The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt

by Edmund Morris

Paperback, 1986




Ballantine Books (1986), Edition: Reissue, 896 pages


The story of seven men--a naturalist, a writer, a lover, a hunter, a ranchman, a soldier, and a politician--who merged at the age of 42 to become the youngest President in history.

User reviews

LibraryThing member stretch
[The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt] is a dense, but fascinating tale of TR's meteoric rise to the White House. From his sickly, asthmatic youth as a globetrotting child naturalist through his years as a legislator and reform politician and later cowboy adventurer, Roosevelt lived a life of almost fictional proportions. Some of his many accomplishments include: a distinguished ornithologist, Harvard graduate with honors, historian, author, state assembly man, lover and husband, rancher, police commissioner, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Colonel, New York's state governor, Vice President ... and finally President to name a few. All these experiences along with plenty of tragedy, shaped ad modeled Roosevelt into the national character that took over the nation at the turn of 20th century.

What makes Morris' book so good is his ability to make the more mundane aspects of his early success in the New York State legislature as intriguing as the capture of the trio of horse thieves lead by Redhead Finnegan in the Badlands of South Dakota. Edmond Morris relies heavily on primary sources to produce a complete picture of both the public and personal life of such a multidimensional and enigmatic man who was Theodore Roosevelt. While it is clear that Morris deeply respects and admires his subject, he doesn't shy away from the character flaws that color TR's thinking and relationships with the public. I liked that Morris, as biographer, had enough faith in his audience to let them formulate their own opinions of TR, without the bias push in one direction or the other. I can see people coming away from this book with either loathing the bigoted bully that almost always gets what he wants, or with admiration for the way TR struggled against, stayed true to his principles, and forged his own path. I am of that latter group. It was also nice to see that Morris was able to capture the evolution of TR's ideas throughout his early career, from a high-minded elitist trying to stomp out corruption to the conservationist, and trust breaking president he would become.
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LibraryThing member MarysGirl
I rarely give 5's, but this book is one of the best biographies I've read. Morris does a great job of illuminating Roosevelt's early life, showing his strengths and foibles. I've always had an interest in this larger-than-life figure, but didn't have a good feel for his background (other than he was a sickly child, went West where he became strong, and led the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill.) The man was a force of nature. It made me tired, justreading about how much he would accomplish in one day.

Highly recommend this book. I've started reading the sequel Theodore Rex about his time as President.
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LibraryThing member chrissie3
On completion:

This was an absolutely excellent book. It gave me everything I want from a biography. It chronologically relates all aspects of Theodore Roosevelt's life up to his presidency, after President McKinley's assassination in 1901. The next in the trilogy covers his years in the Presidency: Theodore Rex. I will very soon continue with that! I was worried that it might be repetitive, having years ago read (and loved)David McCullough's book Mornings on Horseback. Such a worry was unnecessary. Edmund Morris' book went much further in depth. I completely know now Theodore's personality. I know what he would do and what he would most probably say in a given situation. This author had me laughing at some of the things Theodore had the nerve to say and do! His ego was rather inflated, to say the least, but that doesn't mean I didn't also find him highly worthy of admiration.

Gosh, I have never run into someone with so much energy. Absolutely never. Please read the comments left below this review if you want more details of some of the events in this book. I should say that not a word have I mentioned about Theodore's "Rough Riders" of 1898 and his role in the Spanish-American War. You simply must read the book to find out about that! It is engaging and amazing and funny! This author made some of the events of that war hilariously amusing! Is that possible? Yes!

I honestly cannot think of anything to complain about in relation to this book OR its narration by Mark Deakins. OK, only one thing, and it is so very minor that it is pitiful. The narrator would read the date July 1, 1900, as "July one 1900" rather than "July first 1900". THAT is the only puny complaint I can think of. I compared Deakins narration to the Theodore's own speeches found on Utube. Deakins perfectly bit off and spit out his words, as Theodore learned to do in his fight against asthma.

If you are in the least interested in Theodore Roosevelt, then read this book.....even if it is very long! I will soon be reviewing the next in the trilogy to see if it too is as amusing and interesting and engaging as this one as proved to be! In fact you do not even have to be interested in reading about presidents to choose this book. He is an amazing person. I have never run across someone like this.


