Thursday, October 1, 2009

Guest Review: The Wilderness Warrior

Summary: In this groundbreaking epic biography, Douglas Brinkley draws on never-before-published materials to examine the life and achievements of our "naturalist president." By setting aside more than 230 million acres of wild America for posterity between 1901 and 1909, Theodore Roosevelt made conservation a universal endeavor. This crusade for the American wilderness was perhaps the greatest U.S. presidential initiative between the Civil War and World War I. Roosevelt's most important legacies led to the creation of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and passage of the Antiquities Act in 1906. His executive orders saved such treasures as Devils Tower, the Grand Canyon, and the Petrified Forest.

Tracing the role that nature played in Roosevelt's storied career, Brinkley brilliantly analyzes the influence that the works of John James Audubon and Charles Darwin had on the young man who would become our twenty-sixth president. With descriptive flair, the author illuminates Roosevelt's bird watching in the Adirondacks, wildlife obsession in Yellowstone, hikes in the Blue Ridge Mountains, ranching in the Dakota Territory, hunting in the Big Horn Mountains, and outdoor romps through Idaho and Wyoming. He also profiles Roosevelt's incredible circle of naturalist friends, including the Catskills poet John Burroughs, Boone and Crockett Club cofounder George Bird Grinnell, forestry zealot Gifford Pinchot, buffalo breeder William Hornaday, Sierra Club founder John Muir, U.S. Biological Survey wizard C. Hart Merriam, Oregon Audubon Society founder William L. Finley, and pelican protector Paul Kroegel, among many others. He brings to life hilarious anecdotes of wild-pig hunting in Texas and badger saving in Kansas, wolf catching in Oklahoma and grouse flushing in Iowa. Even the story of the teddy bear gets its definitive treatment.

Destined to become a classic, this extraordinary and timeless biography offers a penetrating and colorful look at Roosevelt's naturalist achievements, a legacy now more important than ever. Raising a Paul Revere–like alarm about American wildlife in peril—including buffalo, manatees, antelope, egrets, and elk—Roosevelt saved entire species from probable extinction. As we face the problems of global warming, overpopulation, and sustainable land management, this imposing leader's stout resolution to protect our environment is an inspiration and a contemporary call to arms for us all. -- Harper

When THE WILDERNESS WARRIOR: THEODORE ROOSEVELT AND THE CRUSADE FOR AMERICA by Douglas Brinkley arrived in the mail, I couldn't believe how much the package weighed. I actually thought there were a couple of books in the envelope. I knew a non-fiction book this huge was definitely out of my comfort zone, but I thought Booking Pap Pap might enjoy it. Here are his thoughts:

THE WILDERNESS WARRIOR by Douglas Brinkley is yet another biography about Theodore Roosevelt. What makes this biography different is that it focuses on one aspect of Roosevelt’s life – his love of nature. Even though Brinkley limited the breath of the book to Roosevelt’s naturalist achievements, he certainly spared no words as the book ran 817 pages of very small print.

Brinkley begins the story with a detailed account of Roosevelt’s youth and his fascination with nature and wildlife. Roosevelt at an early age had an unusually passionate interest in wildlife, particularly birds. He even has his own museum. He may have been influenced by his “black sheep” uncle Robert Roosevelt who led fish conservation efforts throughout his life.

Roosevelt attended Harvard with the intention of becoming a biologist. At this point in his life he was introduced to the evolution theories of Charles Darwin which drove many of the beliefs and actions that defined his life and accomplishments. However, at this time Roosevelt discovered politics and abandoned his career in the nature sciences. Roosevelt’s career included many varied jobs including Dakota rancher, head of New York City police, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Governor of New York, U.S. Vice President and President. Roosevelt may have abandoned his career as a nature scientist but never abandoned his interest in nature and used each and every job to promote his conservationist agenda.

Roosevelt later founded the Boone and Crockett Club, the first advocacy for the environment. He was a prolific reader and writer of books, stories and letters, most advocating his conservationist agenda or telling of his great hunting adventures.

Brinkley introduces us to many of Roosevelt’s conservative friends such as Gifford Pinchot, John Muir, William Finley, and John Burroughs among many others who had a great influence on Roosevelt.. Each of these men’s naturalist accomplishments is detailed in great depth in this book.

After assuming the presidency upon the assassination of McKinley, Roosevelt pushed his conservation ideas during the following eight years. The results were astounding as he preserved such natural treasures as the Grand Canyon and the Petrified Forest and saved species such as bison and elk from extinction.

The one element of Roosevelt’s life that couldn’t be reconciled with his naturalist philosophy was his thirst for big game hunting. He would justify his hunts by claiming that many of his hunts were for research; however, many trophy heads and skins were found in the Roosevelt residence. In my mind the author did not reconcile these opposite behaviors adequately.

I found several stories within THE WILDERNESS WARRIOR that interested me such as the Rough Riders effort in Cuba, the pets in the Roosevelt White House and the origination of the “Teddy” Bear, but found most of the book difficult to read because of the plethora of scientific detail presented. I also found that the author often repeated detailed information and for me quoted too many other works.

The author portrays Roosevelt as an overly enthusiastic character who lived life in a whirlwind fashion. My impression was that Roosevelt was an exhausting character whose friends must have tired of his antics. Brinkley used the word “bully” once too often for my taste. Roosevelt was also very hard on his detractors whether it was criticism of his presidency, his nature writings or his hunting trips.

Since the book focuses on one aspect of Roosevelt’s life I found it difficult to get a handle on the entire man. I believe one would need to read another biography to get the full picture. Any accomplishment other than conservation is given very little attention in the book. For example the author mentions in passing that Roosevelt won the Nobel Peace Prize but doesn’t expand on it.

The book ends with the Roosevelt presidency and misses the opportunity to discuss Roosevelt’s later conservation activity, his later run for the presidency as a Bull Moose Party candidate and his famous big game hunting trip through Africa. I guess after 800 pages Brinkley had to stop somewhere.

Brinkley does a fantastic job of making the reader appreciate Roosevelt’s many achievements for the preservation of animals, birds and the environment. However, I think the book is geared more to those who are very interested in the environment and conservation as a study or career. The book would also serve as a great reference book on Roosevelt as a conservationist.

Thanks to Booking Pap Pap for this great review and to the publisher for sending a review copy.


Enid Wilson said...

This still sounds interesting enough, even though it only focuses on one aspect of his life, as I'm quite interested in environmental issues. Thanks for the heads up.

Steamy Darcy

Beth F said...

Thanks to Booking Pap Pap for the review. I am interested in this aspect of Roosevelt's life, especially because I'm watching the Ken Burns series right now on the national parks. However, I think I'd pick a more complete biography first.

I have had the impression that Roosevelt was rather intense, and the review has confirmed my suspicions.

bermudaonion said...

Wow, that sounds like quite a book. I'm sure it would be a difficult read for me too. I love Booking Pap Pap's reviews - let me know if he needs some new books!

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

Wow that is quite an accomplishment for both writer and reader to get through 817 pages. Don't think I could do it myself, but it surely sounds interesting and I am glad to be able to read the review.

April said...

What a great review!! This sounds like a very interesting book.

Beth Kephart said...

I adore Roosevelt books. One of my very favorites is River of Doubt, about his Amazon expeditions. This book sounds like the perfect companion to the Ken Burns PBS series on national parks.

Anonymous said...

This actually sounds really interesting to me. The only thing that might be daunting is the length.