Mornings on horseback : the story of an extraordinary family, a vanished way of life, and the unique child who became Theodore Roosevelt

by David G. McCullough

Hardcover, 2001




New York : Simon & Schuster, c2001.


Biography & Autobiography. History. Nonfiction. HTML:The National Book Award�??winning biography that tells the story of how young Teddy Roosevelt transformed himself from a sickly boy into the vigorous man who would become a war hero and ultimately president of the United States, told by master historian David McCullough. Mornings on Horseback is the brilliant biography of the young Theodore Roosevelt. Hailed as "a masterpiece" (John A. Gable, Newsday), it is the winner of the Los Angeles Times 1981 Book Prize for Biography and the National Book Award for Biography. Written by David McCullough, the author of Truman, this is the story of a remarkable little boy, seriously handicapped by recurrent and almost fatal asthma attacks, and his struggle to manhood: an amazing metamorphosis seen in the context of the very uncommon household in which he was raised. The father is the first Theodore Roosevelt, a figure of unbounded energy, enormously attractive and selfless, a god in the eyes of his small, frail namesake. The mother, Mittie Bulloch Roosevelt, is a Southerner and a celebrated beauty, but also considerably more, which the book makes clear as never before. There are sisters Anna and Corinne, brother Elliott (who becomes the father of Eleanor Roosevelt), and the lovely, tragic Alice Lee, TR's first love. All are brought to life to make "a beautifully told story, filled with fresh detail" (The New York Times Book Review). A book to be read on many levels, it is at once an enthralling story, a brilliant social history and a work of important scholarship which does away with several old myths and breaks entirely new ground. It is a book about life intensely lived, about family love and loyalty, about grief and courage, about "blessed" mornings on horseback beneath the wide blue skies of the Badlan… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member morryb
Another Extraordinary Biography/History book by the outstanding author David McCullough, who along with Stephen Ambrose are the outstanding authors of American History and Biography. While this book may not be quite up to the standards of John Adams, which set the bar for this type of work, it is
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excellent nonetheless. While the main part of the focus in on Theodore Roosevelt Jr. the future American President, the book also gives time to the whole Roosevelt family and their influence on young TR. His father was passionate about the social work that he did and was a devout Presbyterian. His mother a southerner, was full of energy and was the first non dutch woman to marry into the Roosevelt family. The book tells of TR's college life and first marriage as well as his cowboy days and the other influences that led up up to his great political career, but stops before he becomes the well known politician. My only possible knock on this book is that McCullough takes on chapter to talk solely about asthma and the possible psychology behind it. However, others may enjoy this information, and I have no problem with giving this book such a high ranking.
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LibraryThing member aliciamay
Sad to say it, but I found this book terribly boring. And the narrator, Nelson Runger, made it worse with his slow cadence and lack of energy. I think McCullough picked the most boring section of Roosevelt’s otherwise interesting life and then went over every documented detail with painstaking
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care. Here’s what I learned about Roosevelt:
* He came from a god-awfully rich family and his mother was Southerner
* 'Mornings on Horseback' refers to family rides near their summer estate on Long Island when Teddy was a kid, not his Rough Rider days.
* During his childhood the most severe adversity TR had to overcome was asthma.
* He was well traveled as a child, with a long excursion to Europe and a trip on the Nile.
* He was very interested in natural science, liked to shoot every animal in sight and practiced taxidermy.
* His first wife and mother died on the same day.
* Early in his political career TR got fed up with it and threw his money and some time into a ranch in the Dakotas.

There, I just saved you 19 hours of your life. You’re welcome : )
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LibraryThing member laytonwoman3rd
McCullough turned his considerable talent for telling the stories of history to the first 27 years of Theodore Roosevelt's life...his sickly childhood, his loving family, his brief first marriage, his "ranching" days, his growth into a man of substance. It's fascinating. Politics generally bores me
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silly, but I even found myself engrossed in the chapter about the 1884 Chicago Republican convention, which McCullough describes as "crucial" in T.R.'s political life. Just goes to prove what a compelling writer McCullough is.
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LibraryThing member cathyskye
First Line: In the year 1869, when the population of New York City had reached nearly a million, the occupants of 28 East 20th Street, a five-story brownstone, numbered six, exclusive of the servants.