I have listened to about 3/4 of the book. I am thoroughly enjoying it. By that I mean sometimes I feel like clobbering Theodore and then later I want to hug him. He has qualities that are m-a-g-n-i-f-i-c-e-n-t. I like that this author has shown me both sides to such a degree that I hate him and love him. In the comments below this review I have gone into details. If you are looking for more details, please check them out there. Really good book and really good narration by Mark Deakins. Yes, this is long, over 26 hours and only the first of a trilogy, but well worth every minute.


My first impressions:
Once you get beyond the prologue, this book grabs your attention. I do understand that the purpose of the prologue is to show the outstanding characteristics of the man, but it throws in names and details that have no depth. That is impossible in a prologue; that is why you are reading the book, and this is the first of a trilogy on Theodore Roosevelt. The next, [book:Theodore Rex|40923], covers his two terms as president. [book:Colonel Roosevelt|7993566] concludes his life story.

What you immediately draw from the prologue is the energy of the man. In 1907 in the White House he shook hands with all those invited to say: “Happy New Year!” Quickly, at the speed of 50 per minute. (Skeptical me….is that possible?) He set a record with this, no one else for a century shook hands so quickly and with so many. But what does this says about him? Think about it. What we immediately grasp from the prologue and then the following chapters on his youth is how the hyperactive youth develops into a man of strength and vitality. From a very young age he has serious bouts of asthma. His father takes him aside and discusses his physical disability. Theodore declares that he will conquer his body! “He will make his body.” His fight for survival shaped him and it strengthened him; it made him a fighter.

From the very first chapters we see the man who came to be a conservationist. He started his “Roosevelt Museum of Natural History”, to the disgust of family and servants. Smelly! He learned taxidermy. He had is head in a book, often standing on one leg that gave him the pose of a flamingo. He scientifically observes the world around him, and what delight he discovers when he finds that with glasses he can actually see the world around him. He had no idea the world could be so sharp. He wrote in a diary. He wrote letters. Many, many remain and they reveal his personality, his inborn humor. In a letter to an Aunt when he is on tour in Egypt he remarks, “I may as well mention that the dress of the inhabitants up to ten years of age is nothing! After that they put on a shirt descended from some remote ancestor and never take it off until their death.” He did like Egypt. He now had glasses and he scientifically observes and records all that he sees of the fauna. The birds, so many birds! But he is still an ordinary boy. He learns to box, to defend himself vis-à-vis peers. He groans over his father dragging them all off for a year in Europe.

How Theodore views his own illness is reflected in this quote from a letter sent to his father when he was a young teenager, alone with two siblings in Dresden. (His father thought it important to encourage his children’s independence.) Here are the lines:

I am at present suffering from a very slight attack of asthma. However, it is but a small attack, and except for the fact that I cannot speak without blowing up like an abridged edition of a hippopotamus, it does not inconvenience me much. We are now studying hard. Excuse my writing; my asthma has made my hand tremble awfully. (chapter 2)

He views even himself with humor. The importance of books, his interest in fauna, his asthma and his staunch character are all evident in these lines.

The prologue was too stuffed, although I do understand its purpose, but then the book takes off with delightful details of Theodore’s youth, the characteristics he was born with and the events that shaped him. This book starts well. I hope it continues so. I just had to tell someone.

Completed June 17, 2013
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LibraryThing member shadowofthewind
The life of Theodore Roosevelt couldn’t possibly be covered in one book. The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt is the first part of a trilogy by Edmund Morris and covers his life before his presidency.

A sickly child, Roosevelt had to work twice as hard as anyone else to build his physical and mental strength. His weakness grew into a determination so large it would overcome any opposition. The early ridicule of his classmates, the rejection of Alice (his would be first wife), and even the resistence from the New York Political Machine seem insurmountable, but his persistence and tenacity leads him to victory. The early death of his father due to political corruption further plants a seed that would end the Guilded Age in America and begin the Progressive era. His anti-corruption campaign in the New York Assembly and the Federal Civil Service Commission, as well as his hawkish political views would provide a foreshadowing of his presidency.

The first hundred pages of this biography are awfully dry. Morris has harvested information from Roosevelt’s family, but also from a diary he started when he was nine. Morris masters the diary finding a pattern in Roosevelt's behavior. At times there is constant chatter on a topic, but there is mysteriously little of it afterward. It’s a sign that the event did not go well. He didn’t want to remember it, but also knew that his correspondence and diary may be public at some point. When Roosevelt met failure, whether his inability to make a good impression on Alice (his eventual first wife), or his entry into the New York State Assembly (where he was viewed as a country bumpkin), Morris cracks the code and fleshes it out here, providing deeper analysis into his personality.

