Edmund Morris, author of a controversial official biography of Ronald Reagan and two award winning volumes of a trilogy on Theodore Roosevelt, has just published his third volume, Colonel Roosevelt, dealing with Roosevelt’s life after he leaves the White House in 1908. Morris spoke about his book this evening at Politics and Prose.
It was a delightful hour, as Morris described the successes and tragedies of Roosevelt’s final years. Only 50 in 1908, Roosevelt looked forward to his retirement from politics at the apex of his career, and the devotion of the rest of his life to writing and adventure. He went on his highly publicized African safari, and then his disastrous South American exploration in the Brazilian jungle, where he ruined his health and thought he should be left behind.
Disappointed with his handpicked successor William Howard Taft, Roosevelt determined to re-enter politics and run once again for the presidency in 1908. Winning each primary he entered, he was disappointed that the Republican convention renominated Taft. Roosevelt left the party and founded a third party – the Progressive or Bull Moose party. He campaigned hard, was wounded in an assassination attempt (but went on to give a speech anyway, saying something like “it takes more than a bullet to kill a bull moose”), but lost, as the Republican electorate was split, leading to Woodrow Wilson’s victory.
Roosevelt and Wilson were not friends, as Roosevelt thought that Wilson’s pledge to keep the country out of World War I was wrongheaded and impossible to keep. Roosevelt’s health was failing, though, and he died of an embolism at the age of 60 in 1919.
Born and raised in Kenya, Morris became acquainted as a child with Roosevelt, the African explorer, and retained an interest. He is careful to call himself a biographer, and not a historian, saying he knows a lot about Roosevelt and Reagan’s life, but not a lot about any other historical events. He is a musician and student of music history, and at one time considered a concert pianist career. He has written a biography of Beethoven. He is a very engaging speaker, and said a number of witty things, none of which I can remember.
“Colonel Roosevelt” is definitely on my must-read list.
A couple of unrelated notes:
1. Had dinner last night at the Paragon Thai in Cleveland Park for the first (but not the last time). Wide selection, very tasty, reasonable prices.
2. While writing this post, I have been watching the last half of “Invictus”, film about Nelson Mandela and the South African Springboks. Loved the movie when I saw it – liked as much as I see it again. If you haven’t seen it…….