Gone are the days when the only things I knew about Theodore Roosevelt were: (1) the Teddy bear was
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named for him, (2) he was responsible for the Panama Canal, and (3) he was the source of one of my favorite quotes--"Speak softly and carry a big stick." Last year I read Candice Millard's excellent River of Doubt about the last years of Theodore Roosevelt's life. Now I've read David McCullough's Mornings on Horseback about Theodore Roosevelt's childhood. How do I feel about our twenty-sixth president? I greatly admire the man.

McCullough's book takes "Thee" from the age of ten through the age of twenty-seven. As a child, he suffered terribly from recurrent and nearly fatal attacks of asthma. He was not expected to live. His father, the first Theodore Roosevelt, had other plans. One of the strengths of this award-winning book is that we are shown the incredible Roosevelt clan entire. We see how the man who became president could draw on the love, support and strength of those around him.

One of my favorite parts of the book was the family's first trip to Europe, taken in part to get Thee to a better climate for his asthma. Reading the parts of his boyhood diary in which he wrote so enthusiastically about the Swiss Alps, I could see that young boy's wide-eyed wonder. Can you imagine how I felt when, later in the book, they discovered that he could barely see thirty feet in front of his own nose and desperately needed glasses? Putting my near-sighted self in his place I can imagine how much more those glasses would have added to his enjoyment of the Alps. The difference would have been incalculable.

Thee finally started coming into his own when he went to Harvard. He was the typical teenager, with his enthusiasms and affectations, and in some circles he was a laughing stock, but he carried on, keeping sight on the lessons he had learned from his father. Graduated from Harvard, he married the one true love of his life and began a career in politics. By the time he was twenty-seven, he had weathered many tragedies and chosen his life's path.

McCullough brings all this to life and makes it crystal clear just how important a role Theodore Roosevelt's family had in shaping him as a human being and a man. The only part that dragged a bit for me was when Roosevelt began to make his mark in politics. I felt as if I needed a scorecard to keep the political Black Hats and White Hats straight, but the one vision that stayed square before me was that of a young boy, high in the Alps, gazing at the world spread out in front of him and grinning that famous grin.
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LibraryThing member Pamici
Thorough and engaging biography. I found myself going back and forth as to my feelings for Mr. Roosevelt, but I was always anxious to get back to reading!
LibraryThing member Whisper1
McCullough is an excellent writer who wrote many books about American history. This is an extraordinary picture of the Roosevelts, their wealth, their commitment to philanthropy and the major impact they had on the United States.

Born into wealth, as a child Theodore Roosevelt suffered from severe
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asthma. His early memories were of his father walking him round his room, holding him in the hope that his love would overcome the nasty inability of his child to breathe. His early years were spent with his parents traveling to places where they thought the atmosphere would help him breathe.

His father was the first Theodore Roosevelt and told his son he needed to overcome his frail body and teach it to work according to what was needed to survive. Attractive, family centered, his namesake assimilated the traits of his father. Through example, Theodore learned the importance of giving, of sharing and moving forward with the goal of becoming an excellent leader, and a person who gave beyond measure.

Funding, building and helping to fill the Natural History Museum in NYC, this treasure stands today as a testimony to what money well spent can do. In addition, a fact I did not know, the Roosevelts were instrumental in building the Art Museum in NYC as well.

He became a robust man, who pushed his body to travel on horses, and to overcome what might have killed him as a child.

This is an excellent look at the historical period and those who shaped the history of the country!