For me, the book didn’t get interesting until his political fights against corruption. Partly his own ambition and partly revenge for his father he becomes a force to be reckoned with passing reform bill after reform bill. This section is also cast against his trips west to the Dakotas and his cattle ranch there. Morris demonstrates how much Roosevelt reflects his time. It’s amazing to read how much of the country can be reflected in one man, from political fighting in the east to cattle ranching in the west.

Morris documents his literary achievements from his examination of the Naval History of the War of 1812 to his famous Winning of the West. A true renaissance man always looking forward, Morris deftly compares him to Henry Adams. Adams, eventually made famous by his The Education of Henry Adams, reveals a fear of the future, while Roosevelt seems to be made for it.

The last quarter of the book is certainly the most exciting, covering Roosevelt’s rise to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, bullying his way to improvement of U.S. Naval forces. His aggressive expansionist stance is an extension of his love of Manifest Destiny, eventually resulting in the Spanish-American War. His fame in the war leads him to nomination for Vice-Presidency and with the assassination of President McKinley, the presidency.

Morris uses one of Roosevelt’s favorite stories, that of King Olaf, to lead each chapter, mirroring Roosevelt’s meteoric rise to that of the mythical King. It provides a lyrical quality, especially at the end. I loved the ending. He paints this picture of Roosevelt reflecting on all of his accomplishments while he sits in the mists. Will this as far as he rises, to the Vice-Presidency? Has his chance slipped away? Then he sees a man with a telegraph running toward him, out of the mists.
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LibraryThing member RhysBans
Edmund Morris is a genius! He has made me not only interested in reading more of his work about Theodore Roosevelt, he's also made me interested in reading biographies about presidents, people of history, great women and men! This book is absolutely amazing. I am not the quickest reader, either, so when I say I could not put this book down in two weeks I sincerely mean it! I want to tell Edmund Morris, who I am speaking to and no one else right now, thank you. You have inspired me to get up and do as much as I can before I die thanks to this book! As phony as that sounds, which I will admit I couldn't help but type it so as to come off as that just a wee bit (but it's not like I could change it to anything else thanks to my abyssmal writing skills), I really do mean it. I loved reading about his exploratory mind, his willness to keep pushing on through all the thickness, mumbo jumbo, nanny-sassing from his fellow person. Whether it be his family, his health, his peers in college, his professors, his first wife, his fellow assembly men (who mind you were quite a bit older), his second wife, the ranchers he met, the animals he slayed, the things he stood up for, the governor, the police comission, just soooo many things and this was all before reaching his midlife crisis! Oh I can't wait to dig my teeth into the next book.

For now, I could use a little break so that I may wrap myself up in my own mind instead of a man who I can only try to match!

Thank you, again, Mr. Morris

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LibraryThing member stuart10er
A wonderful biography of Teddy's youth that leads up to his presidency in 1901. This is a fantastic biography with lots of "why this is important". In short, it had all the hallmarks of a good history.
LibraryThing member HadriantheBlind
A brilliant narrative about a truly astonishing figure in American history. It's hard to go wrong about describing Roosevelt's fascinating life, and Morris brings it up here with fine examples and colorful descriptions. It astonishes me how a select few people can do so much with their lives.

