (Instead of presidents, states have governors and instead of congress, states have state legislatures – this is what TR belonged to)
  • At age 23, TR made his first notable speech, accusing railroad tycoon Jay Gould of corrupt dealings. His motion ultimately failed as many other politicians were bribed to look the other way, but he gain notoriety and recognition.
  • In 1883, TR went buffalo hunting in the Badlands of South Dakota. Despite heavy rain and extreme heat, he loved the experience.
  • In 1884, TR’s wife Alice had their first child but she died shorty after from complications and TR’s mom died on the same day. TR basically never spoke of Alice again for the rest of his life. Some people speculated that she was too “simple” for him and couldn’t keep up with his ambitions and energy anyway.
  • In 1884, TR went back to the Badlands (South Dakota) to hunt and just be in nature. At one point he stopped in a saloon and one-punched a man who was acting like a “bully” and knocked him out. Badass. At another point, three men steal his boat and he chases them for several days down the Missouri River until he catches them and recovers his boat. He also built a ranch house in the Badlands on a plot of land and started a cattle ranch. During his hunting trips, TR realized just how decimated the Buffalo, Deer, beaver, and other animal populations had become due to over hunting. This would inspire his ideas for environmental conservation years later when he became president.
  • In 1885, TR proposed to Edith Carow, just 21 months after Alice passed away.
  • In 1886, TR lost the race for Mayor of New York City. He then traveled to Europe and married Edith.
  • In one trip out west in the Rockies, TR shot and killed a charging bear.
  • In 1889, at age 30, TR accepted a position as Civil Service Commissioner when the Republicans won the White House.
  • In 1894, TR founded the Boone & Crockett Club, an outdoor club, and helped establish the National Park Protective Act that declared Yellowstone to be a wildlife refuge and to outlaw the hunting of animals in the park.
  • In 1895, TR became Police Commissioner of New York at age 36. He quickly fired corrupt officers and was known to scout around Manhattan in the middle of the night to check if officers on duty were actually doing their jobs.
  • In 1896, Republican William McKinley was voted president. In 1897, he appointed TR to be Assistant Secretary of the Navy. TR built up the Navy significantly by ordering the creation of more war ships. This proved important when the U.S. declared war against Spain in 1898 so they could liberate the Cubans from Spanish rule. This became known as the Spanish American War.
  • In 1898, when war was declared, TR promptly signed up to join the ground forces. He was assigned the position of lieutenant colonel. The group he led became known as Roosevelt’s “Rough Riders”. The U.S. won the war rather quickly and TR returned home as a war hero.
  • In 1898, TR was elected governor of New York. He passed several laws to improve working conditions for the working class and cracked down on corrupt business practices.
  • In 1900, William McKinley won reelection as President and TR was nominated as vice president.
  • In 1901, McKinley was shot and killed by a young anarchist, making TR the new president of the U.S. and the youngest in history at age 42.

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