Four Stars
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LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
I am really, really glad I chose this as an audio book. I don't think I would have had the patience for an out and out page turning book. Don't get me wrong. The writing is amazing. David McCullough can hold your attention like no other. The story in itself is extremely detailed and reads like a
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pool liner breaking - slow and trickling at first but by the end gushing out of control. It follows the lives of not just Theodore Roosevelt (the man we think of as President) but also the lives of his parents, siblings, and other important figures in his life. Indeed, the building up of Theodore Roosevelt's childhood with his family is meticulous and yet his adult, political years and presidency are hardly touched upon with the same amount of detail. Those years are mentioned almost as an afterthought in the wrap-up.
What Mornings on Horseback is really good at is describing a culture; what it means to born into privilege. It is also really good at painting the complete picture of the Roosevelt clan from a genealogical perspective. The reader is immersed in the lives of everyone and not just the future president of the United States. From a listener standpoint I enjoyed every word.
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LibraryThing member repb
Magnificent book by McCullough. A little hard for me to get into at first, but once I did I found it most intriguing. Really not sure what to think of Mr. Roosevelt; a bit of genius and oddball for sure. I particularly liked the atmosphere of the day and a glimpse into the very top echelons of
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society at the time. McCullough obviously did his homework.
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LibraryThing member buffalogr
Tried to read this one, couldn't get into it. One should read this only if one wants to know the victorian era ultra rich life style.
LibraryThing member ladycato
It took me two weeks to read through this book, but not because it was dull. Quite the contrary--I found it much more compelling than I expected. There's a reason this book is still so highly acclaimed and reviewed after thirty years. McCullough creates an interesting narrative, but the source
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material helps. The Roosevelts are just plain quirky and interesting. Anyone who delves into research knows original source material is best, and the Roosevelt family kept an incredible number of diaries and letters. Teddy, from the age of ten, kept diaries. As an adult, he wrote many books and was estimated to have written over 150,000 letters. Many of those are cited.

Teddy Roosevelt is known for being an asthmatic child, an athletic huntsman as an adult, as a Rough Rider. As a boy he longed for anthropological adventures. He was hunting and doing his own taxidermy before he was a teenager. He was extremely knowledgeable about birds and other wildlife and it's easy to see why as President he did so much to expand the National Park system and establish conservatories. His family was incredibly wealthy but also very close. His older sister, Bamie, was always crippled; other families might have sent her away, but instead the entire family worked around her needs and she became an elderly family matriarch known for her keen mind. Teddy was also tended to by both parents as he suffered from terrible asthma. He wasn't simply handed off to servants. The family lived and suffered together, and survived. His mother was a Georgia girl who became a New York City socialite; during the Civil War, she waited until her pro-Union husband was out of town, and she made care packages to send to her brothers serving in the Confederacy.

I could go on and on. There were so many intriguing stories within stories. I really enjoyed the childhood years the most. When Teddy starts into politics, he's harder to relate to. He suffers the terrible blow of losing his beloved mother and his wife on the same day from different illnesses, and just four days after his daughter is born. After that, he retreats to the Bad Lands where he earns respect as a genuine cowboy. I really wish the book had gone on another decade, for my own selfish research purposes, but it ends at a good point: his return to New York City, to a new marriage, and a return to politics.

To my own surprise, I'm left wanting to know more about Teddy Roosevelt. I'll be seeking out more books.
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LibraryThing member CJSTheWriter
A big portion of the book focused on the tight knit Roosevelt family and on Theodore Roosevelt' asthma. He excelled at Harvard and much of his asthma affliction went away. The book up to and after Roosevelt's years in Harvard was pretty good. Then after that the book got far less interesting. I got
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to feeling as if the last half of the book was condensed and all the good stuff was taken out.
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LibraryThing member labfs39
Although a frequent reader of memoirs, I’ve never been drawn to presidential ones. Recently, however, I was recently given a copy of River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey by Candice Millard and, aside from the personal merits of the book, I was intrigued by the enormous personality
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of Teddy Roosevelt. In particular, some comments in the book about TR’s childhood struggles with asthma and his drive to overcome his physical weaknesses interested me. So a natural follow-up read was Mornings on Horseback which covers the childhood and youth of TR up to the age of twenty-eight.