Dee-lightful! Bully!… (more)
LibraryThing member jwhenderson
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt is the first volume of a trilogy by Edmund Morris that comprises the biography of United States President Theodore Roosevelt. The remaining volumes, Theodore Rex and Colonel Roosevelt were completed over the following thirty years. It was a massive undertaking, but based on my reading of the first volume it was well worth the time spent.
Morris covers the time from Roosevelt's birth through his ascendancy to the Presidency in the Rise. It includes the Roosevelt family history starting with his parents influence, his turbulent childhood illnesses, education, involvement in politics and accomplishments in politics that prepared him to be one of the most influential presidents of the modern era. Specific topics include the philosophy of Theodore's father, mother, and his family. His passion for learning despite severe illness is well documented. Most important was his relentless development of both his mind and his body. He reportedly read the equivalent of one book per day and his many sojourns in the western "Badlands" were a testament to his physical strength.
Morris examines his life as a young politician driven by a sense of public duty and stewardship, and captures multiple aspects of the events that shaped his character and public persona. His oratorical ability was amazing and the charisma that he developed through his relentless pursuit of his goals was demonstrated again and again. Morris touches upon events from early childhood, education and hobbies, travels in Europe and Africa, New York legislature, frontier life, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, the Rough Riders and victory in Cuba, and his time as Governor of New York. The detail of his development as a reformer from days on the Civil Service Commission and as Police Commissioner in New York City through to his term as Governor of New York sets the stage for what will become a continuing theme as he moves onto the national stage. His campaign skills, both in support of McKinley's first term and during his Vice Presidential campaign were tremendous.
Overall this is one of the most impressive Presidential biographies that I have read. It truly deserved the award of both the Pulitzer Prize and the 1980 National Book Award in Biography.
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LibraryThing member publiusdb
The great thing about reading Edmund Morris is two-fold: he presents extremely thorough research with a enjoyable reading style that makes one feel like they are reading fiction. As a friend put it, it’s like reading a novel, not a biography. It doesn’t hurt that Theodore Roosevelt lived a life that makes easy picking for any biographer.
The first in Edmund Morris’ three part biography of the 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt lived a life full to the brim. Born sickly, he had overcome physical ailments and “built courage by ‘sheer dint of practicing fearlessness.’” Indeed, his life reads in a crescendo that leaves other men wanting:
Published author at 18, of “The Naval War of 1812,” a classic that would go on to find a place in the textbooks for both US and British naval academies.
Married at 22, father and widower at 25, husband again at 28.
Acclaimed historian and New York Assemblyman at 25.
North Dakota ranchman at 26
Candidate for New York City Mayor at 27
Civil Service Commissioner of the United States at 30
Police Commissioner of New York City at 36
Assistant Secretary of the Navy at 38 (and author of the plan that defeated the Spanish in Manila under Admiral Dewey)
Colonel of the First U.S. Cavalry, the “Rough Riders” and a war hero at 39 (yes, he left a near cabinet level position to ride in the cavalry)
Governor of New York two weeks short of his 40th birthday
Vice President at 42…
And that’s just in the first book. Making his living as a working writer, Roosevelt read over 20,000 books and writing fifteen of his own, not to mention speaking French and German, developing and maintaining relationships with numerous leaders in fields scientific, intellectual, and philosophical. His mind was a steel trap and his life steam engine, gaining speed and momentum.
He was a man who was a lifelong learner, knew no bounds to his interests or abilities, and never stopped trying to reach further. Although born to priviledge, Theodore took nothing for granted, and he took every advantage he could to work, read, exercise, challenge himself, and expand his reach. It’s an example that inspires me, and it’s one we could all use.
In a day where people talk a lot and actually do less, Roosevelt reminds us of the power of action, of doing, and that it is those who do that make a difference.
If you’re looking for a readable biography of one of our most colorful presidents, before he was president, pick up Edmund Morris’ “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt.”
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LibraryThing member ChrisConway
I read this because a friend recommended it. I'm not much of a fan of presidential histories, nor a Teddy fan, but I have to say this book was fascinating. Teddy Roosevelt was a fascinating man, a great personality, regardless of how you view his politics. The story of his life proves the adage that truth is stranger than fiction. This biography tells the story of his life up to his arrival to the presidency. Great moments about his life in Dakota, his career as police comissioner in New York, and his work as Secretary of the Navy.… (more)
LibraryThing member gandksmith
First of Trilogy: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, Theodore Rex, and Colonel Roosevelt
LibraryThing member mankybam
I’m only on Chapter 5, but I’ve developed a certainty that the author wanted to have sex with Teddy Roosevelt. I don’t mean that in the metaphorical ‘Oh he’s so great’ kind of way. I mean literally wants to have physical sex with that man. And videotape it. Which shows up in odd flashes, while in every other respect this book has been a very factual and dry PBS-style recitation of the facts of Roosevelt’s life interspersed with quotes from letters and other people’s recollections. It’s just... interspersed with brief episodes of lust, as well.… (more)
LibraryThing member mattries37315
In the early afternoon of September 13, 1901, Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was eating lunch on his descent from the top of Mount Marcy where he no doubt had contemplated his future not only in politics but in life. Now just hours after possibly concluding that his political fortunes would descend as he would from the mountain top, a ranger baring a yellow telegram message came into view that would mark the end of "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" not in political obscurity but it's mountain top.

Edmund Morris ended the first volume of his biography of Theodore Roosevelt on the cusp of becoming President of the United States after detailing Roosevelt's life to that point from his birth in October 1858. Along the way, Morris shows the development of Roosevelt's views from youth to maturity, in life and in politics. While descriptive and showing fascination with his subject, Morris does not gush upon Roosevelt forgiveness when confronted with demeaning views, speeches, and writings that to the 21st century would raise our eyebrows.

