The Old Lion: A Novel of Theodore Roosevelt by Jeff Shaara #ARC #BookReview #StMartinsPress #NetGalley

In one of his most accomplished, compelling novels yet, acclaimed New York Times bestseller Jeff Shaara accomplishes what only the finest historical fiction can do – he brings to life one of the most consequential figures in U.S. history – Theodore Roosevelt – peeling back the many-layered history of the man, and the country he personified.

From the mid-nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, from the waning days of the rugged frontier of a young country to the emergence of a modern, industrial nation exerting its power on the world stage, Theodore Roosevelt embodied both the myth and reality of the country he loved and led.

From his upbringing in the rarefied air of New York society of the late 19th century to his time in rough-and-tumble world of the Badlands in the Dakotas, from his rise from political obscurity to Assistant Secretary of the Navy, from national hero as the leader of the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War to his accidental rise to the Presidency itself, Roosevelt embodied the complex, often contradictory, image of America itself.

The Old Lion: A Novel of Theodore Roosevelt (Amazon US) (Amazon UK) (

I’ve read countless books about Theodore Roosevelt and believe he was one of the top three U.S. Presidents we’ve ever had. What could a historical fiction novel tell me that I didn’t already know?

Not much, it turns out. The story begins with Roosevelt on his death bed, talking to his biographer. This setting is interspersed with flashbacks to the past, starting in childhood and ending post-presidency.

Roosevelt certainly led and interesting life and the author had a multitude of life events to choose from, but I personally think he missed the mark on what he chose to concentrate on. While many say Roosevelt’s time in the Badlands as a cowboy and rancher made him the man who could become president, I found the section overly long and lacking much insight; I found myself skimming this portion of the book.

The section on the Spanish American War was also overly long and tedious. While I appreciate the fact that Theodore Roosevelt was a hero of the war and this catapulted him into New York’s governor’s mansion when he returned, I felt like this section could also be shorter.

In fact, very little time is spent going over Roosevelt’s political career and the choices he made while holding office. It’s as if Shaara decided to spend more time upon Roosevelt’s adventures and less on what made him such a well-known and much beloved figure in the American populace. This was confirmed when much time was spent covering Roosevelt’s trip down the River of Doubt in South America in 1914.

I didn’t find any insights into Roosevelt’s psyche or new takes on how he formed his views. The controversies that surrounded Roosevelt, like the machinations behind the building of the Panama Canal, or his handling of race relations with Booker T. Washington, aren’t given much of a chance. The mistakes he made were glossed over, just as Roosevelt himself tended to do. I think a further exploration of them would have made a more interesting book.

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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