Winner of the National Book Award and penned by the acclaimed social historian, David McCullough, I was not surprised that the book was well-researched and well-written. Mornings on Horseback begins with TR’s parents, interesting people in their own right, and widens to include not only the extended Roosevelt clan, but also the ideology of an entire class of people into which TR was born. McCullough blends this social history with the personal story of a boy who could have been a brilliant natural historian and subsequent young man who strives to meet his father’s expectations, a man he idolized for his compassion and strength. Where I think McCullough goes beyond a run of the mill biography is in his analysis of how TR was both a victim and a manipulator of his asthma; his relationship with the women in his life, especially his sister, Bamie; and the effect the idea of the West had on TR’s imagination.

Although not the page turner of River of Doubt, Mornings on Horseback was an enjoyable read, especially for a novice reader of presidential memoirs.
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LibraryThing member wandacreason
Lovd the book and how it was written my first book by Davie McCullogh. I hardly knew anything about Theodore Roosevelt. Also interesting about his father. In fact the whole family was interesting.
LibraryThing member LukeS
I hereby join the chorus in praise of David McCullough. He's great. The NY "Times" calls him "our best social historian," and I'll certainly go along with that.

In this book we get a closeup of "Teedy," as he was called by his family. In spite of a sickly, challenging childhood, TR grew up utterly
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indefatigable. His public life never swerved from the dictates of his conscience, and he changed America by running independently in 1912 (in the election that gave us Woodrow Wilson). The book points obliquely to a yearning to measure up to his over-achieving father, but Teddy's eventual accomplishment cannot be overstated.

I finished this book (which devotes only a handful of pages at the end to TR's Presidency, BTW) with a much fuller appreciation of that fellow whose rightful place is in Mt. Rushmore.
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LibraryThing member stevetempo
Excellent! McCullough focuses on TR's early life and family as he shows the development of TR's character. A superb book that takes you back in time to a forgotten way of life. I highly recommend for anyone who wants to understand TR.
LibraryThing member Clif
This book has broad popular appeal because it is about the early family history of Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. (Teedie to family members). It is also a story of the life and activities of a rich 19th Century family told in incredible detail. Family members wrote many long letters (most of them saved)
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and some also kept journals providing the author sufficient documentation to allow this surprisingly intimate account to be written over a hundred years later.

The ailment of asthma is discussed in considerable detail in the book. I found it fascinating that the author had sufficient documentation that he was able to recognize patterns in the timing of asthma attacks suffered by the young Theodore that were not noticed by Theodore himself or his contemporaries. The family appears to have suffered from more than their share of health problems. There are also descriptions of ailments that would probably be diagnosed as mental illness today.

Theodore’s father is portrayed as being a (almost) perfect father and family man. If he had a fault it was that he was so good that the rest of the family was made to feel inadequate for not living up to his standards. In general, the family and Theodore Jr. himself come across as being somewhat strange to the 21st Century reader. But one has to admit that almost any family examined this closely will appear a bit strange in their own ways.
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LibraryThing member gmicksmith
After enjoying some of McCullough's other works, and interested in the fascinating character of Thee, especially after touring his house and buying this volume there I thought it was about time to read the book.
LibraryThing member cyderry
This book was the start of my study of Teddy Roosevelt. It was the tale of his father and siblings and how they all interacted in his early life. With David McCullough as the storyteller, I couldn't go wrong.
LibraryThing member lucybrown
Brilliantly written. McCullough really gets to the heart of what made Teddy Teddy. Some wonderful insights into his personality and the shaping of the man. I still can't get over the image of the patrician Roosevelt investigating the slums and cigar industry with Samuel Gompers. Because Teddy was
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so easy to caricature, many of us
do not get beyond the carton image of him tugging the boat through the Panama Canal or walking giant like with his "big Stick." As one of our most dynamic and complex presidents he deserves better and Mr McCullough

