by Edmund Morris
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The most eagerly awaited presidential biography in years, Theodore Rex begins by following new president Theodore Roosevelt as he takes his emergency oath of office in Buffalo, upon the assassination of President McKinley one hundred years ago. Theodore Rex, full of cinematic detail, moves with the exhilarating pace of a novel, yet it rides on a granite base of scholarship. TR's speed of thought and action, and his total command of all aspects of presidential leadership, from bureaucratic subterfuge to manipulation of the press, make him all but invincible in 1904, when he wins a second term by a historic landslide. Surprisingly, this victory transforms him from a patrician conservative to a progressive, responsible between 1905 and 1908 for a raft of enlightened legislation. Interspersed with many stories of Rooseveltian triumphs are some bitter episodes - notably a devastating lynching - that remind us of America's deep prejudices and fears. Theodore Rex does not attempt to justify TR's notorious action following the Brownsville Incident of 1906 - his worst mistake as president - but neither does this resolutely honest biography indulge in the easy wisdom of hindsight. It is written throughout in real time, reflecting the world as TR saw it. By the final chapter, as the great "Teddy" prepares to quit the White House, it will be a hard-hearted listener who does not share the sentiment of Henry Adams: "The old house will seem dull and sad when my Theodore has gone." Listen to a conversation with Edmund Morris.
<i>Theodore Rex</i> is an unfliching but fair look at the good and the bad of Roosevelt's presidency. It covers the topic very well without oversimplifying, although there are some overwrought rhetorical fourishes here and there. These, however, are minor and do not detract significantly from the strong presentation of the material by both the authro and the narrator.