The detail Morris shows in this biography on almost a daily basis bring Roosevelt to life, first as a unhealthy child who fascination for learning about the natural world was cultivated by his father who also encourage him to build up his body as well as his mind. Roosevelt's transformation from a fashionable dandy undergraduate at Harvard yearn for reform in politics into the political Rough Rider that was about to assume the Presidency is a long process that Morris shows the reader so well, the reader doesn't realize it until almost the end of the volume.

From seeing Roosevelt at the height of his power in the prologue then see his rise, both slow and meteoric, through the epilogue, Morris hooks the reader in and makes them eagerly anticipate what will be seen on the next page. I can not recommend enough "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" by Edmund Morris to every student of history and to anyone who loves political biographies.
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LibraryThing member JVioland
Here was a true, unabashed man's man. If only there was someone on the horizon who even resembled him, our future would be much brighter. He made no excuses. He tried anything within limits of the law to improve government for the people. If there were someone like him today, he would be elected President by a landslide.
LibraryThing member bjeans
I heard he was the "last of the romantics". We'll just see about that.
LibraryThing member AlamoJack
I've read many biographies about TR, and this one is second only to McCullough's "Mornings on Horseback."
LibraryThing member jimmaclachlan
I'm not much on biographies, but this was very, very well done & extremely readable. My uncle & a cousin both read it & were equally pleased. They both tried to read the second book, but couldn't get into it or read it. Morris also did a biography on Reagan that was half about Morris - it also sucked, so that makes this a shining surprise.… (more)
LibraryThing member greaton
One of the best if not the best biography I have read. Reagan read it and liked it so much he made Morris his biographer and allowed him nearly full access to the White House during his last four years in the presidency
LibraryThing member stevetempo
One of the finest biographies I've ever read. It takes TR from birth to assumption of the Presidency. Morris is incredibly vivid and brings you right into this fascinating story. Comprehensively researched and documented, the wonderful narrative is brought alive with Roosevelt's own words.
LibraryThing member jscape2000
Easily the best non-fiction book I've ever read. I set aside so many biographies, but this is the one I couldn't put down.
LibraryThing member mabrown2
This is definitely a fantastic telling of TR's rise to power. It was well-researched and full of wonderful anecdotes that reflected TR's personality and character well. I only wish there had been more on his family but I realize that information was secondary to his actually career in politics. So next I'll have to read a book more about them to satisfy my curiosity. A great book! I highly recommend it to any history nerds out there.… (more)
LibraryThing member dianegould
The back of this book states that it is the story of seven men: a naturalist, a writer, a lover, a hunter, a rancher, a soldier, and a politician. It is amazing to me that one man can be all of those men at one time, but Theodore Roosevelt was. If you read this book, you will be as amazed as I was at the achievements of this man. It is hard to imagine that he could have changed the politics in the city of New York as much as he did. His progressive ideas angered the corrupt, so they nominated him for Vice-President. Little to their dismay that this progressive reformer would find himelf in the Big Chair of the Oval Office with a Big Stick. I admire Roosevelt for all of the accomplishments he made in his illustrious career, as I am sure you will be if you read this book.… (more)
LibraryThing member noblechicken
As thorough a biographical book written about one of the busiest and respectable U.S. Presidents every to have found his destiny in the world. And this is only part one. Written in with an engagingly fast-pace, much like its subject, it leaves no stone uncovered as far as I could tell. From birth right up to his nomination to the Vice-Presidency, the book details his life with eloquence and care. I have made it my homework to read both Morris Roosevelt biographies, part two being "Theodore Rex", and if one were to choose a TR bio to read, this one is the place to start, as it one that received a deserving Pulitzer. Highly recommended.… (more)
LibraryThing member richjj
Really enjoyable. TR was an amazing person with unmatched courage and energy. He had an enviable combination of personal charisma, physical strength, and intellectual accomplishment. I can't say I agree with his lust for war and nationalism to overthrow the European empires with an American empire. This book held a good balance of his qualities and shortcomings. I trust it. And it's very well told. I listened to the audio book, and it was one of the best audio book recordings I've ever heard. Really well read and interesting.… (more)
LibraryThing member Teufle
Long, Detailed, and very wholesome. Probably the best biography I have read to date.


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