Now please, please, please write a biography of James Madison, Mr. McCullough.
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LibraryThing member AlamoJack
Easily the best biography I have ever read - the best biography of anyone, not just TR. McCullogh's writing style flows so smoothly. The detail he provides about all of the Roosevelt family makes this such an interesting read.
LibraryThing member Shahge
This is my second David McCullough's book. Before this book I read "1776" which was my introduction to David McCullough as an Historian (you can see my review of "1776" at "Mornings on Horseback" is about young Theodore Roosevelt, who was the 26th president of United
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States of America. It accounts 17 years of his life from his childhood to the time when he lost his election for mayor of New York. I had never known anything about him before reading this book except that he was the president of United States of America. I think the whole book can be well summarized by the subtital of the book which states "The story of an extraordinary family, a vanished way of life, and the unique child who became Theodore Roosevelt". Some snapshots of his life discussed in the book include his paternal and maternal lineage; relationship of Theodore Roosevelt Sr. and Mittie with their children, role Theodore Roosevelt Sr. played in development of social and educational institutions in New York; relationship of Theodore with his siblings especially the role his elder sister played in his life from the begining; Theodore life's at Harvard; then his first love; and his early year in politics. The parts of his life which fascinated me were his struggle with asthma, when he moved to west for cattle farming and his childhood obcession with nature. Theodore had to battle with asthma since early childhood. As there was no form of pharmacologic therapy available back then, he had to suffer a lot. The treatment options available were even more terrible or unpleasant than the disease itself. For example the common way to avert an attack was to make the patient violentally ill, to dose him with ipecac or with incredibly nauseating potions made of garlic and mustard seed and "vinegar of squills" a dried plant also used for rat poison. Children were sometimes given enemas or sometimes plunged into cold baths. Other options included whiskey and gin; laudanum (opium + wine), Indian Hemp (marijuana); chloroform; fumes of burning nitrate paper; smoke from dried jimson weed; cigars and medicinal ciggarrett; patient was sometime made to vomit violently and that sometime worked. It was even considered at that time that asthma was actually a 'brain disease'. But today whole concept of pathogenesis and treatment of asthma is different. I think I don't need to explain why i liked Theodore's venture in the west as a cowboy in Dakota (It's because anything western, whether movie or book, I am going to like it anyway). But how Theodore managed to live there was very entertaining. And Theodore's obcession or love of nature is quite extraordinary. I have never seen, met or read about a person who was so in love with nature. Though naturalists at that time were mostly involved in hunting/killing of animals, which many people may consider unethical or cruel now-a-days. But his enthusiasm and love of nature was not a short lived passion but a life long attribute, as he later on moved to create many American National Parks. As far as the book is concerned, it's narrative style is very simple and you get know Theodore from his childhood not just the politician/president Theodore. I certainly recommend this book. And as I promised before I am certainly going to read every book written by David McCullough. He certainly is an exceptional author and definatively one of my favorite.
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LibraryThing member ibkennedy
Fascinating people and family....good read
LibraryThing member iamjonlarson
Fascinating character. This book is all about Teddy Roosevelt's early life before he even becomes President of the United States. Its just as much of a book about TR's father and his family as it is about TR. His father is as interesting a figure as himself. David McCullough does an excellent job
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of fleshing out all his research into a cohesive and very readable story.
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LibraryThing member santhony
With completion of this biography, I've read all of McCollough's works and am somewhat saddened that there are no more to enjoy. He is quite simply the greatest biographer I've ever read.

In this work, McCollough explores the formative years of Theodore Roosevelt, perhaps the most American U.S.
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President in our nation's history. In doing so, he tries to identify the upbringing and experiences that resulted in this fascinating individual. As always, McCollough's writing is riveting, his research is rigorous and his analysis is flawless. Typical McCollough. Enjoy.
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LibraryThing member pennsylady
Winner of the 1982 National Book Award for Biography and Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Biography

This work is a wealth of information... well written and extensively researched.

I came aboard hoping for character studies of family members.
I'm leaving pleased with McCullough's approach.
I found
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character development presented with "penetrating insight" and often intimate detail.
You couldn't help but come to a deeper understanding of family members and their "diversity"

The social and political environment of the time was adequately addressed.

Amidst it all... I enjoyed the experience of the metamorphosis and intensity of this period of Theodore Roosevelt's life.

★ ★ ★ ★
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National Book Award (Finalist — 1982)
Pulitzer Prize (Finalist — 1982)
Audie Award (Finalist — Biography/Memoir — 2005)
LA Times Book Prize (Finalist — Biography — 1981)




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